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Ed Boenisch, left, and Rick Veit sit in the pews of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Cheyenne on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 in Cheyenne. The two are inviting Cheyenne residents to a forum called Compassionate Citizens next Thursday at the Laramie County Library. Jacob Byk/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – For the last 18 months, a working group of local residents from a variety of backgrounds and faiths has been establishing the beginnings of Compassionate Cheyenne.

They’re not asking for money; they don’t have by-laws or established leadership; the working group doesn’t have firm goals or political leanings. Beyond all else, they are using compassion as a guiding principal in how to make Cheyenne a better place to live.

The group will host a forum Thursday seeking residents’ input on that topic.

“The reality is we know Cheyenne is compassionate already – a lot of organizations, a lot of acts,” said Ed Boenisch, one of the local initiative’s originators. “We’re just asking: Is there a possibility we can become more compassionate?”

In June 2015, about a dozen community members gathered to broadly ask what they want for Cheyenne. Their exploration of that question led them to the International Charter for Compassion. The charter stems from an award-winning TED Talk presentation by Karen Armstrong titled “My Wish: The Charter for Compassion.” In it, Armstrong explored the idea of the golden rule common among the world’s monotheistic religions that she said seems lost among many of the modern propagators of those faiths. If people treated others the way they wanted to be treated, Armstrong believes the world could make significant positive strides in times of deep divisions.

In 2009, Armstrong’s notion was launched in the Charter for Compassion, a document that calls on humanity to work toward peace by restoring compassion as the center of morality and religion. Today, the charter is the guiding document for what are known as Compassionate Communities, a network of participating towns, cities and nations that establishes a dedication to its principles.

According to the charter’s official website, the program does not certify approval or require participating communities to subscribe to a particular definition. Rather, those communities around the world – including 44 in the U.S. – pledge to act with compassion in whatever way they respectively see fit.

“There’s already compassion in every city, with good-hearted people working, but it’s really more of a platform to do good work, and also a platform for discussions,” said St. Mark’s Episcopal Church pastor the Rev. Rick Veit, another Compassionate Cheyenne leader.

For Boenisch, the vagueness of what it means to be a Compassionate Community is really what makes it work.

“It’s the beauty of the process that every community and city can decide how it defines it in its own way,” he said.

Compassionate Cheyenne is in the process of appealing to the Cheyenne City Council to pass a resolution designating Cheyenne as a Compassionate Community. It doesn’t require anything in particular, other than asking the community to use compassion as a framework for decision-making, Boenisch said.

“It opens up broad questions and all kinds of possibilities,” he said. “When faced with personal decisions that a person, family, business or city is challenged to ask, it asks, ‘What is the compassionate response?’”

In order to determine what it all means for Cheyenne, the group is hosting two forums Thursday at the Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave. One is scheduled from noon-1 p.m. in the Cottonwood Room, with the second from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Willow Room.

“The focus is geared toward getting input from people about compassion, and specifically about compassion in Cheyenne,” Veit said.

A series of exercises is intended to gather input on how to define what the organization should mean for Cheyenne. Realizing that the definition is subjective, Boenisch said the purpose is to explore how to make the initiative inclusive and unifying.

Boenisch said there’s really no specific direction in terms of actions or goals Compassionate Cheyenne intends in coming years. Instead, they simply want to see where the momentum carries the community.

“It may be a process of finding out what’s happening around the city,” he said. “We may advocate or support in some way, but we don’t have a budget; we don’t have staff; we’re not determined to compete with other nonprofits that are raising money. We’re going to be volunteers and keep it that way.”

Veit said everyone interested in making Cheyenne a more compassionate community is invited. There’s no appeal to any particular spiritual persuasion, demographic or political leaning.

“It’s for people with religion, without religion – it’s for anyone,” he said.

Joel Funk is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at jfunk@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @jmacfunk.

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