COMMITTEE FOR INTERFAITH UNDERSTANDING
(Formerly MILWAUKEE ASSOCIATION FOR INTERFAITH RELATIONS)
The Committee for Interfaith Understanding (CIU) – a program of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee – is Southeastern Wisconsin’s largest and oldest inter-religious program conducting educational programs and bringing people together from a wide array of faith traditions to build understanding and friendship.
Our Mission Statement:
Recognizing and respecting cultural and spiritual diversity among all people, the mission of the Committee for Interfaith Understanding is threefold:
- To provide educational opportunities leading to mutual understanding
- To address our common concerns, and
- To share special celebratory events in the light of various religious traditions
We come together offering the richness of each unique heritage to our community and the world around us.
Approximately five times per year, representatives of various religious traditions meet as a committee to dialogue, plan events and discuss issues. These include Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Islamic Sufi, Jewish, Sikh and other traditions.
The committee and its members also serve as resources to many congregations and organizations seeking information about various faith traditions.
January 25, 2015 -- More than 160 people of a wide variety of faiths crowded into the sanctuary of Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield for a program jointly organized by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee's Committee for Interfaith Understanding and the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network (BEGIN) and titled "An Interfaith Experience: How does your faith inspire you to treat the stranger?" Representatives of 13 denominations and faiths gave mini-presentations. Then there was a break for refreshments, including home-made ethnic treats, followed by lively small-group dialoguing at tables. The crowd was so large that extra tables needed to be set up in the foyer.
In addition to Evangelical, Protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity, the other faiths represented in the presenations were: Baha'i, Buddhism, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), Evangelical Christian, Protestant Islam, Islamic Sufism, Judaism, Sikhism, Unitarian Universalism and Zoroastrianism.
The attendees, some of whom came from as far away as Elkhorn, discussed four questions in small groups:
a) Did something that one of the speakers said particularly strike you or otherwise resonate with you?
b) Was there a time in your life when you felt like “the stranger”?What was your experience of that?
c) How can you apply what you’ve heard today in your neighborhood, your workplace, in your faith community,
in your social interactions?
d) Looking ahead, what other topics or themes would you like to see explored/presented?
In other words, what do you want to hear about?
December 4, 2014 - More than 250 people of many faiths, ethnicities and cultures who came to the Italian Community Center for the Interfaith Conference's 44th annual luncheon were much more than "attendees." They were fully engaged "participants" as they shared personal stories of their lived experiences of faith or philosophy at mixed-faith tables.
This was a remarkable luncheon, one that reached beyond staid, conventional program models. Instead of having a keynote speaker, we had people get a taste of our highly successful Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Program by having a half hour of moderated discussions at each table using an appreciative listening process that evokes deep sharing. Instead of having faith groups and organizations purchase tables and sit with their own people, we dispersed people throughout the ballroom to achieve diversity at every table. People truly had personal, interfaith experiences that bridged differences and fostered understanding and friendship.
Dr. Rob Shelledy, Interfaith Conference Cabinet chair and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's Social Justice Ministry Coordinator, was the emcee. Tonen O'Connor, resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center, opened the luncheon with a reflection.
Rabbi Ronald Shapiro of Congregation Shalom received our Frank Zeidler Award for his leadership in social justice and interfaith relations. CORE/El Centro received our Rev. Herbert Huebschmann Urban Ministry Award for providing natural healing therapies that transform the body, mind and spirit of people who otherwise could not afford these services. Debbie Karow received our Mark Rohlfing Memorial Award for outstanding service as a teacher to special education students in the Milwaukee Public Schools. And Marquette University's "Midnight Run" student-led initiative received our Youth/Young Adult Leadership Award for 26 years of service to the hungry and homeless in Milwaukee.
November 19, 2014 - The Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (M.T.O.) School of Islamic Sufism in Franksville (northern Racine County) began participating in the Interfaith Conference's Committee for Interfaith Understanding. Two representatives from the school were warmly welcomed at the committee's November meeting. The school and its worship site serve Sufi Muslims from both the Chicago area and the Milwaukee area.
