The Rev. Kristin Stoneking, a local figure who has spent years promoting religious unity, is moving from one nearly 100-year-old organization to another.
After 14 years of working as director and campus administrator for the Cal Aggie Christian Association, Stoneking, 44, is taking the reins at the New York-based Fellowship of Reconciliation.
And at the onset of her new role at the nation’s oldest and largest multi-faith peace and justice organization is an illustrious invitation; to speak during the March on Washington commemoration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday.
Prior to accepting the executive director position at Fellowship of Reconciliation, she served as a leader of a ministry at UC Davis, Cal Aggie Christian Association. The origin of the group — known as the CA House — traces back to 1916.
“There’s lot of amazing history behind it,” she said. “But when I arrived in 1999, the student community was very small. There were only five or six students. The focus was very diffuse.”
Thus, she said, of the notable accomplishments of her time at CA House was establishing the Multifaith Living Community, 433 Russell Blvd. The effort commenced not long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 occurred.
“Everyone was trying to figure out a relevant response to dealing with religious misunderstanding,” she said. “Islamophobia, which was already present, was growing exponentially.
“We created a place for students of different creeds to not only live together, but to learn and understand each other’s differences.”
The Multifaith Living Community opened in 2008, and houses 40 students. Inhabitants claim a variety of faiths; including Christianity, Sikhism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Though that was the most high-profile of CA House’s achievements under Stoneking’s leadership, she said the organization more broadly helped open a conversation about embracing different religions.
It’s work that will be continued by an interim team as she embarks on her new endeavor. Jim Kitchens, a pastor at Davis Community Church, will act as director in her stead.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation, an international organization that has membership at the United Nations, has in common with the CA House an engagement in interfaith dialogue.
The number of peace-and-justice organizations worldwide is massive, Stoneking said, but most are categorized as either Christian-based or secular. The group she’s with now specially claims interfaith identity and was first to have that perspective.
This is what Stoneking considers to be the cutting edge of peace work, due to the number of conflicts around the world that have religious discord woven into them.
“My belief is that Christians have presumed that others have the same idea of the trajectory towards peace as others,” she explained, “but their route to achieving that is based on Christian theology.”
The Fellowship of Reconciliation was founded in November 1915, at a conference in Long Island, N.Y. The headquarters is still there, though Stoneking plans to remain a Davis resident and travel accordingly.
Looking so far across America for her professional pursuits is nothing unusual for the Kansas City native; who attended college in Texas, seminary in Chicago, and a master’s degree program in Berkeley.
Stoneking plans to take her experience and use it to drive the organization through its centennial campaign. One of her central goals is reinvigorating the membership base, and bringing it to a younger consciousness.
She hopes for now to be a galvanizing moment for the group — to work with some of the energy and goals of the Occupy movement. She said it’s going to take more collaboration to accomplish that.
“No group can do it all anymore,” she said. “The world is too decentralized, and there’s too much need for grassroots efforts that make sense for the location. But there is a role for FOR as a network with global infrastructure.”
A large part of the organization’s message is nonviolence. It has a history rooted in the start of the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonviolent protests of the civil rights movement in the ’60s.
Since a number its former staff were the original organizers of the March on Washington (Bayard Rustin, James Lawson), Stoneking has been asked to speak at an event organized by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Fifty years from the original March on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech, 20 speakers will gather in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to celebrate triumphs since then and acknowledge the work still left to do.
Also speaking at this event is President Barack Obama, and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. It is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Stoneking will represent her new organization with a call for discontinuing excess military spending, and re-rooting those funds toward jobs, education and community building.
“The theme of the original march was ‘jobs and justice,’ which we’re reprising as ‘jobs, justice and freedom,’ ” she said. “There have been gains, but there are definitely places where it feels like we haven’t made tremendous progress.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett