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.
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.
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.
Jan. 26, 2012 -- The Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) changed its practice of requiring that the Cabinet chair be a judicatory leader (such as a bishop, district superintendent, etc.) and opened that office to any of the ordained and lay members of the Cabinet. It then voted on a slate of officers for 2012 that included the Rev. Jean Dow, associate pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Milwaukee's east side, as the chair. That motion was unanimously approved.
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"
July, 11, 2013 – Our Interfaith Earth Network is starting a faith and ecology interest group that will hold monthly gatherings for conversational sharing at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park on Milwaukee’s east side. For the first publicly advertised gathering, 28 people came during July’s national “Power Down Week” to talk about “Peace, Justice and Sustainability. What are we doing well? How do faith and spirituality motivate and inspire us?” Personal testimonies of dynamic experiences and projects energized and inspired the participants. The evening was co-sponsored by the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin and moderated by an outreach team from the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. The group included Muslim, Jewish, Quaker, ELCA Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Evangelical and other participants who ranged in age from high school and college age to older adults.
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.
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 19, 2014 -- The Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi (M.T.O.) School of Islamic Sufism in Franksville (northern Racine County) began participating in the Interfaith Conference's Committee for Interfaith Understanding. Two representatives from the school were warmly welcomed at the committee's November meeting. The school and its worship site serve Sufi Muslims from both the Chicago area and the Milwaukee area.
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 - Interfaith Conference representatives were among 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. Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, member of the Sikh Temple and nephew to one of the victims, was a panelist. (Kanwardeep attended at least two of the Interfaith Conference's Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues.) 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. Moderated by Mark Siegrist, the online conversation panelists also include Patrice O'Neill, filmmaker and executive director of Not in Our Town; Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards and Dr. Irfan Omar, Ph.D., Marquette University theology professor.
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.
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
For long leadership in social justice, peace, advocacy and environmental efforts by the Interfaith Conference and programs of the local, regional and statewide United Church of Christ. She now oversees IFCGM's March luncheon-lecture series and helps lead its Interfaith Earth Network.
Rev. Herbert Huebschmann Urban Ministry Award -- SE Wisconsin Common Ground
For effective grass roots organizing of congregations and other groups in the metro area in efforts ranging from creating a health care cooperative to getting banks, property management and mortgage firms to provide millions of dollars to address housing issues.
Mark Rohlfing Memorial Award -- Jane Audette
For her services to K3-12th grade regular and special education children as a Milwaukee Public Schools social worker in several district schools; and for her work as co-chair of the Education Task Force of MICAH (Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope).
Youth/Young Adult Leadership Award -- St. John Vianney S.W.E.A.T.
For bridging city/suburban separation and engaging 25 high schoolers in service projects at meal sites, pantries, schools and other nonprofit sites in Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties in the Brookfield parish's Something Worthy of Energy, Attention and Time summer program.
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.
Some 70% of the funding goes 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.
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. 24, 2015 -- The Interfaith Conference's Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Program conducted a dinner dialogue at Milwaukee's Ambassador Hotel for a group of six international visitors and an American liaison officer who were visiting Milwaukee under the auspices of the U.S. State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program. Participants were educators, project leaders and nonprofit agency executives from Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan, the Palestine territorities, Sri Lanka, Trinidad/Tobago and Ukraine. Dinner Dialogue Volunteer Ellen Parmelee, a Baha'i, moderated the dialogue. Donna Neubauer and Bob Jacobs, experienced dinner dialogue participants from the Milwaukee Jewish community, participated as did Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen. Tom also gave a slide-show presentation on the Interfaith Conference's programs. The International Institute of Wisconsin coordinated the activites by the group in Milwaukee.
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 -- About 30 leaders, supporters and participants in Interfaith Conference programs attended a movie screening and breaking-of-the-fast Ramadan iftar dinner as guests of the Niagara Foundation at the Turkish American Society of Wisconsin, 6011 S. 27th St., Greenfield. Founded in 2004, the foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mission of fostering civic conversations and sustained relationships between people of different cultures and faiths. Attendees at the dinner viewed Love Is A Verb, a documentary about the Hizmet social movement of Sufi inspired Sunni Muslims that began in Turkey in the l960s and now reaches across the globe. It also is known as the Gulen Movement after its inspiration, leader and revered teacher, Fethullah Gulen.