August 4, 2014 - Two Interfaith Conference representatives were among six panelists who participated in an online video discussion from the studios of Milwaukee Public Television following MPTV's broadcast of a documentary video, "The Sikh Temple Shootings: Waking in Oak Creek....A community rocked by hate is awakened and transformed," on the eve of the second anniversary of the shootings. Representing IFCGM in the discussion were Executive Director Tom Heinen and the Rev. Nancy Lanman, a United Methodist deacon who serves on the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors). She has extensive experience moderating our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues, including one in Oak Creek co-hosted by Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, who was one of the MPTV panelists for this online discussion.
August 2, 2014 - At the request of Sikh leaders, the Interfaith Conference arranged for representatives of several denominations and faiths to staff an interfaith information tent at the Sikh's "Chardhi Kala 6K Memorial Run & Walk" at Oak Creek High School. Participants had displays and/or handouts and interacted with the public. The event raises scholarship funds for Milwaukee area high school students entering college, with an emphasis on their volunteer public service. IFCGM Executive Director Tom Heinen was a judge for this year's applicants and participated in the scholarship presentation ceremony on the high school football field prior to the start of the run/walk.
July 16, 2014 - With conflict escalating in the Middle East, local religious leaders and adherents gathered for an interfaith Prayer Service for Peace in the Middle East at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, in All Saints’ Cathedral, Milwaukee. The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee organized the service to unite people of many different faiths and denominations in the vision of a world where peace is possible and violence is not inevitable. In every age and every hour, there are opportunities for diplomacy to defuse conflict, for wisdom to temper anger, for forgiveness to forestall vengeance and for faith to foster what is highest and best in the human spirit. Local leaders offered prayers and stood together, unified in their diversity, as an example of what is possible. The service concluded with the singing of Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant us Peace), in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic. (For news coverage of the prayer service, see: In the Media)
May 6, 2014 - Almost 40 Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues participants attended our second Amazing Faiths reunion event, "Food for Thought," hosted by the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee. Participants shared a vegetarian meal provided by Azmi Alaeddin and then broke into dialogue groups for moderated discussion, talking about the role of food in their faith traditions and lived experience. For more information on Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues, visit our Amazing Faiths page.
Apr. 10, 2014 - As part of a "Not In Our Town" initiative to further interfaith understanding and forestall hate and violence in his community, Mayor Steve Scaffidi of Oak Creek co-sponsored an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue for Oak Creek residents, which he attended. Two further dinners in Oak Creek are planned for July and August.
Feb. - June 2014 - The Interfaith Conference partnered with the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition to introduce Mission Possible, a pilot program for an Interfaith Youth Group designed to introduce around 20 high schoolers to other faiths, leaving them informed and inspired. Participants began by meeting their fellow students in two Amazing Faiths dinners in February, before meeting as a full group in March for a session on "Speedfaithing," focused on sharing their faiths with the group, and in April for "Faith on Facebook," a discussion of how their faiths are portrayed in the media. Further events on "Green Certified!" and "Ready, Set, Action!" took place in May and June, turning the emphasis towards faith in action.
Feb. 6, 2014 – Our Committee for Interfaith Understanding collaborates with our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Committee in our highly successful dinner dialogue project. The Milwaukee Friends Meetinghouse (Quakers) hosted "Stirring the Waters," the first Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue follow-up event for past participants. In an ongoing effort to increase collaboration among Interfaith Conference programs, AFDD worked with the Interfaith Earth Network to create a program centered on water and spirituality. The roughly 40 guests considered and discussed the role of water in their faith traditions and lived experience--while, as always with Amazing Faiths, sharing a hearty vegetarian meal. These dinners gather 8 to 12 people in a private home or intimate institutional setting for a moderated discussion that promotes deep sharing through appreciative inquiry. Check out the Amazing Faiths page on this website for more information.
Oct. 23, 2013 – IFC Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Manager Jenni Reinke gave a report on the program to a dinner gathering of Unitarian Universalists at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, which provided an $8,900 grant to fund her position. She was assisted by IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen and Amazing Faiths Committee member Kirsten Shead. The project is off to a great start, with 50 participants at five dinners giving the experience high marks and virtually all saying they would recommend it to friends and wanted to do more. They were from 14 different faiths or philosophies. Also, 56% said it was their first interfaith experience, 22% were minorities, 20% lived outside of Milwaukee County and half were under the age of 55.
