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The cross and the parasol: priest, oracle work to develop interfaith center

The Rev. Susan Sims Smith has spent years developing interfaith work as a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. That work included building the Arkansas House of Prayer, a prayer and meditation center outside Little Rock, and co-founding the Interfaith Center, which has played a key role in resettling Afghan refugees in Arkansas.

Now, however, Sims Smith is leaving the low mountains outside Little Rock and planning to pray in a location halfway across the globe.

Episcopal News Service reports :

While teaching meditation in Arkansas, she saw a photo of the Episcopal House of Prayer, an Episcopal Church in Minnesota chapel and retreat center open to all on the grounds of the Roman Catholic Saint John’s Abbey and University in central Minnesota. According to the university, it is the “first time since the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century an Anglican diocese and a Benedictine monastery in communion with Rome have pledged to live, work and pray together in this unique way.”


The building’s distinctive design, featuring a round contemplative prayer room constructed with wood, glass and stone, caught Sims Smith’s eye.


“Teaching meditation is not easy,” she told ENS. “I said to my husband, ‘If somebody could sit in a room like this, the architecture itself would really help them move into silence.”


That was Sims Smith’s inspiration for building the Arkansas House of Prayer, a joint ministry of the Diocese of Arkansas and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church.

A one-time member of the diocesan cathedral’s staff, Sims Smith is now using her experience developing the Arkansas House of Prayer to develop an interfaith chapel with Kuten-la, the Tibetan government’s official state oracle, in Mongolia.

“I knew he was a person of deep meditation and I showed him pictures of the [Arkansas] House of Prayer just because I thought he would enjoy it,” Sims Smith recalled. “And he said to his assistant, ‘Go get the drawings.’ And the assistant comes in and brings the most gorgeous Tibetan drawings of a round meditation center that he believes the Spirit is telling him to build in Mongolia. I just cannot even describe the beauty and the intricacy and the detail of the drawings he had made.’


“I said, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help you when you get ready to work on that, I would be happy to do it.’ And after I said it, I was thinking, ‘I cannot believe I said that. How could I possibly help this man?’”
Sims Smith forgot about the encounter until several years later, when she was recovering from an injury and spending long periods of time in deep meditation. “And in all that quiet, I heard, ‘You’re supposed to try to help Kuten-la,’” she said. “I thought that was kind of preposterous, but I found a way to get a message to him, telling him that I felt like Spirit was calling me to help him.”

She invited him to Arkansas, “not really imagining he would do it.” To her surprise, in 2016, he came with eight other monks and stayed for three days, visiting the House of Prayer and talking with Sims Smith about the calling they both felt. That’s when he invited her to spend two weeks in Mongolia with him, outlining their vision to Buddhist leaders there.


The two leaders worked on a proposal for an interfaith house of prayer during their times together, but the outbreak of COVID-19 put the work on hold. Now, the two are starting a fundraising tour to raise cash for the project.

Read the entire story here.

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