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.
2016 Highlights Thus Far
April 27, 2016 -- An energized crowd of 240 people from Mequon and other parts of the metro area listened, asked questions and applauded vigorously at an interfaith event on the evening of April 27 that was titled "Exploring Islam: Addressing Difficult Questions. An interreligious conversation from Muslim, Christian and Jewish perspectives." Many lingered for refreshments and conversation aftewards.
Held at Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Mequon, the event was co-planned and co-sponsored by the church and the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee's Committee for Interfaith Understanding (CIU). The panelists were the Rev. Scott Hauser, Crossroads' senior pastor; Janan Najeeb, a founding member and president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition; and Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shalom in Fox Point, the largest Jewish congregation in the Milwaukee area.
This was a follow-up to a similar event on Islam that the Interfaith Conference co-organized in February with the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network (BEGIN). For that event, we rented the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove and filled its 300 seats to capacity. Some latecomers had to be turned away.
These events are part of our continuing effort to counter hate, fear, prejudice and anxiety with interfaith education and personal contact that leads to understanding, tolerance and friendship.
March 31, 2016 -- Jenni Reinke, director of our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues Program, collaborated with the Faith-Friendly & Allies Employee Resource Group at Rockwell Automation to hold a workplace interfaith dialogue for approximately 50 employees during the lunch hour. The dialogue was based on the Amazing Faiths model and adapted for the corporate setting. It was the first in a series of four interfaith dialogues the Interfaith Conference and Rockwell will be holding this year. Through this collaboration, the Interfaith Conference is developing a workplace interfaith dialogue model that can be used by other corporations and organizations. Jenni trained Rockwell employee resource group leaders to serve as moderators. To supplement them, she and Executive Director Tom Heinen also moderated, and she also brought in experienced Amazing Faiths volunteer moderator Marge Krupp.
March 22, 2016 -- 50 area employees of the Interfaith Older Adults Programs participated in an interfaith/intercultural training session arranged by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee in the Washington Park Senior Center. Dr. Michael Donahou, assistant professor of religious studies at Cardinal Stritch University, gave an egaging and informative presenation on Islam. He will be returning to focus on other faiths in one or more subsequent sessions. Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen, who asked Donahou to do the presentation, spoke briefly about the Conference's history and current programs. People often confuse the two organizations because we both have "Interfaith" in our name. Actually, the older adults program started from a task force that the Interfaith Conference started in the early 1970s but has been independent ever since. The Interfaith Conference office fields misdirected calls every week from people trying to reach the older adults program, and we direct the callers to the correct telephone number.
March 13, 2016 -- More than 100 people remained for a post-performance panel presentation organized by the Interfaith Conference at the Skylight Music Theatre's presentation of the Gospel musical "Crowns" on March 13. Women from six different faiths who cover their heads for religious and/or cultural purposes talked about the reasons for doing so, how that affects them and the reactions they get from others. Crowns was crafted around the tradition of African American women wearing elaborate hats to church services. The Skylight said, “In this jubilant Gospel musical, a teenager finds strength in a community of wise women who share powerful stories and songs connected to their magnificent church-going hats (aka Crowns).” Calvary Baptist Church, the oldest African American Baptist Church in Milwaukee, co-sponsored the talkback. Panelists included:
- Sheri Williams Pannell – The show’s director and a member of Calvary Baptist Church. Calvary is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, and its senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. John R. Walton, Jr., is a member of the Interfaith Conference board and its leadership executive committee.
- Janan Najeeb – A founding member and current president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition
- Dana Margolis – A member of Congregation Beth Jehudah, an Orthodox Jewish congregation, and a Senior Lecturer in the Hebrew Studies program at UWM.
- Shauna Singh Baldwin – An award-winning Canadian-American novelist of Indian descent who attends a Sikh Temple here
- Sister Zipporah Marigwa -- A Roman Catholic School Sister of Notre Dame from Kenya who is studying at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee
- Rev. Suzelle Lynch – Minister of Unitarian Universalist Church West, Brookfield, who has created special hats to wear for religious services and other church-related occasions, and who has studied the practice of head covering across faith traditions. The Unitarian Universalist Congregations of Southeast Wisconsin are one of 17 member faiths and denominations of the Interfaith Conference.
- The moderator was the Rev. Nancy Lanman, a United Methodist Deacon and chair of the Interfaith Conference's Committee for Interfaith Understanding.
Feb. 18, 2016 -- A capacity crowd of slightly more than 300 people filled the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove the evening of Feb. 18 for an Interfaith program with the provocative title, "What do we really know about Islam? Answering the difficult questions." This was an attempt to reach out beyond our normal "choir" of supporters to include people who have concerns, anxieties or skepticism. So many people came that we exceeded the theater's seating capacity and had to turn some away, inviting them to attend a similar event we are planning to hold in Mequon on April 27. The response was tremendous; the mood of the crowd inquisitive and peaceful.