Aug. 5, 2013 – The Rev. Jean Dow, chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board), gave a moving interfaith prayer in front of an estimated 1,000 people at the start of an outdoor candlelight prayer vigil at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek to mark the first anniversary of the slayings of six people and the wounding of four others there by a white supremacist. She was joined on stage by nearly 20 leaders and members of a wide variety of denominations and faiths. Later, two IFC board members – Elana Kahn-Oren, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Ahmed Quereshi, president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee – shared a microphone and jointly recited the activities and projects that the Conference did over the past year in response to the shootings. It was a powerful example of interfaith friendship and collaboration.
June 25, 2013 – We launched our expanded Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue project with an dinner that included our newly hired Amazing Faiths project manager, Jenni Reinke. Under a grant from the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, we will be holding at least 19 of these dinners in private homes and other settings in the next 10 months. Using a model developed by Rice University in Houston, these dinners evoke deep sharing of people’s lived faith experiences or philosophies in an intimate setting with 8 to 10 participants. The experience fosters interreligious understanding, tolerance and friendship while indirectly addressing ethnic/racial divides.
June 17, 2013 – As part of our expanding outreach to other denominations and faiths, several representatives of the Interfaith Conference and our Committee on Interfaith Understanding attended a reception with local and regional leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) at the Milwaukee Theatre and then were their guests at a performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Archbishop Jerome Listecki capped the evening with walk-on appearance as a guest conductor, leading the choir and orchestra in a performance of the classic folk song, “This Land is Your Land.”
April 10, 2013 – Partnering with Alverno College, the Interfaith Conference assisted in holding two simultaneous Amazing Faiths Dinners. Thirty people of various faiths gathered for a simple meal and dialogue using an appreciative listening technique that fosters deep sharing. The Rev. Dr. Bobbie Groth, an Alverno sociology professor and Unitarian Universalist representative on the Interfaith board, coordinated our participation. The Conference has launched a significant effort to hold more of these dinners in private homes and other sites throughout the metro area in 2013 to counter religious intolerance and hate, to foster interfaith understanding and friendship, and to help bridge the area’s deep cultural/racial divides. The Amazing Faiths Dinners format, which uses trained moderators and carefully crafted questions, was developed in Houston, Tex.
March 22, 2013 – Several Interfaith Conference representatives, including some participants in our CIU Committee, were among participants in a Halo Project Interfaith Summit that Marquette University held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the university’s Alumni Memorial Union building. Panelists gave presentations on how their denominations/faiths respond to social-justice issues. Community leaders, faculty and students dialogued on how to further connections between the university and faith community partners.
Jan. 15, 2013 – The Committee for Interfaith Understanding collaborates with our Amazing Faiths Committee in organizing our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues. The first dinner dialogue of 2013 was held on Jan. 15 with 12 participants from several different faiths sharing a simple meal and dialoguing about their lived faith experiences with a trained moderator. The group included one Unitarian Universalist, two Jews, two Muslims, one Congregationalist, one United Methodist, two Presbyterians, one Roman Catholic, one Baha’i and one person who is “spiritual.” The appreciative listening technique that is used promotes deep sharing. We have applied for a grant to launch these dinners in a larger way and to hold follow-up events to counter fear and promote interfaith and racial understanding in our increasingly diverse society. (We held some pilot dinners in 2012 that are not included on this list.)
In August and September of 2012, the committee -- then still known by its longtime name of MAIR (Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations) and other Interfaith Conference members responded in a variety of ways to the tragic slayings of six people and the wounding of four others by a lone gunman at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.
The Interfaith Conference issued a statement of condolence and support for the Sikh community. Faith leaders and MAIR participants attended prayer vigils and a community wake. The Interfaith Conference collected $5,558 in donations for the victims and invited the public to post prayers and expressions of concern on its website.
On September 24, 2012, MAIR organized a metro-area event titled “Know Your Neighbors: Exploring Our Diverse Faiths” that drew a diverse, overflow crowd of more than 200 people to Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church for keynote presentations on the Sikh faith and local history by Sikh leaders, followed by shorter presentations by representatives of Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist traditions. Many people remained afterward to socialize and to share ethnic snacks. (The event was hosted by Pastor Paul Armstrong of the Oak Creek church and moderated by Tonen O’Connor, MAIR chair and resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center. Presenters included: Captain Kanwarjit S. Bajwa, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin chairman; Mr. Inderjit S. Dhillon, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin secretary; Mr. Pardeep S. Kaleka, son of the slain president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin; Mr. Ahmed Quereshi, Islamic Society of Milwaukee president; Rabbi Moishe Steigmann of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School; Dr. Darshan Pandya of the Hindu Temp[e of Wisconsin; and Hoko Karnegis of the Milwaukee Zen Center.)
