Ongoing Reports: Keeping Busy
The Interfaith Conference is a 46-year-old, nonprofit organization through which the regional leaders and adherents of 17 member denominations and faiths dialogue to build relationships, do interfaith programming to foster public understanding, tolerance and friendship, and work together on social justice issues to create a better society for everyone. We also work closely with several nonmember faiths.
As the United States has become increasingly religiously diverse, we have been at the forefront of efforts to counter misunderstanding, fear, anxiety and hate while fostering interfaith, intercultural, and interracial understanding, tolerance and friendships across county and city-suburban lines.
Our various activities and programs include:
Events and Activities in 2017
Feb. 16, 2017 -- The Interfaith Conference rented the main stage of The Milwaukee Repertory Theater for an evening program as a follow-up to the Rep's production of the play Disgraced. The title was "Disgraced: Stereotypes and Identity....An Interfaith Conversation from Muslim, Jewish & Christian Perspectives, with Audience Q&A." It drew more than 60 people for insightful presentations by four panelists and a lively question and answer session. This event also was a follow-up to the intercultural dinner dialogues that we and The Rep held for a total of 400 people in the Rep's rehearsal halls on four Monday nights during the run of the play.
The panelists were:
February 2017 -- Planning accelerated for our Interfaith Earth Network;s 10th anniversary event on March 19, 2017, titled Renewing Hope. It will be a free, dynamic, open house from 2 to 5 p.m. at the east side Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park, 1500 E. Park Pl., Milwaukee. (The UEC helped found IEN.) We will have displays by dozens of organizations with inspirational and practical ideas on a wide range of environmental and sustainability topics, dynamic workshops, delicious sustainable refreshments and kids’ activities.
January and February 2017 -- One of our highly impactful efforts was our partnering with The Milwaukee Repertory Theater in crafting, organizing and holding free intercultural dinner dialogues for a total of about 400 people on four successive Monday nights in Reps rehearsal halls in conjunction with the Rep’s production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced.
Responses on evaluation forms were very positive. We used our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue method as the model for this. We worked with the Rep in creating questions related to the play’s themes of identity. We handled all registrations and seating assignments, and we trained the moderators. The Rep provided nearly all of the funding through sponsoring organizations. We funded one table each night.
Feb. 7, 2017 -- The Rev. Andy Oren, chair of our Cabinet and pastor of Bay View United Methodist Church, offered a welcoming prayer in front of a large crowd of people for “Milwaukee Gathers in Unity for Human Dignity.” We were one of several co-sponsors. The event was a community gathering “to uphold the American promise of welcoming the stranger and offering refuge to the persecuted. Several present and former refugees from different countries and eras told personal stories. The event was held in the evening at Carmen High School of Science & Technology on Milwaukee’s south side. The Milwaukee mayor and Milwaukee County executive spoke. The Jewish Community Relations Council was a key organizer of the event, which was organized in response to federal crackdowns on immigrants and refugees, especially Muslims.
Events and Activities in 2016
December, year-end Amazing Faiths Overview -- We held more than 20 Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues in 2016, most coordinated by our then Amazing Faiths program director, Jenni Reinke. This included two for students in the UWM Student Union and one for Christian and Muslim older adults at the Wilson Park Senior Center. Because of the commitment to conduct intercultural dinner dialogues with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in January and February 2017, our regular Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues will gradually begin for 2017 in March and April.
Dec. 6, 2017 -- As part of our collaboration with Rockwell Automation and its Faith Friendly and Allies interfaith employee resource group, we helped arrange for Tonen O'Connor, resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center, to give a lunchtime presentation on Buddhism for 50 or more employees. This is part of an ongoing effort in which we are helping to arrange informational sessions and opportunities for interfaith, intercultural dialogue for employees of any faith or philosophy.
Dec. 1, 2016 -- Our 46th annual luncheon drew 230 people of diverse faiths. Ralph Hollmon, retiring Milwaukee Urban League President/CEO, received our Frank Zeidler Award and gave a parting view on local social issues. Ruth Silver, Jewish woman who founded the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, Inc., received our Mark Rohlfing Memorial Award. Friedens Community Ministries received our Rev. Herbert Huebschmann Urban Ministry Award, which we have given for many years. The late Rev. Huebschmann was a longtime pastor at the former Friedens United Church of Christ, which directly and indirectly started a number of urban service and outreach ministries. His widow, Viv, was present to present the award.One of our Youth/Young Adult Leadership Awards was given to Zeynab Ali, an inspirational Kenyan/Somali refugee teenager who attends Milwaukee’s Rufus King High School and who has founded an anti-human trafficking youth group. Another went to youths and young adults from the Serve2Unite group that Sikhs founded after the fatal shootings of six Sikhs at their Oak Creek temple by a white supremacist.
Jane Elder, executive director of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, who oversees its nonpartisan Waters of Wisconsin initiative, gave a presentation on the critical need for people of faith to know Wisconsin’s inspirational water heritage and to add their voices in safeguarding the waters we all depend upon. Luncheon attendees then dialogued about water and faith at mixed-faith tables while they ate.
Nov. 21, 2016 -- Our Committee for Interfaith Understanding assisted with the opening reception and promotion of a Muslim photo exhibit in Milwaukee City Hall. The exhibit, titled “Capture the Spirit of Ramadan: Bridging Cultures, Inspiring Creativity,” was on a world tour and was brought here by the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition. Our CIU committee helped get speakers of different faiths to offer interfaith prayers, helped with refreshments, and assisted in other ways. The reception and program drew a large crowd.
Oct. 27, 2016 – Our Faith Connections//Values in Action Awards night in a Miller Park lounge during the off-season honored: Major league Baseball Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig; the Brewer’s Community Foundation, represented by its executive director, Cecelia Gore: and Sister Toni Ann Palermo, now a School Sister of St. Francis, who in the 1940s-50s played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League on which the movie “A League of Their Own” was based. These events spotlight values, ethics and faith or philosophy in the lives of prominent leaders from many fields. Our Give for the Glide online “voting” sent Fr. Jerry Herda, the Brewers’ Catholic chaplain and pastor of two east side Milwaukee parishes, down Bernie Brewers’ slide that night as the top donation getter. The event, partly a fund raiser, drew 100 people.
Oct. 27 -- A total of 24 people, including students and facilitators, participated in a second Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue in the UWM Student Union organized by Tom Dake, liaison advisor to the Student Organizations Department at UWM, and the Interfaith Conference. This is an effort to get the campus more comfortable with the notion of interfaith interaction and to raise the baseline on what a person with an interfaith education would be. It is intended to make the campus faith-friendly for a variety of faith traditions. Overall, the two dinners included Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha'is, atheists and others. UWM is working with the Jewish HIllel organization in engage Jewish students in this effort. More dinner dialogues are expected to be held in 2017.
Oct. 11, 2016 -- The Interfaith Conference helped the Rev. Bob Wang, pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Burlington, arrange an interfaith event titled "Islam and Interfaith Relations: 9/11 at 15: From Fear to Friendship" in the Veterans Terrace at Echo Park in Burlington. We coordinated with Ahmed Quereshi, treasurer of the Interfaith Conference board of directors and president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, who was the sole interfaith speaker at the event. The event, free and open to the public, drew an estimated 150 people.
Oct. 9, 2016 -- The Interfaith Conference organized its 31st annual Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger walk at Milwaukee’s lakefront to create awareness of hunger, to raise food donations for local distribution, and to raise monetary donations for Church World Service’s international and domestic relief and economic development efforts, and for some other agencies designated by donors. The 2016 walk, co-directed by Norma Duckworth and volunteer Diana Wollach, drew about 350 adults and children from a wide range of faiths and ethnicities. It collected over 11,000 pounds of food for the Hunger Task Force and raised over $24,000 for international and national relief and development.
Sept. 27 -- Ten people, including students and facilitators, participated in an inaugural Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue in the UWM Student Union organized by Tom Dake, liaison advisor to the Student Organizations Department at UWM, and the Interfaith Conference. This is an effort to get the campus more comfortable with the notion of interfaith interaction and to raise the baseline on what a person with an interfaith education would be. It is intended to make the campus faith-friendly for a variety of faith traditions.
Sept. 22, 2016 -- Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen joined other religious and civic leaders for a lunchtime presentation and discussion titled "Responses to Violence: How We Transcend Conflict and Choose Reconciliation." The featured speakers were Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin, an Israeli woman and Palestinian man who each lost an adult child to conflict and who now represent the Parents Circle, which describes itself as a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis supporting peace, reconciliation and tolerance as an alternative to hatred and revenge.
Sept. 20, 2016 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen was among about 20 religious leaders and representatives of faith-based organizations who attended a breakfast meeting at Milwaukee's North Division High School with Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Darienne Driver as a follow-up to a previous meeting regarding ways that congregations and others can partner with MPS to offer hope and help to MPS students and families.
Sept. 15, 2016 -- Working with representatives of the interfaith employee resource group at Rockwell Automation, we helped craft discussion questions on food from a faith, family and philosophy perspective and held lunchtime dialogues for employees using our Amazing Faiths dialogue format. This is part of an ongoing collaboration with Rockwell as a pilot project that we hope to bring to other businesses and corporations. The workplace is one of a diminishing number of areas in society where people of diverse backgrounds come together.
Aug. 10, 2016 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen attended the Milwaukee Jewish Federation's annual meeting, at Congregation Sinai, where Federation CEO/President Hannah Rosenthal gave a year-in-review report and Elizabeth "Betsy" Brenner, recently retired president and publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, spoke about her participation in a Federation-coordinated trip to Poland and Holocaust sites.
Aug. 6, 2016 -- The Interfaith Conference set up and staffed interfaith display tables at the Sikh community's annual 6K Chardhi Kala run/walk, which starts and ends at Oak Creek High School's football field. The event has three purposes. It commemorates the six Sikhs who were fatally shot by a white supremacist at the Oak Creek temple on Aug. 5, 2012. It raises money for scholarships for young people of many faiths throughout the metro area who exemplify community service. And it helps build community unity while celebrating the benefits of diversity. It is organized by the Serve2Unite group that was formed by Sikh youths and young adults after the shooting to foster interfaith understanding and strengthen community. The Interfaith Conference has assisted with this event in various ways since it began in 2013.
July 13, 2016 -- More than 50 employees at Rockwell Automation, a global corporation headquartered on Milwaukee's south side, participated in a lunchtime dialogue on the topic of water at mixed-faith/philosophy tables. Representatives of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee assisted and participated. Several people then toured the expansive "green roof" at Rockwell, where 48,500 square feet of plantings help dramatically reduce storm water runoff into the sewer system. These workplace dialogues are a collaboration of the Interfaith Conference's Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Program and Rockwell's Faith Friendly & Allies Employee Resource Group, which is overseen by Susan Schmitt, Senior Vice President for Human Relations at Rockwell. The president of the faith-friendly employees' group is Rockwell employee Rahul Dubey, who also is one of the area Sikh community's representatives on the board of the Interfaith Conference. Amazing Faiths Program Director Jenni Reinke, who is on a leave of absence to attend a graduate school program, has been working with Rockwell to develop workplace interfaith dialogues as a pilot program. Interfaith staff member Kirsten Shead, who is the director of our Interfaith Earth Network and is on the Amazing Faiths leadership team, trained several Rockwell employees to serve as moderators for this July 13th luncheon and did a brief reflection on the importance of water in faith and science before giving dialogue instructions to the participants. Amazing Faiths volunteer Marge Krupp moderated one of the tables, as did Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen, whose wife, Katie, also participated in the dialoguing.
June 16, 2016 -- Ten senior citizens from the Wilson Senior Center and the Muslim Sakina Center came together for an Amazing Faiths Dialogue lunch at the Wilson Center's site in Wilson Park as part of a collaboration between the Interfaith Conference and the Interfaith Older Adult Programs. The older adult programs started in the early 1970s from a task force that the Interfaith Conference created and has been a separate, independent organization ever since. They are striving this year to help their staff and clients become more knowledgeable about other faiths and cultures amid the county's increasingly diverse population. Our Amazing Faiths program director, Jenni Reinke, coordinated this lunch with Morgan R. Morgan at the Wilson Senior Center. Donna Neubauer, one of our most experienced Amazing Faiths volunteers, moderated the luncheon. She is a member of Congregation Sinai.
June 16, 2016 -- Milwaukee’s Episcopal cathedral was filled to near-capacity the evening of June 16 for an interfaith service of remembrance and hope in response to the fatal shooting of 49 people by a Muslim man at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fl. The evening event was co-sponsored by the cathedral and the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.
It was a time for people of many faiths, philosophies, lifestyles and ethnicities to come to come together in unity to grieve for the deceased while refusing to be divided or defined by hate. They shared scripture, prayer, reflection, healing and fellowship. The Milwaukee Children's Choir provided moving, uplifting choral song, while the tolling of All Saints' Cathedral's largest bell for each of the victims as their names were read was a poignant and personalized reminder of the loss.
A number of television stations covered the service, including Today's TMJ4, which did a detailed report. See it at: TMJ4.
After welcoming comments from the Very Rev. Kevin Carroll, dean of the cathedral, and Tom Heinen, executive director of the Interfaith Conference, several lay and ordained representatives of faiths offered scriptural readings, prayers and thoughts, including:
The Rev. Kevin Stewart, Missioner for Community Engagement for the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, read the names of the 49 people who were killed in the Orlando nightclub. After each name was read, the cathedral's largest bell was tolled once. The Rev. Debra Trakel, an Episcopal priest and director of client services for the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, offered a compelling personal reflection on the events in Orlando that challenged and inspired the crowd as the service drew toward an end.
Since its founding in 1970, the Interfaith Conference has consistently denounced hate crimes and any form of ethnic, racial or religious violence while striving to counter ignorance, prejudice, fear and hate. The mission of the Conference is to uphold the dignity of every person. We represent the regional leaders and adherents of 17 member denominations and faiths, and we also work closely with nonmember faiths.
June 9, 2016 -- IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen represented the Interfaith Conference at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council, held at the Jewish Home & Care Center on Milwaukee's East Side. The guest speaker was Darryl D. Morin, co-founder of the Latino-Jewish Alliance.
June 2, 2016 -- IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen staffed an Interfaith Conference display, and two representatives of the IFC's Interfaith Restorative Practices Coalition -- Coalition chair Betsy Gonwa and Jon Olsen -- staffed an adjacent display for the ministry fair at the 2016 Annual Assembly of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at Carthage College in Kenosha.
May 17, 2016 -- Our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin continued its monthly Faith & Ecology Conversation Series inspired by Pope Francis' enclyclical on the environment. The May 17 session was titled, "Integral Ecology: Everything is Connected." It highlighted Buddhist and United Methodist perspectives. These gatherings are held at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park.
May 12, 2016 -- Kirsten Shead, director of our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin, gave closing remarks at the Milwaukee Water Commons' “Confluence” gathering, which drew a packed house of more than 300 diverse people at the historic Pabst Best Place, N. 9th St. and W. Juneau Ave.
The event unveiled Water Commons' 2016 Water City Agenda and its six initiatives. This plan was produced by a two-year effort in which over 1,300 people provided input in-person and online, in large gatherings and small groups, on the street with a mobile “water cycle” and in workshops. They helped shape a vision of Milwaukee as a true water city -- a city in which everyone would participate in the care and enjoyment of our waters. Water Commons believes that "everyone, everywhere has a vital role to play" and has intentionally reached out in urban and suburban areas to engage people of color, artists, indigenous peoples, faith groups and others.
Kirsten, who serves on the Water Commons advisory team, ended the event on a high note by reflecting on what had been said throughout the evening, by bringing people back to the question of where this effort goes from here, and by then sending people forward to take this work back into their communities.
May 12, 2016 -- Several members of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet and our executive director attended Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's Ceasefire Sabbath kick-off breakfast at Way of the Cross Missionary Baptist Church, 1401 W. Hadley St. The mayor and police chief are urging religious leaders to help "ganvanize our community in the mission to reduce violence, to promote peace and to extend a hand to those whose lives have been affected by crime and disorder."
May 10, 2016 -- Kirsten Shead, director of our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin, was a member of the 13-person team that did the visioning and planning for “Science, Policy & Water,” a dynamic, bipartisan summit held by Waters of Wisconsin (WOW) at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The summit took an unblinking look at the ongoing disconnection between science and public environmental policy in Wisconsin despite the state's long history of being a national leader in balancing environmental and economic impacts while protecting waters and wetlands.
The summit sought to improve communication and tear down walls of mistrust and ideology. Kirsten is part of the Waters of Wisconsin Steering Committee. The capacity attendance of about 250 included people from Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Washington, DC, and all over Wisconsin. Panelists included current and form Republican and Democratic legislators along with scientists, business people, educators and representatives of nonprofit environmental organizations. Attendees came from Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Administration, Legislative Commission, State Legislature, Public Service Commission, and other state agencies, as well as UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, and many other midwest research institutes.
Waters of Wisconsin (WOW) is a program of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, which hosted the event.
April 2016 – More than 150 people -- most of them between the ages of 19 and 25 -- participated during the month of April in Generation Waking Up Experiences presented by Kirsten Shead, director of our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin. These dynamic workshops empower young people "to wake up to a clear sense of identity and purpose as members of a generation-wide movement for a thriving, just, sustainable world." Known informally as "WakeUps," these are three-hour, interactive, multimedia, peer-led workshops. "Through inspiring multimedia presentation, dynamic group interaction, and engaging dialogue, the WakeUp takes participants through a transformative exploration of the critical questions facing young people and society today." These workshops, some of which are open to adults of any age, are being made available to organizations, congregations and individuals through a generous grant from the High Wind Association. The April sites and participants:
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.
April 23, 2016 -- IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen staffed an Interfaith Conference display, interacted with attendees, and also served as the volunteer official photographer for the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Southeast Association of the Wisconsin Conference, United Church of Christ, at Greendale Community UCC, 6015 Clover Lane, Greendale.
April 19, 2016 -- Our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin continued its monthly Faith & Ecology Conversation Series inspired by Pope Francis' enclyclical on the environment. The April 19 session was titled "The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis: Preventing Disaster by Cring for our Common Home." Islamic and Presbyterian perspectives were highlighted. These gatherings are held at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park.
April 18, 2016 – Kirsten Shead, director of our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin (IEN), participated in the final session of a series of monthly lunch discussion groups at Mount Mary University on Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. The university specifically invited her to share an interfaith perspective and reactions to the encyclical from other faith traditions. The group of professors and students included two vowed women religious (Catholic sisters). This is another example of how Kirsten and our Interfaith Earth Network are increasingly being sought by faith-based and secular organizations as one of the area’s most prominent resources for providing a faith and interfaith perspective on environmental matters.
April 14-15, 2016 – Our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin (IEN) set up and staffed a display at the annual Sustainability Summit and Exposition in Milwaukee. Our emphasis was on IEN’s Generation Waking Up program, specifically the 3-hour interactive multimedia, peer-led workshop “that empowers young people to wake up to a clear sense of identity and purpose as members of a generation-wide movement for a thriving, just, sustainable world." There was significant interested from younger people attending the summit. Multiple members of IEN’s Steering Committee staffed the display over the two days.
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 22, 2015 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen joined two dozen religious leaders for a Pastors Breakfast and brainstorming session with Darienne Driver, Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent, at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 2500 W. Medford Ave. Her invitation stated, "...I am all too familiar with the problems and issues that our children and families face on a daily basis. From violent crimes, to homelessness, unemployment, hunger, and mental health issues, the problems that are plaguing our community are continually seeping into the lives of the students and families at MPS. These issues are making achievement a goal that is becoming extremely dilfficult for our students. The district is working diligently to help address many of these issues by offering an abundance of wrap-around services to our students and families, but I recognize that we cannot solve these problems alone. For years, the faith-based community has been on the front lines battling the adverse conditions that affect our families and students....I am requesting your assistance in helping MPS address these issues. You are cordially invited to lend your expertise as I convene a small group of local faith leaders to join me in brainstorming and discussing areas of concern."
March 17-20, 2016 -- Portions of a blog/essay by Kirsten Shead, director of our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin, helped inspire and were featured in an original production by DanceCircus titled "Confluence...down by the riverside." Kirsten also participated in a talk-back after one of the performances.
Created by choreographers Betty Salamun and Janie Boston, it included dancers, singers, writers and musicians in a dance-music-theatre performance focused on life in the watershed of Milwaukee’s rivers – Milwaukee from the north, Menomonee from the west and Kinnickinnic from the south. Fifteen artists collaborated in a celebration of the beauty of rivers and their impact on our communities.
Kirsten's writing, titled "Down to the River to Pray," was based on an African-American spiritual and American folk song by the same name. She originally wrote it for Waters of Wisconsin (WOW), a project of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. Her piece reflected on people of various faiths and philosophies going down to the river to pray at a national event she attended, and how water flowed through their lives and their faith traditions. Betty Salamun, who drew from that piece for the title of this production, recited portions of Kirsten’s writings while performing. The performances were held at Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee, just three blocks from the confluence of the three rivers.
March 15, 2016 -- Our Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin continued its monthly Faith & Ecology Conversation Series inspired by Pope Francis' enclyclical on the environment. The March 15 session was titled "The Gospel of Creation (Sacred Text): Revelation and Creation, Respecting and Sharing God's Gift." It highlighted Unitarian Universalist and Quaker perspectives. These gatherings are held at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park.
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:
March 13, 2016 – Barbara Richards of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay.
March 10, 2016 -- Ten people participated in an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue hosted by Rev. Christie and David Melby-Gibbons in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood.
March 6, 2016 – Katie Heinen of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Milwaukee.
Feb. 28, 2016 -- Eight people participated in an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue hosted by Mayank Mital in Greendale.
February 28, 2016 – Jeanne Mantsch of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at North Shore Congregational Church in Fox Point.
Feb. 21, 2016 -- Ten students participated in our first-ever Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue held in Kenosha. It was hosted by Dr. Long and Carthage College's Theta Alpha Kappa honors fraternity, which recognizes the achievements of theology and religion students.
February 21, 2016 – Katie Heinen of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church.
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, forme 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:
Feb. 16 through July 19, 2016 -- Our Interfaith Earth Network’s monthly Faith & Ecology Conversation Series for the first half of 2016 has been inspired by Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, "Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home."
The encyclical is referenced in the title “Praise Be: Reflecting on Faith Traditions' Statements On Care for our Common Home” and in some of the content. Using questions derived from the encyclical, speakers are sharing 11 different faith’s teachings on the environment. These sessions are held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park.
The opening session on Feb. 16 was entitled "What is Happening to our Common Home? Pope Francis says 'Facts are more important than ideas.' " Roman Catholic and Baptist perspectives were shared.
February 7, 2016 – Terry Wiggins of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at Lake Party Lutheran Church in Milwaukee.
Jan. 26, 2016 -- Ten people participated in an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue hosted by Sr. Margaret Kruse, Sr. Helen Mertes and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in St. Francis.
Interfaith Conference has extraordinary year in 2015
Here are some highlights, followed by a log of weekly activities. In 2015, we:
Dec. 6, 2015 -- Huda Alkaff, a Muslim member of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee, staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls. We are striving to have a presence at all of these winter farmer's markets, which provide small-scale farmers the chance to sell their products in the off-season. Most often they feature a brunch using local food supplied by the farmers and prepared by volunteers under the director of the congregation’s chef or an outside professional. Farmers help farmers by building connections with each other and by donating ten percent of sales to the Harvest of Hope emergency fund with 100% of the donations given to farmers in need.
Dec. 3, 2015 -- We drew 230 people of diverse faiths to our 45th annual luncheon to hear immediate past NCAA Chapter President James H. Hall, Jr., talk on "Social Justice Challenges: How did we get here? How do we move forward?" Attendees engaged in lively dialogue at mixed-faith tables about possible solutions, followed by our presentation of four annual awards:
Frank Zeidler Award -- Jeanne Mantsch
Youth/Young Adult Leadership Award -- St. John Vianney S.W.E.A.T.
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."
Oct. - Dec. 2015 -- Our Interfaith Earth Network hosted three of a series of four Faith & Ecology Conversations exploring ‘Eco-Logical Identity’. Discussion and reflections included connections what sustains us, purchasing as an ecological act and how much is enough. These conversations take place at 7 p.m. every third Tuesday at the Urban Ecology Center, Riverside Park. The final conversation of the series will be on January 19th and will focus on the journey to abundance.
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. 15-18, 2015 -- Interfaith Earth Network Program Director Kirsten Shead facilitated an Emerging Leaders Family Group at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah. Emerging Leaders (attendees under 35) came together for three consecutive evenings in the same small, peer facilitated groups of around 12 people and discussed one of the three focus-issues of this year's Parliament. Kirsten's Family Group focused on Climate & Environment. The task of these groups was not only to expand understanding of these issues amongst themselves, but also to come up with ways to work across faith boundaries to address them.
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. 11, 2015 -- Bolstered by warm breezes and sunny skies, the Interfaith Conference's 30th Annual Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger walk drew an estimated crowd of nearly 500 or more adults and children to the Milwaukee lakefront on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 11. People from dozens of congregations, schools and organizations brought 6,000 pounds of food for the Hunger Task Force to McKinley Park, walked 2-mile or 5-mile routes and enjoyed lively music from the Salsabrosa Dance Company and the Mariachi Zamora band. Balloon hats, corn-husk crafts and a fun obstacle course added to the afternoon's celebratory spirit. CROP Walk Director Norma Duckworth also arranged for several area stores and restaurants to donate of a variety of snacks and other food for walkers.
A big thank you to St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Greendale, which collected an additional 9,000 pounds of nonperishable food at the church site for the CROP Walk. In addition, Concordia University in Mequon collected 106 pounds of nonperishable food from students, staff and faculty as part of our CROP Hunger Walk effort.
AND...Tikkun Ha-Ir of Milwaukee collected more than 100 pounds of fresh produce at the lakefront walk site as part of a first-time effort to use the CROP Hunger Walk to improve the diets of food pantry clients by having people bring produce from their gardens or from the store. The Hunger Task Force distributed the produce. This was an extension of Tikkun Ha-Ir's success Surplus Harvest Milwaukee project and will be repeated for the 2016 Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk.
Dozens of volunteers from area schools and congregations helped make this year's walk a success.
Monetary donations and pledges are still being received, so we do not yet have a total.
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. 26, 2015 -- Our Interfaith Restorative Practices Coalition participated in a Family Wellness Conference organized by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community & Hephatha Lutheran Church. The focus of the conference was health, education and family unity. Coalition members staffed a booth and facilitated a circle. The circle provided as an opportunity for participants to experience restorative practices by speaking and sharing from their hearts, and at the booth, conference attendees could ask more questions.
Sept. 25, 2015 -- The Restorative Practices Coalition webpage of the Interfaith Conference website was updated with its own banner. It can now be accessed with www.restorativepracticesmilw.org as well as by www.interfaithconference.org.
Sept. 20, 2015 -- 75 people attended an event held by our Interfaith Earth Network (IEN) at the Urban Ecology Center, Washington Park, entitled "Why Green Burial? World Faith Practices & Sustainable Options." Speakers from eight faiths and cultural perspectives shared the burial practices of their respective traditions. Shedd Farley, director of the Linda and Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainablity and home to Natural Pathways Sanctuary (a green burial site) was the keynote speaker. There was also a free documentary screening of "Dying Green: Natural Burial and Land Conservation." This event was inspired by the passing and green burial of one of IEN's founding committee members, Carol Waskovich in September 2014.
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."
Aug. 18, 2015 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen represented the Conference as a guest at the "End of Summer" Recognition Program where youths, young adults and organizations that participated in the Coming Together Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence were honored. The luncheon was held at the Grace Center, 1209 N. Broadway and was organized by Community Advocates' Brighter Futures Initiative, the City of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin's Project Ujima and Running Rebels.
Aug. 1, 2015 -- Representatives of the Interfaith Conference participated in the Sikh Community's annual Chardhi Kala 6K Run/Walk and had a tented area with various interfaith displays where they provided informational handouts and interacted with the public. This event was started by the Serve2Unite organization that young Sikhs founded after a white supremacist fatally shot six people at the Oak Creek temple in 2012. Its goals are to memorialize the slain Sikhs, promote interfaith understanding and community unity, and raise funds for scholarships for young people of any faith throughout the metro area who have demonstrated a commitment to community service.
July 15-17, 2015 -- Voting via email, the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) approved full Cabinet membership for the Sikh community. They will be represented by the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, which operates the temple in Oak Creek, and the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin, which operates the temple in Brookfield. The Sikhs have long been an active part of the Interfaith Conference through participation in our Committee for Interfaith Understanding (formerly our Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations). Dr. Swarnjit Arora has enthusiastically participated in the planning and running of Interfaith events for many years. We have invited the Sikh community to Cabinet membership several times over the years. Our relationships and collaborations with them have grown especially close since the tragic slayings of six people at the Oak Creek temple by a white supremacist in 2012.
July 12, 2015 -- IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke to about 50 high school students from various parts of Southeastern Wisconsin in the hall at St. Monica Catholic Church in Whitefish Bay as they began a week of volunteer service at area non-profit organizations through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's summer Reach Out, Reach In program.
June 25, 2015 -- Nearly 50 people dialogued in small groups and heard presentations at a forum on solutions to poverty that the Interfaith Conference and other organizations co-sponsored at Lake Park Synagogue on Milwaukee's east side. Similar forums have been held in various parts of the state as part of an effort to have reasonable, faith-and-values-driven conversations about issues of poverty and public policy in communities with a diversity of political views. In the fall, the effort will turn toward developing specific strategies. Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen was the moderator at the synagogue forum. The Rev. Nancy Lanman, a United Methodist deacon who serves on the Interfaith board, offered the opening prayer. Rabbi Nisan Andrews from Lake Park Synagogue and Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum from Congregation Shir Hadash provided reflections. Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, gave a compelling PowerPoint presentation on poverty across the state. Rev. Barbara Rasmussen, a retired ELCA minister, offered the closing prayer. The main organizers and co-sponsors of forums here and elsewhere in the state are the Wisconsin Council of Churches, WISDOM, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and the Citizen Action Education Fund of Wisconsin. The Jewish Community Relations Council and Tikkun Ha-Ir of Milwaukee also co-sponsored the Lake Park Synagogue forum.
June 23, 2015 – Kirsten Shead, program director for the Interfaith Earth Network, represented the Interfaith Conference at the Metro GO! Regional Transit Leadership Council Meeting "Greater Milwaukee – Minneapolis St. Paul – Greater Cleveland: Transportation Strategies for Vibrant Communities & Economic Competitiveness" in downtown Milwaukee. Expert panels included representatives from the Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Director of Economic Development for the City of Minneapolis, president of the Public Policy Forum and co-chair of the Downtown Development Task Force.
June 22, 2015 -- IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen, acting on behalf of the national GreenFaith organization, presented a Water Shield certificate to Huda Alkaff, founder and director of the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin, for becoming the first faith-based organization in Wisconsin to earn that honor. This certification signifies that the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin has taken educational, spiritual and practical steps to conserve water, protect water quality, and mobilize its members and community to do the same at home. The presentation to Huda Alkaff and other members of IEGW's green team took place at a water-themed Green Ramadan event in the Islamic Society of Milwaukee's Community Center. The Interfaith Conference's Interfaith Earth Network (IEN) is a Midwestern partner of GreenFaith, which formally launched its national Water Shield program at an IEN "Making Waves for Water" event at the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center on the Lake Michigan lakefront.
June 21, 2015 -- Representatives of the Interfaith Conference were among the speakers during an inspirational outdoor candlelight vigil organized by the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek to pray for the nine victims of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting, their families and the church community. About 100 people attended. The Rev. Andy Oren, vice chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet and pastor of Bay View United Methodist Church, offered thoughts and prayers. The Rev. Joseph Baring, an African Methodist Episcopal Church member of the Interfaith Cabinet, offered a passionate personal reflection and prayer. He knew two of the victims of the Charleston shooting. Many people joined the Sikhs in signing a banner with personal messages that will be sent to the Charleston church community.
June 16, 2015 -- Tikkun Ha-Ir of Milwaukee honored the Interfaith Conference and several other organizations at its Collaborating with Community event at Congregation Sinai in Fox Point. The event featured as guest speaker Tom Schneider, executive director of COA Youth & Family Centers. In Hebrew, Tikkun Ha-Ir translates as "repair of the city." Its mission is to encourage the Jewish community to build a more just Milwaukee through study, action and civic engagement. The framed citation that Executive Director Tom Heinen accepted on behalf of the Conference read, "In recognition of our dedicated partnership and your outstanding service to the Greater Milwaukee Community. Presented with heartfelt appreciation by Tikkun Ha-Ir to Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee."
May 29, 2015 -- IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen and his wife, Katie, set up and staffed Interfaith Conference displays at the annual assembly of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, ELCA, at Carthage College in Kenosha.
May 27, 2015 -- Rob Shelledy, chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet, represented IFC at a reception and annual meeting of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay.
May 26, 2015 -- Nearly two dozen people from several faith traditions particiated in two, simultaneous Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues hosted by Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum and Congregation Shir Hadash on Milwaukee's East Side. The moderators were Donna Neubauer (Reform Jewish) and Ellen Parmelee (Baha’i). The congregation shares the same building as Plymouth United Church of Christ.
May 26, 2015 – Kirsten Shead, program director for the Interfaith Earth Network, wrote a guest post on the Waters of Wisconsin blog. Her narrative post on her experiences with water as a child and an adult is entitled Little Bluegills and Big Sharks: Exploring Waters in Wisconsin and Abroad. The Waters of Wisconsin initiative (WOW), part of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, launched their blog in October 2014 as an ongoing conversation about Wisconsin’s shared waters. Through this blog they aim to feature great ideas and poignant stories from writers, policymakers, farmers, scientists, and others that explore what healthy, abundant water means to Wisconsin and her people. Kirsten’s first post on water and faith was entitled Down to the River to Pray. She is a member of the WOW steering committee and communications team as an influential voice for people of faith and their role in celebrating and safeguarding our Wisconsin waters.
May 19, 2015 -- Interfaith Conference Cabinet member Rev. Jermaine Reed from the Church of God in Christ's Wisconsin First Jurisdiction and IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen attended a community Memorial Service for Youths Lost to Violence at 6 p.m. at Tabernacle Community Baptist Church, 2500 W. Medford Ave., Milwaukee. Hosted by Milwaukee Major Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee Police Department, it included comments by public officials, church leaders and relatives of victims.
May 13, 2015 -- Several present and former members of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) attended the annual Ceasefire Sabbath breakfast organized by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's office and held this year at the Salvation Army Worship and Community Center, 1645 N. 25th St. Focused on efforts to reduce violence in the city, the event included the launch of a new chaplaincy program in which faith leaders of various denominations will respond to scenes of violence and interact with the community and the Police Department in other ways. The goal is to have about 50 chaplains -- seven in each police district. The Salvation Army is providing training for the chaplains.
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.
First Quarter of 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference held 10 Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues in area homes, each with 8 to 12 people of different faiths, races and cultures breaking bread and engaging in deep, transformative sharing with assistance from trained moderators, prepared questions and a gentle appreciative listening format.
April 29, 2015 -- Affirming that mutually shared, faith-based values have an important role to play in our democratic society, more than 700 people of many denominations and faiths gathered in Madison to speak with one voice on issues of poverty, inequality and injustice. This day-long People of Faith United for Justice gathering was focused on the proposed Wisconsin State budget and was organized by the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, WISDOM and six other organizations. It featured prominent keynote speakers, a march around the Capitol and visits with state legislators to discuss four main issues:
The keynote speakers were Hannah Rosenthal, CEO/President of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and former Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism for the U.S. State Department; and the Rev. Everett Mitchell, Pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Madison and Director of Community Relations for UW-Madison. Rev. Mitchell holds Masters Degrees in Christian Ethics and Social Ethics from Princeton Theological Seminary.
April 25, 2015 -- IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen attended and spoke briefly at the annual meeting of the Southeast Association of the Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ at New Horizon UCC Church in Kewaskum. The theme was "Changing Lives." Tom and his wife, Katie, also set up and staffed Interfaith Conference displays.
April 21, 2015 – Interfaith Earth Network program director Kirsten Shead gave closing remarks at the Milwaukee Water Commons Water City 3.0 Commissioning Meeting. After four hours of discussion and group work around patterns and Milwaukee becoming a water city, Kirsten was asked to recap the process and send the group out with passion, vision and hope. The Interfaith Earth Network has been working with the Milwaukee Water Commons in various capacities. Milwaukee Water Commons is a cross-city network that fosters connection, collaboration and broad community leadership on behalf of our waters. They promote stewardship of, equitable access to and shared decision-making for our common waters.
April 2015 -- Our Interfaith Restorative Practices Coalition created an Internship and is offering it through the Communications Department of UWM.
Spring 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference's Restorative Justice Committee officially changed its name to the Interfaith Restorative Practices Coalition.
March 25, 2015 -- Kirsten Shead, program director for the Interfaith Earth Network, represented the Interfaith Conference at the Metro GO! Regional Transit Leadership Council Meeting "Are We Prepared? Will We Be Able to Compete" in Brookfield. Expert panels of business and civic representatives included Human Resource Manager for FedEx Smartpost, Chief Economist for the WI Dept of Workforce Development, Director of Milwaukee County Dept of Transoprtation and the Mayor of Oak Creek.
March 15, 2015 -- Former Interfaith Earth Network Steering Committee Chair Terri Lowder, a ELCA Lutheran, staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay.
March 15, 2015 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen and his wife, Katie, represented the Conference at a standing-room-only presentation by Angela Schluter at Congregation Shalom 7630 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Fox Point. Schluter, whose mother Edith Hahn Beer wrote the autobiographical book "The Nazi Officer's Wife," told compelling stories about how Edith hid the fact that she was a Jew during World War II to escape the Holocaust, took on another woman's identity and ended up marrying a Nazi officer. Her appearance was co-sponsored by Congregation Shalom and the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Resource Center.
March 11, 2015 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen was one of several community leaders who participated in a conference-call/in-person meeting organized by U.S. Attorney James Santelle to discuss the Justice Department's ongoing engagement with a range of police/community issues, both local and national.
March 8, 2015 -- Three Catholic members of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee -- Dianne Dagelen, Barbara Richards and Katie Heinen -- staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at St. Sebastian Catholic Church on Milwaukee's west side.
March 4-5, 2015 -- Members of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with current and future leaders at the 12th Annual Sustainability Summit and Exposition at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The primary mission of the Sustainability Summit "is to educate and motivate investors, entrepreneurs and the future workforce for rapidly expanding opportunities in green energy and sustainability."
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
March 2015 -- We drew record-breaking, faith-diverse crowds averaging well over 100 people for our annual Tuesdays-in-March luncheon lecture series, which this year had the theme, "Confronting the Realities of Segregation." The five programs were so popular that we had to move the presentations from the community room to the church nave and sanctuary at First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, 1342 N. Astor St. Organized by our Peace & International Issues Committee (PIIC), the programs were:
February 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.
February 21, 2015 -- Terry Wiggins, a Unitarian Universalist member of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at North Shore Congregational Church in Fox Point.
February 21, 2015 -- Two representatives of the Interfaith Conference -- Executive Director Tom Heinen and his wife, Katie -- staffed displays about our various programs and interacted with attendees at the winter forum of Catholics for Peace and Justice at St. Alphonsus Church, 6060 W. Loomis Rd., Greendale. The theme was "Open to the Word -- Empowering People through Faith and Action." Retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba gave the keynote presentation.
February 15, 2015 -- Jeanne Mantsch, a United Church of Christ member of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at Lake Park Lutheran Church in Milwaukee.
February 7, 2015 -- Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke briefly, staffed displays about the Interfaith Conference's various activities and interacted with Methodists from throughout the region at the United Methodist Church Metro Districts' annual all-day gathering, held this year at Christ Church UMC in Racine. The theme was "Tools to Make the Connection: Community Engagement." More than 140 people attended. They were welcomed by the Rev. Deborah Thompson, Metro Districts Superintendent, and other leaders.
February 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.
February 3, 2015 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen represented the Conference at a presentation by Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, at Bader Philanthropies, Inc., on N. Water Street in Milwaukee's Third Ward.
January 31, 2015 -- Katie Heinen, a member of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown Milwaukee.
January 26, 2015 -- The Program Director for our Interfaith Earth Network, Kirsten Shead, accepted an invitation to join the Steering Committee for the Waters of Wisconsin (WOW), a nine-person core leadership team. WOW is a statewide initiative of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters. Kirsten has been participating with WOW since the fall of 2013 on their Communications Working Group as a main voice for people of faith and for the role of faith communities in celebrating and safeguarding our Wisconsin waters. The aim of WOW is to foster nonpartisan, science-based strategies and solutions to safeguard Wisconsin’s freshwater ecosystems and water supply for generations to come.
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 presentations 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:
January 25, 2015 -- Jeanne Mantsch, a United Church of Christ member of our Interfaith Earth Network's Steering Committee staffed a display about IEN's programs and interacted with the public at the Churches’ Center for Land and People “Markets & Meals for Hope” at Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church in Bay View. We are striving to have a presence at all of these winter farmer's markets, which provide small-scale farmers the chance to sell their products in the off-season. Most often they feature a brunch using local food supplied by the farmers and prepared by volunteers under the director of the congregation’s chef or an outside professional. Farmers help farmers by building connections with each other and by donating ten percent of sales to the Harvest of Hope emergency fund with 100% of the donations given to farmers in need.
January 20, 2015 -- Our Interfaith Earth Network hosted the first of six Faith & Ecology Conversations exploring Water. This first conversation focused on Water Words. It included reflection and deep sharing on water consciousness and how faith and spirituality intersect with the natural word. These conversations take place at 7 p.m. every third Tuesday at the Urban Ecology Center, Riverside Park.
January 18, 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference assisted Milwaukee's St. Mark AME Church in promoting and selling tickets for a special screening of the movie "Selma" at Mayfair Shopping Mall on January 18, followed by a discussion in the movie theater and a talk-back at the church the next day. We acted as the fiscal agent on short notice and, in barely two days, sold nearly $700 worth of tickets online through our PayPal account on our website. Nearly 100 people attended. The Journal Sentinel's coverage of church-sponsored screenings of the civil rights movie on January 21 included a large color photo of St. Mark's talk-back and a reference to the Interfaith Conference in the story. See: Journal Sentinel story
January 14, 2015 -- Four Interfaith Conference leaders and a representative of MICAH (Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope) had a nearly two-hour informal conversation with U.S. Attorney James Santelle about police community relations in Milwaukee and Mr. Santelle's efforts to address concerns, including his desire to create a revitalized police community relations commission. Participating from the Interfaith Conference were Rob Shelledy, chair; Cabinet members Ahmed Quereshi and Rev. Dr. John Walton, Jr., and executive director Tom Heinen.
January 12, 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) unanimously approved the Milwaukee District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a new Cabinet member, bringing our total number of member denominations and faiths to 16. The vote was taken via email between Dec. 19, 2014 and Jan. 12, 2015. Their representative, the Rev. Joseph Baring, was officially welcomed at the Jan. 22 Cabinet meeting. He is pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Madison, which is part of the denomination's Milwaukee District. He previously served in ministry in Milwaukee and continues to have connections here.
Events and Activities in 2014
December 13, 2014 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen was one of several speakers at the annual fund-raising dinner of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. He talked about the Conference's many collaborations with the MMWC and its leaders, and the impact of those activities.
December 10, 2014 -- Paul Dedinsky, an assistant Milwaukee County district attorney and participant in the Interfaith Conference's Restorative Justice Committee, did two workshop sessions at the Violence Prevention conference sponsored by the Milwaukee mayor's office and the City Health Department at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
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.
December 4, 2014 -- Paul Dedinsky, an assistant Milwaukee County district attorney and participant in the Interfaith Conference's Restorative Justice Committee, did a two-hour training for 100 Wraparound Care Coordinators from eight different child welfare agencies at St. Aemilian-Lakeside, 8901 W. Capitol Dr., Milwaukee. The agency provides foster care, education and mental health services for thousands of children, families and adults daily.
November 20, 2014 -- Kirsten Shead, Program Director for the Interfaith Earth Network, was one of the first guest blogger on the Waters of Wisconsin blog. Her narrative blog post on water and faith is entitled Down to the River to Pray. The Waters of Wisconsin initiative (WOW), part of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, launched their blog in October 2014 as an ongoing conversation about Wisconsin’s shared waters. Through this blog they aim to feature great ideas and poignant stories from writers, policymakers, farmers, scientists, and others that explore what healthy, abundant water means to Wisconsin and her people. Kirsten has been participating with WOW for the last year on their communications team as an influential voice for people of faith and their role in celebrating and safeguarding our Wisconsin waters.
November 20, 2014 -- The Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) voted to join the MetroGO! Regional Transit Leadership Council and to have Maren Outwater represent us on the council. Maren has been the Interfaith Conference's volunteer representative on the regional transit coalition -- that formed MetroGO! She is a professional engineer with experience in planning, evaluating and modeling transportation systems.
November 10, 2014 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke about the Conference's history and programs to 40 residents of Harwood Place, a retirement community in Wauwatosa, and helped them engage in 45 minutes of small-group dialogue about their lived experiences of faith using the questions and appreciative inquiry techniques from our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Program. Tom trained four residents to be moderators prior to the start of the evening program.
November 6, 2014 – Three members of our Restorative Justice Committee -- Evelyn Ang, the Rev. Carol Hegland, and Committee Chair Betsy Gonwa – met with officials from a suburban school district that sought assistance in resolving a dispute involving neighbors and the use of a grade school playground. They laid the groundwork for using restorative practices there in 2015.
October 24, 2014 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen represented the Conference as a guest attendee at the 47th annual meeting of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee in the center's building at 2819 W. Highland Blvd.
October 2014 -- Two members of our Restorative Justice Committee – the Rev. Carol Hegland (ELCA) and Jon Olsen – used restorative practices that included facilitating healing circles to help a Milwaukee-area congregation resolve internal conflict.
October 14, 2014 -- Bolstered by warm breezes and sunny skies, the Interfaith Conference's 30th Annual Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger walk drew an estimated 500 or more adults and children to the Milwaukee lakefront on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 11, 2015. A total of 15,100 pounds of food was collected for the Hunger Task Force, and $31,400 in pledge donations was tallied in the ensuing weeks for international/national hunger, disaster relief and anti-poverty efforts.
People from dozens of congregations, schools and organizations brought 6,000 pounds of food for the Hunger Task Force to McKinley Park, walked 2-mile or 5-mile routes and enjoyed lively music from the Salsabrosa Dance Company and the Mariachi Zamora band. Balloon hats, corn-husk crafts, a fun obstacle course and various donated snacks added to the afternoon's celebratory spirit.
A big thank you to St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Greendale, which collected an additional 9,000 pounds of nonperishable food at the church site for the CROP Walk,
In addition, Concordia University in Mequon collected 106 pounds of nonperishable food from students, staff and faculty as part of our CROP Hunger Walk effort.
AND...Tikkun Ha-Ir of Milwaukee collected more than 100 pounds of fresh produce at the lakefront walk site as part of a first-time effort to use the CROP Hunger Walk to improve the diets of food pantry clients by having people bring produce from their gardens or from the store. The Hunger Task Force distributed the produce. This was an extension of Tikkun Ha-Ir's success Surplus Harvest Milwaukee project and will be repeated for the 2016 Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk.
Dozens of volunteers from area schools and congregations helped make this year's walk a success.
About 70% of donations go to Church World Service or other designated international agencies to address hunger, provide disaster relief and foster economic development. The remainder helps fund the walk itself and some local outreach.
More than 500 adults and children from a wide range of denominations, faiths, ethnicities and races participated in the Interfaith Conference's 29th annual Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk at the city's lakefront. A total of 15,100 pounds of food was collected for the Hunger Task Force, and $31,400 in pledge donations was tallied in the ensuing weeks for international/national hunger, disaster relief and anti-poverty efforts.
More than 14,000 pounds of food was collected at the walk registration site in McKinley Park and at some participating organization's/congregation's sites. Donations and pledges for international hunger relief are still being collected. Each year, they total more than $30,000. This year's walk, organized by walk director Norma Duckworth, featured a wide array of snacks, live Celtic music and African American drumming and dance, a balloon lady, craft activities provided by the Koh's Design IT mobile lab and an obstacle fun course for kids. Because the walk occurred during the Jewish festival of Sukkot, Congregation Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun in River Hills brought a mobile Sukkah to the walk on the back of a large, flatbed truck and explained the festival and its customs and rituals to people. And Rabbi Marcey Rosenbaum, rabbi educator from Congregation Shalom in Fox Point, gave the blessing that started the walkers.
October 3-5, 2014 - Three leaders from the Interfaith Earth Network and Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee attended the Friday evening Generation Waking Up WakeUp experience at the Siena Center in Racine, WI. Generation Waking Up is a global campaign to ignite a generation of young people to bring forth a thriving, just, sustainable world, This was the first GenUp in our area. Kirsten Shead of IEN completed the full weekend leadership training along with around twenty other leaders aged 16 to retirement of diverse racial, religious and social backgrounds. She is now equipped to facilitate a WakeUp experience, the flagship multimedia presentation that inspires young people to transform their lives and communities.
August 11-14, 2014 - The interfaith Earth Network was in the news twice in August. Kirsten Shead, the Program Director for IEN caught the attention of both the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Today's TMJ4. She was interviewed live night on Wisconsin Tonight on Today's TMJ4. The ELF, a wasabi-green, three-wheeled, solar-assisted electric bicycle can turn some heads. Both stories reference the connection of Faith and care for the Earth.
August 13, 2014 - Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen and a few other representatives of the Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative met with Secretary Eloise Anderson of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families to talk about the potential for continuing and expanding funding for transitional jobs in Milwaukee and elsewhere in the state. The Collaborate is one of 10 area boards and commissions on which the Interfaith Conference has representatives.
August 4, 2014 - Interfaith Earth Network leaders participated in the We Are Water event organized by the Milwaukee Water Commons and held at the Lake Michigan shoreline. The celebration included the creation of a temporary, lighted art installation of the Great Lakes in the sand, inspirational teaching as well as Native American drumming and water ritual.
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. More than 100 people attended. (For news coverage of the prayer service, see: In the Media)
July 20-24, 2014 – Betsy Gonwa, chair of our Restorative Justice Committee, and committee member Andrew Musgrave attended a Social Action Summer Institute. This year’s institute focused on restorative justice and was hosted by Catholic Charities in St. Louis, Mo.
June , 2014 – The national Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) voted overwhelmingly to divest from fossil fuel companies. Terry Wiggins, a member of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee and of the Interfaith Earth Network steering committee, was a driving force in crafting and passing the resolution which requires the UUA not only to withdraw its investments from fossil fuel companies, but to reinvest in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
June 3, 2014 – Members of the Interfaith Earth Network participated in the Water City Town Hall organized by the Milwaukee Water Commons and held at the Zilber School of Public Health. Two panel discussions were included, one of municipal leaders and officails, the second of community leaders. Kirsten Shead sat on the second panel and spoke for Faith Communities and the creative leadership and insight they could and do bring to the discussion and formation of Milwaukee as a Water City.
June 7-8, 2014 - Several Interfaith Conference leaders and Executive Director Tom Heinen attended the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee's first Synod in 25 years as interfaith observers. Hundreds of ordained and lay parish delegates and represenatives of religious communities, Catholic universities and other instituions throughout the 10-county archdiocese participated in the Synod on Pentecost weekend at the Cousins Center. Based on the discernment and voting that took place at the Synod, Archbishop Jermone Listecki issued a Synodal Declaration in September that laid out the archdiocese's pastoral priorities for the next 10 to 15 years.
May 30, 2014 - Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen and his wife, Katie, set up displays about the Conference's various activities and interacted with attendees at the annual assembly of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in the Country Springs Hotel, Pewaukee.
May 28, 2014 - Matt Howard, director of the City of Milwaukee's Office of Environmental Sustainability (OES) invited IFCGM Executive Director Tom Heinen, his wife Katie, IEN Program Director Kirsten Shead, and Bob Pavlik of the High WInd Association and Marquette University to City Hall to discuss how the Interfaith Conference could work with the OES to implement city-wide and especially neighborhood specific projects. We are thrilled to function as a bridge between civic and faith communities as we all strive for a more sustainable, robust CIty of Milwaukee. This meeting was a direct result of conversations at our breakfast for civic and religious leaders with author Ibrahim Abdul-Matin on May 5th,
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.
May 6, 2014 - Kirsten Shead, Program Director for the Interfaith Earth Network spoke as part of the workshop Communication about Water: Strategies and Tools at Resilient Wiscsonsin Day, presented by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters in Madison, WI. Kirsten shared on effective personal and group communications within the faith community and other settings.
May 4-5, 2014 - In partnership with the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition (MMWC) the Interfaith Earth Network invited noted environmental speaker, former sustainability policy advisor to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin to Milwaukee. He spoke to a highly diverse group of 150+ on “Renegotiating our Relationship with the Earth: A Conversation on Democracy, Sustainability, and the Role of the Faithful.” St Sebastian Catholic Church hosted his lecture and provided light refreshments for the lively Q&A afterwords. In addition to his Sunday afternoon lecture and town hall-style Q&A, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin dialogued with the pilot interfaith Mission Possible youth group (now renamed I-You) developed by the Interfaith Conference and the MMWC and ignited powerful discussion among 15 high school youth representing the next generation of world-changers and sustainability advocates. On Monday, May 5, Abdul-Matin met with civic and faith leaders at the Islamic Resource Center in Greenfield for breakfast and a small-group conversation covering sustainable ways to meet the needs of citizens and businesses for good jobs and thriving neighborhoods.
May 3, 2014 - Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen set up displays about the Conference's various activities and interacted with attendees at the annual meeting of the Southeas Wisconsin Association of the United Church of Christ at First Congregational UCC in Elkhorn.
April 18, 2014 - Evelyn Ang, UWM Professor, presented a Poster at the Annual Conference for UW-System Office of Professional and Instructional Development (OPID). The conference was subtitled "Mindful Teaching: Inquiry, Connection, Sustainability, and Creativity." The research was conducted over the academic year 2013-14, and surveyed past students (up to 4 years prior). It was supported by the UW-System Office of Professional and Instructional Development (OPID), UW-Milwaukee's Center for Instructional and Professional Development, and the UW-Milwaukee Chancellor's office.
Apr. 14, 2014 - Leaders from the Interfaith Earth Network participated in the Faith and Water Roundtable hosted by the Milwaukee Water Commons and held at Lake Park Lutheran Church. The group discussed how Milwaukee as a water city might look from a faith community perspective and what kinds of contributions we could undertake in the next few years. Notes from this meeting formed the bases for a presentation at the June 3rd Water City Town Hall.
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.
Mar. 2014 – The Interfaith Conference's Peace and International Issues Committee (PIIC) hosted its annual Tuesdays in March Luncheon Lectures Series, drawing from 64 to 90 participants per lecture, on the theme of "Wisconsin: Issues That Matter: Justice, Equity, Democracy."
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. 2014 – As a result of discussions by our Restorative Justice Committee, Erin Katzfey from the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office trained young adult leaders at St. Michael’s Congregation on Milwaukee’s near west side to represent the community in victim-offender, community conferencing circles. Representatives from six organizations gather under the auspices of the committee to share and collaborate. They are: The Benedict Center, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Milwaukee Public Schools, Peace Learning Center, Safe & Sound, and Wisconsin Community Services.
Restorative Justice provides opportunities for healing after the commission of crimes and other hateful acts. It involves those most directly affected – victims/survivors, family and community members – to be directly involved in addressing the harms done to people, relationships and the community at large.
Our committee, formed in 2000, has a focus that goes beyond criminal justice to also include broad, restorative practices in schools, faith communities and the community at large. These practices include small, impromptu “conferences,” language that encourages listening and the expression of feelings, repairing-harm circles, etc. Members of the committee, which functions as an informal coalition, meet every other month. The committee chair is Betsy Gonwa.
Feb. 27, 2014 – Marcus White, former Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference and current Vice President for Civic Engagement for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, addressed the Cabinet (board of directors) of the Interfaith Conference at the annual Cabinet Retreat. His presentation discussed the findings of "Vital Signs: Benchmarking Metro Milwaukee," a report comparing the greater Milwaukee are with 15 other metro areas nationwide on topics such as demographics, poverty, education levels, and civic involvement. The Cabinet then discussed the findings and continues to consider how they should influence the Conference's advocacy and social-justice efforts. Nearly 40 Cabinet members and guests gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist's building complex for the presentation.
Feb. 6, 2014 – 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.
Jan. 26, 2014 – On Sunday, January 26th, our Interfaith Earth Network held "Making Waves for Water," an event at the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center that drew nearly 200 adults and children. Those who attended witnessed an interfaith ceremony celebrating water, viewed displays from 26 local environmental, sustainability and faith-based organizations, and had abundant opportunities to connect, reflect, and commit to action. The event launched GreenFaith's nationwide Water Shield program, for which IEN is the first regional partner. Water Shield allows faith communities to develop a richer relationship with, and more responsible stewardship of, water. Check out the Interfaith Earth Network page on this website for more details.
Events and Activities in 2013
Dec. 5, 2013 – The Interfaith Conference held its 43rd Annual Luncheon, "Cultivating Justice," drawing a crowd of about 250 people. U.S. Attorney James Santelle gave a keynote speech on "Civil Rights and Faith: Lessons from our History, Inspired Visions for our Future," followed by Venice Williams of Alice's Garden and SeedFolks Youth Ministry, giving her own keynote speech on "Food Justice: Reclaiming & Nourishing Community" as well as receiving our Frank Zeidler Award. We also honored the Milwaukee Christian Center with our Rev. Herbert Huebschmann Award, and Joseph Stanley of Pathfinders Emergency Youth Shelter with the Mark Rohlfing Memorial Award.
Nov. 21, 2013 – Kirsten Shead of the Interfaith Earth Network was invited to join the Communications Working Group of the Waters of Wisconsin (WOW) Initiative of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters in Madison, WI. The working group is focused on developing a clearer, more cohesive overarching narrative on water challenges and responses in Wisconsin.
October 2013 – The Interfaith Conference Cabinet welcomed two new member judicatories, the Milwaukee chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Milwaukee North & South Stakes (the Mormon equivalent of a diocese or synod). This is part of a continuing effort to make our board of directors and our member denominations and faiths more diverse
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.
Oct. 14, 2013 – A crowd of 140 people attended the Interfaith Conference’s first annual Faith Connections fund-raising event, held in the lobby and on the main stage of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Philanthropists Dr. Tony and Donna Meyer were honored with our first Values in Action Award and provided deeply moving comments about the importance of the arts. Two former arts leaders who transitioned to become faith leaders shared their behind-the-scenes stories and the influence of their faith journeys on major building projects. Muhammad Isa Sadlon, executive director emeritus of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, was executive director of the Milwaukee Art Museum when it’s Santiago Calatrava-designed addition was built. Tonen O’Connor, resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center, was managing director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater when its Milwaukee Center complex was built adjacent to the Pabst Theater. They were interviewed together on WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio's Lake Effect show on Oct. 7 as part of the pre-event publicity.
Oct. 13, 2013 – More than 400 adults and children of many faiths and ethnicities participated in the Interfaith Conference’s annual Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk at Milwaukee’s lakefront, donating more than 6,000 pounds of food for the Hunger Task Force and thousands of dollars for international and local hunger relief and economic development. The event, organized by Norma Duckworth, featured the Kohl’s Design It! mobile craft activity lab, live Celtic music by Ceol Cairde, and an expanded array of food donated by area stores and restaurants.
Oct. 1, 2013 – The IFC Cabinet (board of directors) approved the transfer of ownership of 176 shares of stock (8.14%) held by the Interfaith Conference in the old Wisconsin Community Capital Corporation to the Lincoln Opportunity Fund. The move is intended to help to spark more job creation and economic development through loans to, and investments in, small start-up businesses in Wisconsin. In exchange for the transfer, the Interfaith Conference was granted a seat on the Lincoln Opportunity Fund board. The Lincoln board accepted Interfaith Conference Cabinet member Ahmed Quereshi on its board in September and then elected him the corporate secretary.
Sept. 26, 2013 – The 6th Annual Frank P. Zeidler Memorial lecture was held in the Milwaukee Public Library’s Centennial Hall and recorded by Milwaukee Public Television for later broadcast. IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen served on the planning committee, which comprises representatives of organizations the late Milwaukee mayor helped found or strongly supported. Moderated by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Writer and Columnist James Causey, this year’s event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Civil and Economic Rights with a question-and-answer interchange with three panelists who have been deeply involved in movements for racial equality: the Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, an ELCA Lutheran clergyman who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was instrumental in founding the Lutheran Social Action Conference here with Frank Zeidler; the Rev. Dr. Trinette V. McCray, the first clergywoman elected national president of the American Baptist Churches, USA, and current national president of the American Baptist Historical Society; and Sheila Cochran, chief operating officer and secretary-treasurer of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council.
Sept. 24, 2013 – IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen gave a presentation on interfaith relations in Southeastern Wisconsin and the United States to six Muslim civic leaders from Bulgaria at the International Institute of Wisconsin as part of a U.S. State Department program. The group included business owners and managers, an agricultural entrepreneur and a journalism student.
Sept. 16, 2013 – Episcopal Service Corps Intern Alexander Lempke started working at the Interfaith Conference office two days a week, courtesy of the Episcopal Diocese. A recent college graduate with excellent writing and editing skills, he will be helping us for a year with our website content, our Interfaith Earth Network electronic newsletter, our database analyses, our various events and in many other ways. This includes handling content for three Facebook pages (the Interfaith Conference, our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues and our Interfaith Earth Network).
Aug. 20, 2013 – About 180 adults and children participated in our fourth annual Interfaith Day at Miller Park, with many bringing donations of food for the Hunger Task Force, wearing our “Going to Bat for a Better World” t-shirts and seeing the Milwaukee Brewers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 in an action-filled game.
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.
Aug. 4, 2013 – IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke and gave an interfaith reflection near the conclusion of a memorial gathering held in the prayer area inside the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek. Many Sikh leaders and community leaders spoke, including Governor Scott Walker.
Aug. 3, 2013 – A number of Interfaith Conference leaders participated in “Chardhi Kala 6K Memorial Run and Walk: Turning Tragedy into Triumph,” which was organized by young Sikh adults and youths for the first anniversary weekend of the Oak Creek temple shootings. Beginning and ending at Oak Creek High School, it raised funds for scholarships in memory of the shooting victims for students who dedicate themselves to community service.
Aug. 2, 2013 – Interfaith Conference leaders participated in a memorial event organized by U.S. Attorney James Santelle in the ceremonial courtroom at the historic Federal Courthouse in Milwaukee to begin an extended weekend of events commemorating the first anniversary of the fatal shootings by a white supremacist at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek. IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen made comments and was joined at the podium by two Interfaith board members – ELCA Bishop Jeff Barrow and Elana Kahn-Oren, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council – for an alternating reading of an interfaith reflection. Speakers included Santelle; Sikh leaders; U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson; Patricia Ferrick, acting special agent in charge of the local FBI office; Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, and others. The event was titled, “Chardhi Kala: Remembering and Honoring the Victims of Violence at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek"
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.”
May 31, 2013 – Three leaders of our Interfaith Earth Network gave a workshop on faith and ecology at the annual assembly of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) at Country Springs Hotel in Waukesha. They and other representatives of IEN and the Interfaith Conference also staffed displays on IEN and Conference programs and activities.
May 21, 2013 – The Interfaith Conference assisted the U.S. Department of Justice in shaping and promoting a conference on a due no additional harm approach to trauma for first responders, law enforcement personnel, clergy, other faith-based professionals and community providers of advocacy, mediation and healing, at the Oak Creek Community Center. It was presented by Dr. Siddharth Ashvin Shah of Greenleaf Integrated Strategies, Washington, DC. The morning session, “Resiliency Techniques for Responding to Mass Tragedies,” was more relevant for faith-based participants
April/May 2013 – Working with Rob Shelledy, director of the Archdiocesan Office of Social Justice Ministry, and Kathy Shine, the office’s project coordinator, Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen continued the Conference’s participation in the Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative by assisting students from Marquette University in making a transitional jobs advocacy video. Tom crafted suggested questions for interviews with employers and transitional workers. He later was interviewed by the students as a spokesman for the collaborative. E-mail messages with a link to the resulting six-minute video were sent to every legislator in Wisconsin in an effort to get increased funding for transitional jobs in the 2013-14 state budget. Since the state’s transitional jobs demonstration project was started a little more than two years ago, nearly 2,000 people – representing 50% to 60% of the participants – have successfully transitioned from subsidized employment to unsubsidized employment. Many of these have been minorities with prison records and other barriers to employment.
April 27, 2013 – The Interfaith Conference assisted the student chapter of the Knights of Columbus at Marquette University in organizing presentations on the basics of various faiths and a panel discussion on social justice by representatives of Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Hinduism. Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen moderated the event, which was held in a room at the Marquette Union Sports Annex.
April 26, 2013 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen joined Archbishop Jerome Listecki, ELCA Bishop Jeff Barrow and others in speaking at a news conference in opposition to a state budget provision that would remove consumer protection controls from the rent-to-own industry in Wisconsin. The event was held at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and included major participation by Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman of West Bend and Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee.
April 26-27, 2013 – The Interfaith Conference office at 5409 W. Vliet Street is participating in the Spring 2013 Westside Artwalk organized by the Vliet Street Business Association. We are hosting nature photographer Ron Quimby. It’s our way of being good neighbors, and it also enables us to talk about our programs and activities with the families, groups and individuals who read the Artwalk brochure, stop in to see Ron’s photographs and cards, or chance upon us while walking by.
April 13, 2013 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen attended the annual meeting of the Southeast Wisconsin Association of the United Church of Christ at First Congregational Church of Oconomowoc, networking with participants and photographing the event for the UCC. We had displays about our Interfaith Earth Network, our Amazing Faiths Dinners and Interfaith Day at Miller Park.
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 25, 2013 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke about interfaith relations and religious diversity in the U.S. and Southeastern Wisconsin to six visiting Muslim imams (religious leaders) and two Muslim university officials from Yemen as part of a U.S. State Department program entitled “Interfaith Dialogue Among Religious Leaders: A Project for Yemen.” They were at the International Institute of Wisconsin.
March 22, 2013 – Several Interfaith Conference Cabinet members and our executive director 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.
March 20, 2013 – The Rev. Jamie Washam, vice chair of our Cabinet (board of directors) and pastor of Underwood Memorial Baptist Church in Wauwatosa, introduced Princeton University scholar, author and professor of religion Elaine Pagels in the Milwaukee Public Library’s Centennial Hall for a conversation about her latest book, Revelations: Visions, Prophesy and Politics in the Book of Revelation, with Mitch Teich of WUWM’s Lake Effect program. The event was sponsored by the library and Boswell Book Company.
March 14, 2013 – We co-sponsored and co-planned “People of Faith United for Justice,” a biennial state budget advocacy day that drew 900 people from across the state to Madison. The Wisconsin Council of Churches coordinated the planning, and the statewide WISDOM organization brought busloads of people to support its overall goal of reducing Wisconsin’s prison population by 50% by 2015. Our advocacy focused on cost-effective, safe ways to reduce the prison population, funding for transitional jobs and public transit, and health care for the disadvantaged. There were plenary presentations, breakout sessions and visits with legislators. The Rev. Bryan Massingale, a Marquette University theology professor, was the keynote speaker. Other co-sponsors in this highly collaborative effort included the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin and Madison Area Urban Ministries.
March 10, 2013 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke about the Conference and the increasing religious diversity in the nation and Southeastern Wisconsin to more than 50 members of St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa. Adult and youth representatives from the Sikh community, whom he invited, also spoke about their faith and their experiences since the shootings at the temple in Oak Creek. (This is an example of the type of outreach that he and members of our committees and board do. We have a few examples in this list.)
March 6-7, 2013 – Our Interfaith Earth Network staffed a display and gave a presentation at the 10th Annual Sustainability Summit and Exposition in the Frontier Airlines Center in Milwaukee. Three our IEN Steering Committee members – IEN Chair Terri Lowder, Terry Wiggins and Huda Alkaff (who also is president of Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light and founder/director of the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin) spoke on “Faith Communities and Sustainability.” It was described this way: “Religion has been a powerful force in human social development throughout history.…Speakers will address the connection between faith and the environment, and share inspiring examples of how congregations, religious organizations and faith communities are promoting sustainability through education, service and advocacy.” (Note: We have not included all of the IEN presentations and displays at area events in this list)
March 5, 2013 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen met with two German leaders of nongovernment, nonprofit organizations and three Sikh community leaders inside the Oak Creek Sikh Temple at the request of the International Institute of Wisconsin as part of the U.S. State Department’s “Countering Hate and Promoting Tolerance: A Project for Germany.”
March 3, 2013 – The first Interfaith Youth Cafe of 2013 was held at Tippecanoe Church in Milwaukee with the theme, “Let’s Take a Stand for Peace in Our Community.” It included comments by Pardeep Kaleka from the Oak Creek Sikh Temple. The mission is to give high school youths from different religious traditions an opportunity to gather and share their faith, to talk about issues important to them and to develop relationships. By fostering dialogue and mutual understanding, we hope to reduce conflict, eliminate stereotypes and promote peaceful relationships. The cafes also help congregations engage their youth. Cardinal Stritch University/Tomorrow’s Present, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Interfaith Conference and the House of Peace are the co-sponsors. (Cafes in 2012 were held on Sept. 23, May 6 and March 25 at various faith sites.)
Feb/March 2013 – Our Peace & International Issues Committee’s annual luncheon-lecture series at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee for 2013 was titled, “Why We Fear the Other: Theological Reflections on Racism, Immigration and the Roots of Prejudice.” It drew more than 150 different people to four luncheons in February and March. Two of the luncheons were sell-outs, with 125 to 130 people attending. The event opened with a panel presentation that included Journal Sentinel editorial writer and columnist James Causey, Sikh physician Hardeep Ahuja, Muslim restaurateur Azmi Alaeddin, and Voces de la Frontera representative Kathleen Shea. Other presenters on separate days were: Rev. Bryan Massingale, Marquette University theology professor; Tonen O’Connor, Soto Zen Buddhist resident priest emerita from the Milwaukee Zen Center; and Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor of theology and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary.
Feb. 20, 2013 – We co-sponsored a “Faith Sites Security Forum” with local and federal agencies to help metro-area congregations and other faith-based sites learn how to respond to and prepare for a range of threats and security issues. The U.S. Justice Department in Chicago asked Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen to take responsibility for inviting representatives of congregations, faith-based schools, etc. About 120 people from many denominations and faiths participated, including several that do not normally participate in interfaith events. They came from as far north as Random Lake, Plymouth and Slinger, and as far west as Oconomowoc, Big Bend, Merton, and Waukesha, plus Milwaukee County suburbs and the City of Milwaukee. Introductory comments were made by James Santelle, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin; Teresa Carlson, special agent in charge of the Milwaukee FBI division; Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, and our executive director.
Jan. 29, 2013 – Terri Lowder, the chair of our Interfaith Earth Network, was one of the presenters at the first 2013 event in the Building a Better Milwaukee series organized by Marquette University’s College of Professional Studies and the Cardinal Stritch University Leadership Center. The theme was “experience Milwaukee’s ecological abundance.” Terri talked about the work of IEN and links between spirituality and ecology. Matt Ray from Sweet Water Organics spoke, followed by Terri and representatives from Alice’s Garden, Cream City Gardens, and Re-imagine Riverwest.
Jan. 27, 2013 – We co-sponsored a talk on critical environmental issues by a major national/international religious leader, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. The presiding bishop, who holds doctorates in divinity and oceanography, worked as a scientist before going into the ministry. She is the first woman elected as a primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Her appearance was organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and Christ Church Episcopal of Whitefish Bay, with co-sponsorship by the Interfaith Conference, our Interfaith Earth Network and the national GreenFaith organization. It was a follow-up to our two-day Ground for Hope – Wisconsin regional environmental training conference (Oct. 21-22). We organized a private meeting of interfaith leaders with Jefferts Schori immediately prior to her talk at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Milwaukee.
Jan. 15, 2013 – We held our first Amazing Faiths Dinner of the year, 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.)
Jan. 12, 2013 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke briefly at a community forum at Oak Creek Middle School, organized by Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi, entitled, “After the Oak Creek Sikh Temple Shooting: How can each of us change the cycle of violence in our community?” Although not a panelist, he was invited by the mayor to attend and speak. Annie Scholz of WTMJ4 television moderated.
Dec. 6, 2012 – We drew 345 people to our annual luncheon in the Italian Community Center to hear Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, tell of tracking and countering the rapidly rising numbers of hate groups and armed militia groups. We honored the Sikh community with a citation and standing ovation for its remarkably peaceful, forgiving response to the temple shootings.
At the luncheon, we gave our Frank Zeidler Award for involving faith communities in social issues to Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj, UWM sociology professor emeritus and longtime Hindu Temple of Wisconsin representative to our Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations (now renamed our Committee for Interfaith Understanding). We gave our Rev. Herbert Huebschmann Urban Ministry Award to Tikkun Ha-Ir (a Jewish organization with a dynamic Surplus Harvest Project), our Youth Leadership Award to Ma’ruf ( a Muslim social-justice organization that engages youths in volunteer service projects), and our Mark Rohlfing Memorial Award to Dr. Francine Feinberg, former executive director of Meta House (one of the first programs in the nation that allowed women with alcohol and drug dependencies to live with their children while undergoing treatment.)
Our emcee was the Rev. Jean Dow, chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet and associate pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church on the city’s east side.
Wisconsin Public Radio’s Kathleen Dunn interviewed Richard Cohen on her show from 9 to 10 a.m. the morning of our luncheon. The interview is archived at www.wpr.org/kathleendunn
Milwaukee Labor Press Editor Dominique Paul Noth also interviewed Cohen that morning
Dec. 3, 2012 – We arranged a meeting of some 20 lay and ordained leaders from several denominations and faiths with James Santelle, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and visiting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tom Perez, who oversees all civil rights enforcement nationwide, to talk about bullying, security, religious freedom, immigration reform and more. Santelle asked us to make and coordinate the invitations.
Nov. 17, 2012 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen gave a plenary presentation on the Conference, on our co-sponsorship of a “Season of Civility” project with the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and on related topics at “In Defense of Civility: A one-day conference on today’s challenge to our religious and political communities.” Held at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Milwaukee’s east side, it was organized by Immanuel and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. The Rev. Jean Dow, associate pastor of Immanuel and chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet, introduced him.
Nov. 12, 2012 – Our Interfaith Earth Network piloted a new “Celebrate Sustainably” workshop program at St. Therese Catholic Church in Milwaukee. At different stations, speakers demonstrated how to decorate sustainably, gift sustainably, shop sustainably, wrap gifts sustainably, and send/reuse cards sustainably.
Nov. 8, 2012 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen introduced Jay Williams, former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, and current executive director of the U.S. Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, at a “Job Clubs and Career Ministries Symposium” at Hales Corners Lutheran Church. The event was organized by the U.S. Labor Department’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Oct. 21-22, 2012 – We drew more than 200 people to “Ground for Hope – Wisconsin,” a two-day regional environmental training conference for clergy, seminarians and lay leaders of many faiths. Our Interfaith Earth Network Steering Committee and the national GreenFaith organization were the two main organizers, with key help from 20 major co-sponsoring organizations, and with supplemental funding from the High Wind Association. The first day was held at the Islamic Community Center; the second at the Archbishop Cousins Center. Keynote speakers included renowned Native American environmentalist Winona LaDuke and Ken Leinbach, executive director of the Urban Ecology Center. There were many workshops and three optional eco-spirit bus tours to inspirational secular and faith-based sites of environmental and sustainability projects.
Oct. 14, 2012 – Despite rainy, cool weather, we raised more than $56,000 in donations and more than 16,000 pounds of food from more than 500 walkers and 74 congregations and groups with our annual lakefront Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk. One new addition, the Kohl’s Design it! Mobile Lab, provided on-site craft-making activities for children. There was live music by the Caupolicán (Toqui) group, and later drumming by Jahmes Finlayson of Hands with Heart, which included audience participation on instruments.
Oct. 5, 2012 – Terri Lowder, chair of our Interfaith Earth Network Steering Committee, gave a lunch-hour PowerPoint presentation on the links between faith and ecology to about 20 seminarians and faculty members at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners. Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen also spoke, emphasizing our upcoming interfaith Ground for Hope – Wisconsin environmental training conference for clergy, seminarians and lay leaders.
Sept. 24, 2012 – In response to the Sikh temple shooting, we organized “Know Your Neighbors: Exploring Our Diverse Faiths” and filled Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church with a diverse, regional crowd of more than 200 people on a Monday night when the Green Bay Packers played on national television. Sikh priests chanted from their holy book; Sikh leaders talked about their faith and customs; we presented a check to the Sikh leaders for slightly more than $5,500 in donations to aid the temple shooting victims; representatives of Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism gave shorter presentations. Many people lingered to socialize. Our Interfaith Earth Network had a display, and IEN leaders interacted with several people, including some young adult Sikhs who are very interested in environmental issues and sustainability.
Sept. 20, 2012 – We helped plan and present the 5th Annual Frank P. Zeidler Memorial Lecture, which marked the 100th anniversary of the former Milwaukee mayor’s birth by featuring daughter Jeanne Zeidler sharing stories and reflections about him and his legacy in the Milwaukee Public Library’s Centennial Hall. Jeanne served 12 years as the mayor of Williamsburg, Va., and oversaw the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown as executive director of Jamestown 2007. She currently is president and CEO of the Williamsburg Community Health Foundation. Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen serves on the lecture committee, which is comprised of representatives of organizations that Frank Zeidler founded, led or supported during his lifetime of public service.
August, 2012 – In response to the Aug. 5, 2012 fatal shootings of six and the wounding of four others by a white supremacist at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, many Interfaith Conference leaders offered support. They attended prayer vigils at the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin’s temple in Brookfield, at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin in Pewaukee and in the park near the Oak Creek Community Center. Many also attended the wake at Oak Creek Middle School for those slain in the shootings. We solicited and shared compelling prayers and statements by religious organizations and individuals on our website, and by year’s end we raised more than $5,625 from the public and from our supporters for the victims and their families, including the wounded Oak Creek police officer.
Aug. 12, 2012 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen was one of several speakers at a community commemoration of the Sikh Temple shooting that also called for solutions to violence in our society. It was organized by several grass-roots community organizations and was held in Pere Marquette Park along the Milwaukee River in the heart of the city’s downtown.
Aug. 10, 2012 – The Rev. Jamie Washam, vice chair of the Interfaith Conference and pastor of Underwood Memorial Baptist Church in Wauwatosa, was interviewed with Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen for a WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio Lake Effect segment that was broadcast Aug. 10 and was titled “Bringing Together Communities of Faith after Temple Shootings.” The show is archived at www.wuwm.com/programs/lake_effect/
Aug. 8, 2012 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke at a prayer vigil for the Sikh Temple shooting victims, organized by the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin and held at the Hindus’ temple in Pewaukee.
Aug. 7, 2012 – Dr. Swarnjit Arora, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and a longtime Sikh representative on the Interfaith Conference’s Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations (renamed in 2013 as our Committee for Interfaith Understanding) was interviewed by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Kathleen Dunn on her show from 10 to 11 a.m. The show is archived at www.wpr.org/kathleendunn
Aug. 6, 2012 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen was interviewed by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Kathleen Dunn on her show from 10 to 10:30 a.m. about the Sikh Temple shootings, the community’s responses, religious diversity, interfaith relations, etc. The show is archived at www.wpr.org/kathleendunn
July 27, 2012 – Terri Lowder, chair of our Interfaith Earth Network Steering Committee, led an Eco-Spirit tour to area sites of creative environmental/sustainability efforts for visitors from Germany. Their hosts were two Waukesha County congregations – Redeemer United church of Christ in Sussex and Evangelical and Reformed United Church of Christ in Waukesha. The visitors were from St. Lukas-Gemeinde Congregation in Paderborn, Germany.
July 17, 2012 – We drew more than 370 people from many congregations and faith communities for our third annual Interfaith Day at Miller Park, with t-shirts that said “Going to bat for a better world.” This is a fund-raising and a consciousness-raising event, as well as a community building event for participating congregations. Passion for sports is almost a religion in itself, and it is quite fitting that we bring our people and our message into the region’s largest sports venue. We also collected food for the Hunger Task Force at Miller Park from our participants.
June 10, 2012 – Our Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations (a committee of the Interfaith Conference) organized and held “Interreligious Dialogue: A Friendship” with the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin. The event that drew more than 220 people to the Hindu Temple in Pewaukee to hear a prominent Hindu speaker, Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion, philosophy and Asian studies at Saint Olaf College in Minnesota. Panelists representing Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism gave shorter responses. The event included tours of the temple, and an Indian dinner. Dr. Rambachan used Mahatma Gandhi and Gandhi’s closest friend, Anglican priest Charles Freer Andrews, as a model for interfaith relationship. Dr. Rambachan’s many honors and accomplishments include giving the distinguished Lambeth Lecture at Lambeth Palace in London at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2008, and delivering the invocation address at the historic celebrations of the Hindu festival of Diwali in the U.S. White House in 2003 and 2004.
June 9, 2012 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen was one of three panelists who presented a workshop entitled “Interfaith Experiences in Local Communities” at the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Conference, United Church of Christ, at the Green Lake Conference Center.
June 3, 2012 – We co-sponsored and helped plan “Responding to Hunger: Creating Local Solutions” at Marquette University with the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Hunger Task Force, and three other organizations. It featured a screening of the movie “Food Stamped,” a presentation by the Hunger Task Force, and several workshops on topics ranging from hunger advocacy and victory gardens to a farm bill policy update and examples of innovative projects started by congregations.
April 20, 2012 – Our Interfaith Earth Network piloted its new “Trash Talking” educational program during High Interest Day at St. Sebastian School in Milwaukee. An IEN team obtained a large, laminated map of the world. The team then collected selected “trash” items days in advance from trash cans at the school, washed the items supplemented them with some additional items such as an old tennis shoe. Several successive groups of grade school students and some accompanying adults were told the dump the “trash” on the floor atop the map of the world (trashing the world) and then decide whether each item could have been reused/repurposed or recycled, or whether it needed to be thrown out. Participants also were given a creative multiple choice quiz featuring interesting/compelling environmental facts related to trash, pollution, etc.
April 2012 – We co-sponsored the Wisconsin Council of Churches’ “Season of Civility” project to encourage and train dialogue groups at congregations statewide in how to discuss volatile issues civilly in our polarized society. The project was based on Madison author Parker Palmer’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage of Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit and on an accompanying discussion guide. At least 200 representatives of congregations participated in regional training sessions later in the year. Our Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations (renamed in 2013 as our Committee for Interfaith Understanding) broadened a Christian supplement to the study guide by producing Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i and Unitarian Universalist supplements.
March 21, 2012 – Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen gave a presentation on the Conference’s history, goals, membership and accomplishments in 2011 to the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council at the Jewish Federation building on Milwaukee’s east side.
March 6, 13, 20, 27, 2012 – Our annual Tuesdays-in-March luncheon lecture series at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee drew about 150 different people for a series of presentations on the theme, “Standing Up for Democracy: From the Middle East to the Capitol Rotunda.” Wisconsin Conference United Methodist Bishop Linda Lee anchored the series by reflecting on the other presenters’ comments and offering her own insights in a talk on March 27 entitled, “Responding to Democracy’s Challenges: Spirituality, Hope and Action for People of Faith.” Earlier speakers in the series included Rob Ricigliano, director of the Institute of World Affairs at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee; Ruth Conniff, political editor of The Progressive magazine; and Mike McCabe, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
Feb. 12, 2012 – We assisted Joan Plumley, director of faith formation at Milwaukee’s St. Sebastian Catholic Church, in organizing a Generations of Faith panel presentation for a large group of parishioners in the church hall this Sunday morning. Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen moderated a panel discussion by faith representatives on how the principles, values and teachings of their faiths support social justice, peace and interfaith dialogue.Panelists included Moshe Katz, chairman of the board of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center; Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition; the Rev. Andy Oren, a United Methodist minister who serves on the Interfaith Conference Cabinet; and Judi Longdin, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Concerns for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a member of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet.
The year 2011 was one of the Interfaith Conference’s busiest and most successful years in recent history.
9/11 Commemoration: On Sept. 11, 2011, ten religious leaders from the Interfaith Conference had major speaking roles as they offered an invocation, reflections and a jointly recited prayer for the future at the Bel Canto Chorus/Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra performance of Mozart’s Requiem in
Rebecca Whitney, development director of the Bel Canto Chorus, sent the following message to us a few days after the concert to Tom Heinen, Interfaith executive director:
Dear Tom and members of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee,
Thank you so much for your involvement in “United We Stand.” The beautiful readings and prayers, the powerful visual statement of the various religious leaders standing together, the prayer flags fluttering in the wind across Cathedral Square Park – all brought elements to this event that made it so much more than just another concert.
Many, many people have commented on the Interfaith Conference’s Involvement and how it moved them in a powerful way. Thank you all so much for your willingness to go on this journey with us and your openness, creativity, and frankness during the process. The end result was a powerful, beautiful event that both appropriately remembered those lost ten years ago but also truly did look forward with hope.
We’d like to share some comments about the event that we have received thus far:
"United We Stand was a tremendously powerful and moving performance, breathtaking experience, and much more. The venue, sound quality and mix was excellent. An historic tribute, and memorable BCC event that will remain in participants’ hearts for a lifetime. Thank You!"
"Thank you for making this opportunity available for the Milwaukee community. As a church musician, music is my preferred way of praying, of mourning loss, and of celebrating life. On such a major anniversary of such a cataclysmic event, the community needs to mourn, and music helps us to grapple with the feelings that words cannot adequately express. I have heard much discussion about hope and opportunities for moving out of the shock and mourning and into a greater understanding of our place in the community of world cultures and religions. Your integration of the Interfaith leaders into this concert beautifully modeled the Possibility of what can be in terms of knowledge, tolerance, and hearing and understanding the views of all people. Thank you for providing this for me, my family, and the Milwaukee community."
"The whole experience was dignified and moving. The performances, both choral and musical, were outstanding. There was just enough 'pomp and circumstance' fitting to the memory of 9/11. I was impressed with the representatives of each faith community and their remarks and reflections of 9/11. Even the weather was perfect. Thank you for providing this exceptional musical commemoration program to the public at no charge."
This, of course does not include the many activities and events we held in 2010, which was our 40th anniversary year. We bookended the year with major luncheons that drew large crowds and featured as speakers David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, and Debra Mason, executive director of the national Religion Newswriters Association. We held a history-of-Milwaukee bus tour for religious leaders that was conducted by esteemed local historian John Gurda. Our Interfaith Earth Network held a “Bridging Faith & Ecology” event at the Urban Ecology Center that drew 200 to 300 adults and children, and which featured displays by about 30 congregations and organizations. We held an interfaith event at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin that featured the Hindu chaplain from Harvard University and other speakers representing nine active faith traditions in Southeastern Wisconsin. More than 240 people attended.
Interfaith Conference Celebrates Past, Envisions Future as it begins 41st year.
Having just completed our 40th anniversary year in 2010, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee is facing fresh challenges as it continues to reshape and revitalize itself.
Wisconsin’s budget deficit is sparking major social-justice issues. Civility in national public discourse continues to deteriorate – from legislative debate and talk-show harangues to Internet exchanges. And what about the links between vitriolic rhetoric and violent action? There is distrust and fear of ethnic/religious minorities. And the Milwaukee-area is ranked as having some of the worst racial segregation and poverty in the nation.
Last year (2009) was a time of transition, challenge and opportunity for the Interfaith Conference as we prepared for a year of 40th anniversary events in 2010 while envisioning new, more effective ways of conducting interfaith dialogue and social-justice advocacy in a rapidly changing world.
Following the resignation of Executive Director Marcus White in 2008, we began planning for the future, cognizant that changing realities would require a new vision and an executive director who could embrace and give shape to that new vision. We were facing changes in religious demographics and denominational affiliation along with the growth of pluralism, a severe economic downturn and new trends in communication. They all combined to create the need to develop a vision and plan for the future that recognizes the need for change while honoring the Conference’s tradition of speaking as a voice of moral authority on poverty, racism and other issues that diminish human dignity in the metro-area community we serve.
New Executive Director – Judi Longdin, director of the Archdiocese’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Concerns Office, served commendably as the Conference’s interim, part-time executive director until former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter/editor Tom Heinen was hired as of September 1, 2009. She continues as a key advisor, a member of the Conference’s executive committee, and as treasurer.
Tom’s 30-plus year career in journalism included 11 years as religion reporter. His communication skills, fairness, personal relationships and knowledge of the community position him and our Cabinet to explore new paradigms for the 21st century. One of his first actions was to launch a Conference Facebook page to reach a broader, younger audience.
New office site – The Conference moved in mid-April 2010 from a large, second-floor office space at 1442 N. Farwell Ave. on Milwaukee’s east side – where the Conference had been based for many years – to a smaller, street-level storefront at 5409 W. Vliet Street on the city’s west side, in the same building where the Four Corners of the World fair trade shop is. The move has cut our monthly rental/utility bill by nearly two-thirds, allowing us to use our strained resources more effectively. It also is expected to enhance our outreach and our public visibility.
New visions – The Cabinet (board of directors) is holding a series of discussions in 2010, creatively examining our mission, structure, methods and priorities.
New plans/Activities – We sold 485 tickets for our first-ever Interfaith Day at Miller Park for a Brewers’ game on July 27, 2010 – complete with specially designed T-shirts and half-price tickets – to raise public awareness, energize our supporters and make a visual statement of interfaith cooperation. This was important for us. The general public knows relatively little about us and often confuses us with the Interfaith Program for Older Adults, which was founded through one of our task forces in the 1970s but is a separate, independent organization.
The event also had a social-service component. Our supporters who attended the game donated 400 pounds of food for the Hunger Task Force at the ballpark.
It was our 40th anniversary year and the Brewers’ 40th anniversary year in 2010. Episcopal Bishop Steven Miller, the current chairman of our Cabinet (our board) was permitted to throw out one of the game’s first pitches. Executive Director Tom Heinen was on the field with the bishop to capture the moment in video on a camcorder and later posted the video on YouTube, where it got 179 views. We reached thousands of people in the ballpark who knew little about the Conference. And the more than 370 people who bought T-shirts will continue to proclaim our existence as they wear the T-shirts in their private lives.
Our new vision included holding inaugural Amazing Faith Dinners this fall to help address the rising tide of religious intolerance and ignorance in the United States. Based on a widely successful program that started in Houston and has involved hundreds of homes across the nation, it brings groups of 8-to-10 people of different faiths together in a home to share a dinner and a facilitated dialogue about their faith. With religious extremism feeding international tensions, with racial/religious hate groups growing sharply in the United States (as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center), and with the recently passed September 11th anniversary revealing a broad vein of fear and hatred toward Islam in the general public, it is critical that the Interfaith Conference pre-empt violence and intolerance by fostering understanding and friendship at a grass-roots level.
A new Pew poll scheduled to be released in late September 2010 will provided additional confirmation of what professor/author Steven Prothero detailed in his 2008 book, “Religious Literacy.” Although many Americans are fervent in the experiential practice of religion, they know little about other faiths and often do not know the basics of their own faith.
Other Events and Activities in 2010:
A 40th Anniversary Celebratory Dinner on December 9, 2010 that drew 265 people to honor several award recipients and hear Debra Mason, executive director of the national Religion Newswriters Association, issue a call for civility in a troubled world. Honorees included the nationally recognized Urban Ecology Center and congregations that have assisted the center in its highly effective outreach to urban children and youths; the Rev. Louis E. Sibley III, first vice president of the Wisconsin General Baptist State Convention and longtime MICHA president; two youth leaders from Dominican and Marquette University High Schools; Special Olympics; CROP Hunger Walk volunteers Dorothy and Ralph Babcock, and their church, Grace Presbyterian Church.
The 40th anniversary year opened with a luncheon on Feb. 4, 2010 that drew 320 people. They heard internationally known David Beckman, president of Bread for the World, give a rousing talk on U.S. and worldwide hunger. He was featured on both Milwaukee public radio stations. Award honorees included the Rev. Roy Alberswerth (UCC), a founder of the Conference; Ascension Lutheran Church; two youth leaders from Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ; and clinical nurse Susan Dillon Gold.
“Celebrate the Power of Bridging Faith & Ecology” on October 24, 2010, where more than a dozen congregations and faith groups displayed their successful efforts to become “green,” from solar panel installations and community gardens to prayer services. More than 200 adults and children came to the Urban Ecology Center to enjoy the displays, live music, free healthy food and an eco-puppet parade. It was organized by the Interfaith Earth Network, a collaboration of the Interfaith Conference and the Urban Ecology Center.
Milwaukee Bus Tour: Thursday, Oct. 14: Reviving a tradition that began with late Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler, a founder of the Interfaith Conference, we held a bus tour of Milwaukee led by historian John Gurda for Interfaith Conference leaders, other religious leaders and lay people. Slightly more than 50 people rode with John to hear fascinating background about the city’s secular and religious history, and to ride by some historic sites. The tour included stops at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park, a tour of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral and its exquisite interior mosaics, and lunch at Café el Sol in the United Community Center.
The 25th annual CROP Hunger Walk on Milwaukee’s lakefront. Organized by the Interfaith Conference, it drew about 1,000 people from 97 congregations and groups to McKinley Marina on October 10, 2010. They donated more than 11,000 pounds of food for the Hunger Task Force, listened to live Dixieland music and then walked 2-mile or 5-mile routes to symbolize how far people in developing countries walk for food and water. More than $60,000 was raised for international and U.S. hunger relief and development.
Interfaith Book Club: A pilot club started in the fall, gathering for three initial sessions.
Interfaith Celebration at Hindu Temple of Wisconsin on June 25, 2010 – The Conference’s Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations partnered with the Hindu Temple to hold this event, which drew nearly 250 enthusiastic people to the temple in Pewaukee to hear the Hindu chaplain from Harvard University speak and to hear representatives of nine other faiths share some basics of their faiths and their approaches to interfaith dialogue. There was a temple tour and a free Indian dinner.
Peace & International Issues Committee – Its thought-provoking luncheon/dinner lecture series on Tuesdays in March thrived in 2009 with an environmental theme of “Sustaining the World, Sustaining Our Souls” and in 2010 with a multi-issue, faith-based focus titled “The Times, They Are a’ Changing: Looking Beyond the Headlines.”
Anniversary Luncheons – An annual luncheon this February kicked off our 40th anniversary year. More than 300 people, the most in recent years, came to the Italian Community Center and heard internationally known David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, talk on U.S. and worldwide hunger. He was featured on both of Milwaukee’s public radio stations. The anniversary year ends with a luncheon December 9.
MAIR (Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations) – Members of our MAIR committee have been advising a small group of parishioners from St. Stephen Church who are working to create an interfaith chapel at Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport.
Interfaith Congregation Action Network – Our Cabinet (board) and CAN adopted positions, made endorsements and/or conducted advocacy on a range of issues in 2009 and 2010, such as transitional jobs, school nutrition, affordable housing, housing for homeless vets, immigrant rights and driver’s cards, and early release of prisoners. It is working on an advocacy manual for congregations.
Among our many other activities and programs, some done collaboratively with other groups, are:
Interfaith Youth Cafes, where high school students socialize as they discuss their values, experiences and faith in small groups under the guidance of adult moderators. This broadens their horizons, counters stereotypes and strengthens them in their own faiths.
A Restorative Justice Committee that brings together representatives of major institutions ranging from Marquette University and the district attorney’s office to the Milwaukee Public Schools, the Benedict Center and the Peace Learning Center.
An increasingly active Interfaith Earth Network that holds events, helps congregations lower their energy usage and costs, and promotes earth stewardship.