People from at least 25 different faiths came from 43 different communities, some from as far away as Pleasant Prairie, Fond du Lac, West Bend, Baraboo, Hartford and Illinois. of the 284 people who completed survey forms, 103 said it was the first interfaith event they had attended.
The event was organized by our Committee for Interfaith Understanding in collaboration with the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network (BEGIN), It included a Q&A session. Two Muslim speakers had the most time for presentations.
James Santelle, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, wrote afterwards, "I write to congratulate you and all of your board members and staff for organizing and presenting Thursday evening’s genuinely outstanding community gathering at the Sunset Playhouse. From start to finish, the program was informative, thoughtful, reflective, inspiring, and even humorous—striking precisely the right balance of education and encouragement for the challenges of our times. I appreciate your continuing focus on and commitment to this supremely important work..."
Our moderator was Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi. Our speakers and welcomers included:
- Janan Najeeb, a Founder and Current President of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition (MMWC), based in Greenfield, who the prior week became the first Muslim to lead the Wisconsin State Assembly in prayer prior to the start of a legislative session
Rabbi Jacob Herber, Past President of Wisconsin Council of Rabbis, Spiritual Leader of Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale. Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem
Imam Noman Hussain from Islamic Society of Milwaukee West, the mosque that opened in Brookfield last year
Rev. Dr. John R. Walton, Jr., Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, the oldest African-American Baptist Church in Milwaukee
Rahul Dubey, Representative of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin in Brookfield
Rev. Nancy Lanman, Chair of Interfaith Conference’s Committee for Interfaith Understanding, and United Methodist representative on Interfaith Conference Cabinet
Rev. Suzelle Lynch, Deputy Convenor of Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network (BEGIN) and Minister of Unitarian Universalist Church West, Brookfield
Tom Heinen, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee
Nov. 12, 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference helped promote and was one of the co-sponsors of a presentation at UWM on Nov. 12 by Eboo Patel, nationally prominent founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core. He spoke to a large crowd of students, faculty and members of the general public on "Bridges Between Us: The Importance of Interfaith Dialogue and Leadership." Several Interfaith Conference leaders attended. Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen joined about 15 other people for an informal dinner and conversation with Patel immediately prior to his presentation. One of Patel's quotes that were used to promote the event: "In a world where the forces that divide us are strong, I came to the conclusion: We have to save each other. It's the only way to save ourselves."
Nov. 5, 2015 -- Forty Marquette University students from diverse Christian and non-Christian backgrounds participated in four simultaneous Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues that were organized by the Interfaith Conferernce's Jenni Reinke and Marquette Associate Professor Irfan Omar, who teaches in the Theology Department. The students dined at four different tables in a gathering room within the Office of International Education in Holthusen Hall. Overseeing the dialogues were Jenni and three experienced Interfaith Conference Amazing Faiths Moderators: Ann Dee Allen, the Rev. Nancy Lanman, and Donna Neubauer. The Interfaith Conference provided some supplemental funding for the dinners, which featured ethnic food from an Indian restaurant.
Oct. 15, 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference received the Niagara Foundation's 2015 Peace Award during an awards dinner at Renaissance Place on Oct. 15th. Accepting and speaking were Rob Shelledy, chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (board of directors) and the Rev. Jean Dow, immediate past chair. The Niagara Foundation strives to promote social cohesion by fostering civic conversations and sustained relationships between people of different cultures and faiths.Other 2015 honorees were: Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee (Community Service Award); Janine P. Geske, Justice, Distinguished Professor of Law (Commitment Award) and Mark Sabljak, Publisher, Milwaukee Business Journal (Media Award).
Oct. 1, 2015 -- A panel presentation and discussion with some of the featured artists in an ongoing exhibit titled "Inspired: The Power of Art & Faith" was held Oct. 1 at the Art Gallery in the University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee Student Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd. The Interfaith Conference helped find artists and co-sponsored the exhibit with the Union Art Gallery and UWM.
Sept. 18, 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference and our Committee for Interfaith Understanding helped find artists and co-sponsored an exhibit that was titled "Inspired: The Power of Art & Faith." It opened Sept. 18 and ran through Oct. 9 at the Union Art Gallery in the University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee Student Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.
This exceptional exhibit featured the works of 13 local artists and included enlightening explanations by the artists of how their various faiths influenced their creativity and expression. Organized by Nick Pipho, the gallery manager, the exhibit was described this way: "Art has the power to connect people of different cultures, languages, and faiths. Through artwork we can begin to identify the ideas and experiences that connect us all. Inspired: The Power of Art and Faith celebrates those connections as seen in the work of a diverse group of local artists. Through work in a wide range of mediums, these artists showcase their artistic creativity and reveal how they conceive of themselves, their culture and faith, and their community."
July 12, 2015 -- About 30 leaders, supporters and participants in Interfaith Conference programs attended a movie screening and breaking-of-the-fast Ramadan iftar dinner as guests of the Niagara Foundation at the Turkish American Society of Wisconsin, 6011 S. 27th St., Greenfield. Founded in 2004, the foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mission of fostering civic conversations and sustained relationships between people of different cultures and faiths. Attendees at the dinner viewed Love Is A Verb, a documentary about the Hizmet social movement of Sufi inspired Sunni Muslims that began in Turkey in the l960s and now reaches across the globe. It also is known as the Gulen Movement after its inspiration, leader and revered teacher, Fethullah Gulen.
May 3, 2015 -- Our Committee for Interfaith Understanding drew 140 people of different faiths and denominations to the newly opened mosque in Brookfield to have building tours and engage in lively, small-group sharing after hearing representatives of 12 faiths give brief presentations on the day’s theme, “Why do we pray? An exploration of the purpose and benefits of prayer.” The Islamic Society of Milwaukee hosted the event and provided Middle Eastern food.
March 4, 2015 -- "Healing as a Community," the second of two talkbacks the Interfaith Conference arranged in collaboration with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and its production of "The Amish Project," drew 77 people for a question-and-answer session with three panelists that was engaging, poignant, deeply personal and pragmatic. The play was based on the shootings of Amish school girls in Pennsylvania in 2006 and the Amish community's incredible forgiveness of the gunman and charity towards his wife. Coming immediately after actress Deborah Staples' compelling, one-woman performance of the play, the talkback delved into the critical and timely issues of hate, forgiveness, intolerance, violence, healing, faith and community spirit. The three panelists were: Pardeep Kaleka, whose father, Oak Creek Sikh Temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, was one of six people slain by a white supremacist at the temple in 2012; Oak Creek Polict Lt. Brian Murphy, who survived being shot 15 times as a first-responder at the temple; and Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi. The audience burst into sustained applause at the end of the session, in the Rep's Stiemke Studio theater.
March 2, 2015 -- A large contingent of representatives from the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) and our Committee for Interfaith Understanding was present for inaugural ceremonies and an open house for a new mosque in Brookfield -- the first mosque to be built in Waukesha County, on March 2, 2015. Among the speakers were Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, religious director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee; Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto; U.S. Attorney James Santelle; Ahmed Quereshi, president of the Islamic Society and an Interfaith Conference officer; Dr. Rob Shelledy, chair of the Interfaith Conference and coordinator of social justice ministry for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and Tom Heinen, Interfaith Conference Executive Director. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story referenced the Interfaith Conference presence. See: Mosque
Feb. 25, 2015 -- About 70 people heard three interfaith panelists provide moving stories about their journeys to forgiveness and the impact of the fatal shootings of family members on them and others as the Interfaith Conference collaborated with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in presenting a Faith & Forgiveness talkback after the 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25th performance of "The Amish Project" in the Rep's Stiemke Studio theater. Actress Deborah Staples, who starred in the one-woman show, sat in the back of the audience for the talkback after getting out of costume.
The play -- a deeply moving, powerful production -- is based generally on the shootings of six Amish school girls by a lone gunman in Pennsylvania in 2006 and the Amish community's incredible forgiveness of the gunman and charity towards his wife. The three panelists were: Afriqah Imani, an African-American Muslim who embraced and befriended the killer of her son after the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Restorative Justice Project helped her end 10 years of anger; Amardeep Kaleka, son of former Oak Creek Sikh Temple President Satwant Singh Kaleka, who was killed in the attack; and Marna Winbush, one of the founders of Milwaukee’s Mothers Against Gun Violence, whose son was gunned down in a triple homicide.
The Interfaith Conference also is organizing a talkback after the March 4 performance on the theme of Healing as a Community. It will feature Pardeep Kaleka, another son of the slain Sikh Temple president; Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi; and Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, who was shot 15 times after responding to calls for help at the temple.
Feb. 4, 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference assisted Marquette University in planning small-group diversity dinner dialogues for about 100 students and faculty in the Alumni Memorial Union as part of the university's multi-faceted mission week activities. The dinners were based on our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Program. Some of that program's discussion questions were used; others were created and/or adapted for the theme of the mission week, which was, "Who Cares? Charity, Justice and the Quest for the Common Good." Amazing Faiths Program Director Jenni Reinke helped train student moderators. Interfaith Conference Cabinet Member the Rev. Matt Kruse, an ELCA Lutheran, and Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen participated in the dinners.
Jan. 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?
Dec. 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.
Nov. 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.
Aug. 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.
Aug. 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.
April 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.