ICP History

History of the Interfaith Center

The Story | Through the Years | Beyond the Bay Area

The Interfaith Center at the Presidio is . . .

  • a San Francisco Bay Area grassroots interfaith friendship-building nonprofit organization,
  • your host at the Main Post Chapel in the Presidio of San Francisco and
  • an interreligious advocate of peacemaking among religions, locally and globally.

Never has the need for healthy cross-cultural relationships been greater. The Interfaith Center at the Presidio has an historic commitment to healing and peacemaking within, between, and among religious and spiritual traditions. The Center’s mission is to welcome, serve, and celebrate the diverse faith traditions and spiritual wisdom of the Bay Area and beyond.

The Story . . .

Interfaith Center HistoryWhen Congress decided the Presidio of San Francisco would become a national park, the National Park Service asked, “What kind of activities should go on in the 800 buildings of this park!?” When “swords into plowshares” surfaced as part of the answer in late 1992, the religious community responded. The San Francisco Interfaith Council took the lead in gathering a coalition of Bay Area interfaith organizations and forming a steering committee. Their goal – to create a long-term interfaith bridge-building presence in the nation’s newest national park.

As plans developed, the committee discovered the Main Post Chapel, one of the Presidio’s most beautiful buildings, and today known as the Presidio Chapel. Built in 1931 by the U.S. Sixth Army, the Chapel’s Spanish mission revival architecture is graced by magnificent stained-glass windows and a magnificent fresco. The Chapel’s historic use has been interfaith worship – a sanctuary available to different religions. The fit was perfect for an Interfaith Center whose mission is to welcome, serve, and celebrate the diverse faith traditions and spiritual wisdom of the Bay Area and beyond. The Steering Committee went to work.


Through the Years:

September 1995 – Interfaith Center at the Presidio incorporated and multi-faith Board assembled (over the years this has included American Indian, Atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Protestant, Quaker, Shinto, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, and Wiccan representation).

March 1996 – Center invited into historic Main Post Chapel to respond to growing public demand for access and initiated a Chapel program for its public use ranging from worship to weddings and workshops, concerts and meetings of all sorts.

October 1999 – Completed Chapel rehabilitation design and estimation phase and a capital campaign feasibility study, resulting in a positive prognosis once the young Center develops its natural constituencies. Subsequent recession shelved this initial project

December 1999 – Half a dozen ICP trustees and staff attend and present at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa.

January 2000 – Main Post Chapel declared an official Peace Site.

March 2000 – Center awarded opportunity to negotiate long-term Chapel lease, contingent on renovating and bringing up to code the historically protected building.

February 2001 – Received stewardship for the San Francisco Airport International Terminal’s new Reflection Room, the first airport chapel in California, an opportunity which faded when it became clear that the City and County  of San Francisco limited the Center’s role to providing funding, not programming, for the facility.

July 2002 – Received a seed grant to plan and begin implementing a new Interfaith Center Academy, a professional graduate program to address issues of ‘interfaith literacy’ and relationship building, starting with seminarians.

July 2002 – Published One World, Many Voices, an interfaith songbook.

August 2002 – A dozen Interfaith Center board and staff attended United Religions Initiative’s Global Assembly in Rio de Janeiro.

November 2002 – Pacific School of Religion, one of nine seminaries in Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, invited the new Interfaith Center Academy to teach a course on interfaith literacy and ministry at PSR in the Spring 2004 semester.

April 2003 – The Center sponsors the Lost and Endangered Religions Project, a project created and directed by ICP trustee and long-timer officer, Don Frew.

May 2003 – Sarah Feinbloom’s “What Do You Believe?” chosen for multiple broadcasts at WGBH-TV in Boston. Earlier in the year KCET in Los Angeles broadcast the film, fiscally sponsored by the Interfaith Center. Based on 200 interviews with 15 and 16-year-olders, it was awarded one of ten best videos for young people in 2003 by the America Library Association.

February-March 2004 – An Interfaith Sacred Space Design Competition focused on ‘creating sacred space where all traditions feel at home’ drew 160 submissions from 17 countries. An exhibit and workshop were featured at that summer’s Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona. For more about the projects and the submitted images, go to http://interfaithdesign.org/.

April 2004 – Started Bay Area Interfaith Connect, an electronic monthly newsletter and calendar that goes to more than 2,000 readers.

July 2004 – Half a dozen ICP trustees and staff present at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona; the Center’s workshop on its International Sacred Space Design Competition featured at a standing-room-only session.

September 2004 – Initiated a young adult multi-religious group, Friends in Faith, focused on concerns of youth and still active today

September 2004 – Staffed a collaborative project called “Waking up in a New Religious America” at Dominican University in San Rafael, which enrolled more than 150 in a course and follow-up conference.

2005 – Experimented with weekly interfaith services on Sunday mornings, generating much-appreciated but under-attended worship events.

January 2005 – Initiated monthly “Second Tuesday” potlucks, each with an interfaith program, which continued for three years.

November 2005 – Collaborated with the Guild for Psychological Studies for an all-day workshop on comparative spirituality.

