Why We Need More “Open Heart” Conversations

By Mallory Herrmann
Rev. Heather Shea and Rev. Dr. José Román reunited at the United Palace of Spiritual Arts in New York streams on Unity Online Radio

United Palace of Spiritual Arts invites listeners to connect with the world’s spiritual traditions

When Rev. Heather Shea and Rev. Dr. José Román reunited at the United Palace of Spiritual Arts in New York City years after graduating from the same seminary school, they both recognized the importance of having inclusive discussions about spiritual traditions in the modern world.

Having seen the eagerness to delve into a wide range of spiritual traditions within the United Palace community, Shea (spiritual director) and Román (spiritual counsel) decided to begin the Open Heart Conversations project to provide some structure for the conversation.

A Space Made for Conversation

The United Palace of Spiritual Arts was built in 1929 in New York City to host news reels, films, and vaudeville theater events. And though it still screens classic films 90 years later, for the past 50 years it has been home to a community dedicated to spiritual artistry.

As both a church and a performing arts center, United Palace of Spiritual Arts has a mission to explore the world’s spiritual traditions through experiencing music, art, and conversation of religions from all around the globe. But Shea and Román envisioned a project that would go beyond just acknowledging a diverse community.

By not just simply celebrating our diversity, but by emphasizing it and creating a structure around how our differences are explored, Open Heart Conversations invites devout followers, curious seekers, nonbelievers, and everyone in between to connect with a spiritual community.

The response has been phenomenal.

An Exploration of Spirituality

Open Heart Conversations at United Palace Theatre in New York City streams on Unity Online Radio

Together with cohost Rev. Todd Humphrey, ministry and community development associate at United Palace of Spiritual Arts, Shea and Román explore a different religion or spiritual tradition each month through guest speakers, art and music, and interactive events. The intent is to dig deeply into both the world’s major religions and lesser-known spiritual and wisdom traditions from a wide range of cultures.

Shea says the conversation has truly evolved out of the church’s speaker tradition, which has long encouraged an exploration of spirituality: Like many spiritual seekers, the congregation at United Palace of Spiritual Arts is eager to learn. Román describes an “openness to magnificence,” even when it comes from traditions that participants hadn’t heard of before or perhaps seemed foreign to them.

In a world that can seem only increasingly divided, the importance of these conversations cannot be understated. Nowhere is that more evident than at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, where more than 200 faith traditions were represented in a celebration of harmony between spiritual communities.

Diane Ray, program director for Unity Online Radio, met Shea at the event and was moved by the connectivity she saw among attendees.

“I saw the common threads tying so many traditions together,” Ray says. “We’re really a lot more alike than we are different.”

Initiatives like these help us remember those threads that connect us and provide a sense of greater belonging, even among differing cultures and worldviews.

Open Heart Conversations welcomes feedback and ideas for future conversations from the community. They can be contacted through their website, unitedpalace.org.


Looking for more resources to expand your interfaith education? Here are three of Rev. Dr. José Román’s favorites!

The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale

The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale

The Coming Interspiritual Age by Kurt Johnson

The Coming Interspiritual Age by Kurt Johnson

Interspiritual Meditation by Edward Bastian

InterSpiritual Meditation by Edward Bastian


Mallory HerrmannMallory Herrmann is a writer and editor in the Kansas City area. Her work has been featured in Unity Magazine, Career College Central, and the Lee’s Summit Tribune.


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