On June 10, 2012, MAIR and the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin organized a metro-area event titled “Interreligious Dialogue: A Friendship” that drew more than 220 people to the temple in Pewaukee for a talk by Dr. Anantanand Rambachan of Saint Olaf College and responses by panelists representing Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Dr. Rambachan structured his talk around the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Gandhi’s closest friend and collaborator, Anglican priest Charles F. Andrews. A dinner of Indian food prepared by temple volunteers followed. (The event was moderated by Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin. Panelists included: Rabbi Noah Chertkoff of Congregation Shalom, Fox Point; Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, Islamic Society of Milwaukee religious director; Ms. Judith Longdin, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Concerns, Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and Swamini Svatmavidyananda, director-preceptor of Arsha Vijnana Gurukulam, a Hindu spiritual organization in the Washington, D.C., area. )
On September 11, 2011 – the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – nine representatives of MAIR and the Interfaith Conference provided an opening invocation, individual reflections and a jointly recited prayer for the future at a Bel Canto Chorus/Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra concert entitled “United We Stand.” The concert program, which honored first responders, was held on an outdoor stage in front of a large audience in Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park. It featured performances of Mozart’s Requiem and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The entire program was broadcast statewide by Milwaukee Public Television.
On June 27, 2010, MAIR and the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin organized a metro-area event entitled “Celebrating Our Interfaith Community” at the temple in Pewaukee. The event, which explained faith traditions and spiritual practices, was attended by more than 230 people from throughout the area. It featured a keynote talk by Swami Tyagananda, the Hindu chaplain at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Panelists and the faith traditions they spoke about included: Dr. Mohan-Singh Dhariwal, Sikhism; Mr. Kamal Shah, Jainism; Mr. Jim Beasley, Baha’i faith; Mr. Roland Rutkowski, Nichiren Buddhism; Dr. Tom Pilarzyk, Hatha Yoga; Rabbi Steve Adams, Judaism; Rev. Tonen O’Connor, Buddhist traditions; Rev. Mary Ann Neevel, Christianity. Dr. Walter Neevel, associate professor emeritus of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, gave a response. A dinner of Indian food prepared by temple volunteers followed.
Other Year's Highlights
In May 2008 we had a panel discussion at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Milwaukee's east side entitled "Religious Perspectives and Practices: Birth and Death." Panelists were from Christian (Rev. Jean Dow, Immanuel Presbyterian Church), Jewish (Rabbi Roxanne Shapiro, Congregation Shalom), Baha’i (Jerry Johnson, Baha’i Society of Milwaukee), Muslim (Ahmed Quereshi, Islamic Society of Milwaukee) and Buddhist (Mike Vater, Milwaukee Shambhala Center) traditions. This occasional series will explore the beliefs and practices of different faith traditions around major life events such as birth, marriage, and death
In 2007 we teamed up with the Peace and International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference to present a luncheon/lecture series focusing on "Violence: Faith Perspectives." We heard from speakers of four religious traditions: Isa Sadlon, Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, Bishop Paul Stumme-Diers of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, Congregation Shalom, and Rev. Tonen O'Connor, resident priest of the Milwaukee Zen Center.
The May 2006 Lecture Luncheon series was entitled "Seeking the Common Good," which explored the concept of the common good, hopefully setting the stage for a dialogue that will help us to look at the theological and moral impulses that lead us to desire the common good. We had speakers from the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.
In May 2005 our "Tuesdays in May" Luncheon/Lecture series was entitled: "Finding Our Place through Faith," which addressed how faith influences our major life choices and ethical decisions. Speakers included Unitarian Bob Chernow, Buddhist Peter Neuwald, and Roman Catholic E. Michael McCann.
In May 2004 the series was titled "Traditions and Treasures of Living Faiths," with presentations from Rabbi Shlomo Levin of the Lake Park Synagogue on Judaism: an Orthodox perspective; Dr. Trinette V. McCray speaking from the American Baptist perspective, Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj of Hindu Temple of Wisconsin who spoke about Hinduism, and Ahmed Quereshi of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, who spoke about Islam.