A panel of McMurry University students and faculty presented the November program for the Abilene Interfaith Council. The 10 students, university chaplain, and two professors talked about their experiences at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions, held Nov. 1-7 in Toronto. (Photo by Loretta Fulton)


It was like drinking from a firehose, it was a glimpse of what the world could be, it was a “spiritual Disneyworld,” it was exhaustive.

Those were some of the descriptions of the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions from McMurry University students and faculty who attended the event held Nov. 1-7 in Toronto. Ten McMurry students, the campus chaplain, Marty CashBurless, and religion professor Mark Waters gave their impressions of the experience for the Nov. 13 meeting of the Abilene Interfaith Council.

Also attending the Parliament and the Abilene Interfaith Council presentation was Rob Sellers, retired Hardin-Simmons University religion professor. Sellers is rotating off the board of the Parliament of the World’s religions, which he chaired.

“He did an outstanding job as chairman of the board,” said Waters, a longtime acquaintance of Sellers, dating to their seminary days.

The presentation was held on the McMurry campus, moderated by Waters, who heroically carried on despite an occasional voice crack due to laryngitis. The first Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Chicago in 1893.

“And then it was another hundred years until the next Parliament,” Waters said.

In recent history, the Parliament has been held every three years. The 2018 session was attended by about 7,500 people, representing 250 religions, which impressed the McMurry students. Danielle Rogers, a psychology and religion major, said she had seen over 200 slides in Waters’ class on world religions and wondered how there could be so many. But actually meeting with people representing those religion–and more–made those religions a reality for her.

“Nothing compares to actually meeting people,” she said.

A highlight of the Parliament for Rogers was the “Abraham Jam,” featuring Jews, Christians and Muslims. Together, they were indistinguishable, Rogers said, a lesson in itself.

“They were all just a group there to bring their music,” she said.

McMurry Chaplain CashBurless sat in on an interfaith rainforest at the Parliament, where she heard from Colombians concerned about their existence. It was educational and inspirational to hear people talk about the importance of healing the earth.

“I’m learning from the process,” CashBurless said, adding that she started by declining a straw at a Sonic drive-in.

Sellers, the outgoing chair of the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, thanked the students for their presentation.

“I wish everyone on the board of trustees could be here to hear you,” he said.

Sellers said that over seven days, 1,600 presenters gave programs in 1,000 breakout sessions.

“It’s exhaustive,” he said, “yet you want it to keep going.”

Quotes from McMurry University students about their experience at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in Toronto Nov. 1-7.

“When it was challenging, progress was still being made.” — Hope Rouse

“My highlight was the number of women. “It was just really encouraging.” — Rachel Parr

“Religions are so similar. It just didn’t hit me until I heard them say it.” — Mariah Fusco

“I may not have known 100 percent of what was going on, but I could feel it.”

“It almost feels like what the world could be.” — Hope Rouse

“I’m the one I’ve been waiting for–it starts here.” — Holly Bentea



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