January 2006 – Led the planning and facilitated an all-day Appreciative Inquiry with 150 participants focused on renewing the 25-year-old Rossmoor Interfaith Council.

October 2006 Golden States of Grace: Prayers of the Disinherited photo-exhibit opens in Fullerton, California, is featured in Santa Barbara in 2008, and now is on an international tour, with a book to be published in 2010. The Center is fiscal sponsor for Rick Nahmias, the award-winning photographer who discovered and earned the trust of communities-of-faith living on the margin who welcomed him to take pictures of them at worship.

January 2007 – Consulted with and provided a dozen presenters for Pacific School of Religion’s 106th Earl Lectures in Berkeley, titled “All Rivers to Paradise – Christian Responsibility in an Interfaith World.”

January 2007 – Opened “Remembered Light – Glass Fragments from World War II,” a stained-glass exhibit of 25 new windows built with shards collected by U.S. Army Chaplain Frederick A. McDonald in 1944-45 in Europe. A book about the collection was published on January 21, the day the exhibit opened at the Presidio’s Officers Club. For more information about the McDonald Windows, the exhibit, and their eventual home in the Presidio’s Main Post Interfaith Chapel, go to http://www.interfaith-presidio.org/mcdonald/.

July 2008 – The Interfaith Center planned and hosted the North America Interfaith Network (NAIN) annual conference at the University of San Francisco in July, 2008. Move than 250 attended NAIN’s five-day 20th anniversary gathering, Embracing Our Interfaith Future. Fifty workshops and plenaries focused on successful pioneering models for creating and nurturing interfaith culture.

February 2009 – Junaid Islam, a Bangladeshi-American Muslim and nephew of ICP founding trustee, Iftekhar Hai, gives the Center hardware, software, and support for live webcasting from the Chapel or any other site. Spiritual Resources, a series of video-interviews produced by the Center with Bettina Gray, who hosts the series, started webcasting late in the fall and began embedding the interviews on the Center’s site early in 2010. Weddings and special programs now webcast routinely from the Chapel.

April 2009 Mythos I: The Shaping of Our Mythic Tradition, a six-part Joseph Campbell film-lecture series hosted by Robert Walter, presidio of Joseph Campbell Foundation, with guest specialists.

December 2009 – Twenty ICP volunteers, trustees, and staff gathered in Melbourne for the Parliament of the Worlds Religions. Half a dozen were presenters, and the video team webcast 24 hours of live interviews with faith and interfaith leaders from around the world. These programs and more will be released on the Center’s website in months to come.

May 2009 – Became fiscal sponsor for Zachary Levine’s project, Njira Ya Tsogolo (“the way through”), which provides laptop computers, education, and support for interfaith groups in Malawi, a seriously impoverished nation. A project by young-adult interfaith activists in this country working with young-adult interfaith leaders in Africa.

April 2010 – Co-sponsor of One Voice of Faith: A National Conference on Global Poverty, in San Francisco, a two-day event which drew 300 participants.

The Interfaith Center at the Presidio has become an umbrella interfaith organization for the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Presidio Chapel, as it is known today, is a familiar gathering place for dozens of organizations with similar goals. In terms of goals, the Center’s leadership is committed to promoting enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, ending religiously motivated violence, and creating cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

Through membership in the United Religions Initiative, whose Charter was signed in June 2000, this agenda is shared with 450 networked interfaith groups in 80 countries. Four years earlier the Interfaith Center had made a long-term commitment to healing religious wounds, beginning at the Presidio.

The Center’s leaders believe building strong, value-based collaborative relationships among people from all sorts of different religious and spiritual traditions is critical in the quest for peace and justice among all peoples.



With United Religions Initiative

  • A dozen ICP board members and staff have served on URI’s original Board and subsequent Global Council
  • Became a founding Cooperation Circle (2000)
  • Eleven ICP Sponsoring Organizations are URI Circles
  • Convener and fiscal agent for URI-North America’s first summit, Circles in Motion, Gifts to Share, in Salt Lake, with 16 ICP staff and board members attending
  • Host periodic gatherings of Bay Area URI Circles and the URI Global Council

With Parliament of the World’s Religions

  • Three or more ICP staff and/or trustees have attended all the modern Parliaments; most have facilitated and been presenters in Parliament workshops
  • Twenty ICP-related leaders attended the Parliament in Melbourne, December 2009, where the Center webcast and videotaped interviews with 40 Parliament presenters.
  • Staff and/or trustees have attended all the Parliament’s Golden Institutes, starting in 2002
  • Helped organize, host, and sponsor the Bridge Cooperation Circle, dedicated to cooperation and collaboration between URI and the Parliament

With North American Interfaith Network

  • Participating member of NAIN since 1997
  • Represented on NAIN’s board since 2003
  • Hosted and planned NAINConnect 2008 – Embracing Our Interfaith Future – celebrating NAIN’s 20th anniversary (five-day conference, 50 presenters, 250+ participants)
  • Numerous ICP staff and trustees have presented at NAIN’s annual gatherings