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:
a) Did something that one of the speakers said particularly strike you or otherwise resonate with you?
b) Was there a time in your life when you felt like “the stranger”?What was your experience of that?
c) How can you apply what you’ve heard today in your neighborhood, your workplace, in your faith community,
in your social interactions?
d) Looking ahead, what other topics or themes would you like to see explored/presented?
In other words, what do you want to hear about?
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 22, 2015 -- We were mentioned prominently, and Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen was quoted in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story on January 22 about the Wisconsin Council of Church's release of a new statement on interfaith relations and its encouragement of interfaith dialogue statewide.See: Journal Sentinel story For the WCC's "Loving our Neighbors" statement and information about its effort, see: WCC Interfaith Outreach
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.
Interfaith Conference has extraordinary year in 2015
The interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee had an extraordinary year of collaboration, growth and outreach in 2015 as we continued to be a vital catalyst for social justice and interfaith understanding, tolerance and friendship.
Here are some highlights, followed by a log of weekly activities. In 2015, we:
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, 2016 -- 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.
Nov. 10, 2016 -- City boosts funding for Housing Trust Fund; Interfaith Conference cited for role
(A News Conference was held in the rotunda of City Hall) The Milwaukee Common Council approved a 2017 city budget amendment last week to increase funding for the Housing Trust Fund from $450,000 to $650,000 next year, strengthening the city’s push to leverage the development of housing units to address Milwaukee’s most vital housing needs while stimulating development activity and jobs.
The Interfaith Conference played an important role in creating the fund nearly 10 years ago and continues to have a representative on the fund’s advisory board (Currently Interfaith board member and UWM economics professor Dr. Swarnjit Arora).
Alderman Michael Murphy, who introduced the budget amendment, said that since 2008 the fund has awarded grants totaling just under $6 million leveraging projects valued at $103 million. During that time period, the fund has helped to create or rehab more than 760 housing units, at an average cost of $7,800 per unit. Mayor Tom Barrett said the Housing Trust Fund is playing a vital role in championing smaller projects that produce big results.
Tom Heinen, executive director of the Interfaith Conference, said, “When housing and homelessness arose as heightened issues in 2004, we helped create a broad coalition of community organizations that pushed for the creation of a housing trust fund. We hosted the meetings, served as the fiscal agent, hired a part-time staff person to assist, and were represented by our then executive director. This was truly a community-wide effort. Several people and dozens of organizations played important roles, including private leaders and public officials such as Alderman Michael Murphy.”
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. 25, 2016 -- Volunteers and leaders from the Interfaith Conference led about 100 people in interfaith dialogue during the lunch at Plymouth Church UCC's "Reviving Peace" conference at the church, 2717 E. Hampshire St., Milwaukee. We used our appreciate inquiry model to give them a taste of our ongoing Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues. Plymouth's two-day event featured several speakers of diverse faiths. The event's mission statement was: "We aim to inspire people from many spiritual traditions, and those who do not identify with any faith tradition to: Create space for honest interfaith discussions of what divides and connects us; Broaden our understanding of diverse religions and spiritual practices; and Move forward together in mutually respectful ways to wage peace."
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' encyclical 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 "galvanize 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 afterwards.
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' encyclical on the environment. The April 19 session was titled "The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis: Preventing Disaster by Caring 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 engaging and informative presentation 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 difficult 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' encyclical 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, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, wrote afterwards, "I write to congratulate you and all of your board members and staff for organizing and presenting Thursday evening’s genuinely outstanding community gathering at the Sunset Playhouse. From start to finish, the program was informative, thoughtful, reflective, inspiring, and even humorous—striking precisely the right balance of education and encouragement for the challenges of our times. I appreciate your continuing focus on and commitment to this supremely important work..."
Our moderator was Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi. Our speakers and welcomers included:
Rabbi Jacob Herber, Past President of Wisconsin Council of Rabbis, Spiritual Leader of Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale. Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem
Imam Noman Hussain from Islamic Society of Milwaukee West, the mosque that opened in Brookfield last year
Rev. Dr. John R. Walton, Jr., Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, the oldest African-American Baptist Church in Milwaukee
Rahul Dubey, Representative of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin in Brookfield
Rev. Nancy Lanman, Chair of Interfaith Conference’s Committee for Interfaith Understanding, and United Methodist representative on Interfaith Conference Cabinet
Rev. Suzelle Lynch, Deputy Convenor of Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network (BEGIN) and Minister of Unitarian Universalist Church West, Brookfield
Tom Heinen, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee
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.
Feb. 16, 2016 -- Seven people participated in an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue hosted by Rev. Reirin Gumbel and the Milwaukee Zen Center on the East Side.
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.
NOTE: For Interfaith Conference statements on refugees and on hate incidents that occurred in 2017
see: Interfaith Advocacy
Dec. 7, 2017 – More than 300 people attended the Interfaith Conference’s 47th Annual Luncheon at the Italian Community Center, making it our second-largest annual luncheon in the past decade. It was timely, compelling, and inspirational. Lecia Brooks, outreach director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, spoke on “How Wisconsin’s Faith Communities Can Respond to the Rising Visibility of Hate and Extremism in Wisconsin and Across the Nation.” Judith Longdin, director of the Catholic Archdiocese’s Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Concerns since 1993 and a longtime Interfaith Conference leader received our Frank Zeidler Award from Elana Kahn, an Interfaith Cabinet members and director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Janan Najeeb, a longtime member of our Committee for Interfaith Understanding and president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition. One highlight came when a religiously and racially diverse group of 21 people from the Sherman Park area representing congregations, community organizations, social service agencies, and city government gathered on the front platform for our urban ministry award to be presented to the Sherman Park Association of Religious Communities (SPARC) for teaching tolerance, celebrating diversity, and peacefully addressing important community concerns since 1985. Then Oriana Carey, chief executive officer of the Coalition for Children, Youth & Families, accepted the Mark Rohlfing Memorial Award for CCYF and spoke about the importance of foster families and adoptions.
Nov. 19, 2017 – The Rev. Kate Fields, pastor of Underwood Memorial Baptist Church in Wauwatosa, interviewed Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen during the Sunday worship service as part of the church’s "Front Porch Conversations" series. She and the person she is speaking with sit on rocking chairs in the sanctuary. She describes the series this way: “We'll have folks from all over Milwaukee joining us in worship to talk with me about how they are putting feet to their faith in creative and prophetic ways.” Tom talked about his own faith journey and the Interfaith Conference’s programs. The American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin is one of the Conference’s 17 member denominations and faiths.
Nov. 13, 2017 – Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen met with Elder Rachel Yates, the nominee for the Presbytery of Milwaukee's top administrative post, at a meet-and-greet session in the Presbytery offices in West Allis. As expected, she subsequently was elected Presbytery Executive at a Presbytery Meeting on Nov. 14 in Beaver Dam. In this capacity, “she will be responsible for hiring, developing and managing staff, leading strategy for leadership development, building bridges internally and externally, encouraging risk-taking and innovation, among other responsibilities.” The Presbytery of Milwaukee is one of 17 denominations and faiths that are members of the Interfaith Conference. It is the umbrella organization for 42 Presbyterian congregations in Southeast Wisconsin.
Nov. 6, 2017 – Dr. Heather Ann Thompson, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for history with her book “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy,” spoke about her book as the 2017 Frank P. Zeidler Memorial Lecture in the Turner Hall ballroom. The event was organized by the Turners in collaboration with the Zeidler Memorial Lecture Committee. The committee is comprised of representatives of organizations the former Milwaukee mayor founded or strong supported, including the Interfaith Conference, the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee Public Television, the International Institute of Wisconsin, the UW-Milwaukee History Department, and others.
Nov. 2, 2017 – Representatives of the Interfaith Conference and our Interfaith Earth Network were among a group of about 30 community leaders and volunteers who participated in a community think tank organized by Milwaukee Water Commons to discuss solutions to the health threat caused by lead in Milwaukee’s water system. The gathering was held at the Quaker Meetinghouse in the city’s Riverwest neighborhood. Kirsten Shead, program director of our Interfaith Earth Network, also has been working for the Water Commons and facilitated the evening’s discussions.
October 2017 -- The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee called on all people of every faith and philosophy in Southeastern Wisconsin to stand against hate and uphold the dignity of all people during a Season of Action Against Hate, beginning with the collective Anti-Hate Weekend, Oct. 13-15, and continuing to Thanksgiving, when Americans of diverse races, genders, and creeds come together in appreciation of our great nation. During this season against hate, we asked faith leaders and others to teach, preach, and dialogue about the rise of hate and how to build a community of compassion. This was occurring in conjunction with the Anti-Hate Weekend, a community-wide mobilization to reject hate and build a compassionate community. Faith communities – in houses of worship and on the streets – are powerful forces for the common good. The Interfaith Conference charged faith leaders to galvanize the community with the power of their particular faith tradition to reject hate in our community. Faith leaders were invited to join the Facebook group, Teaching and Preaching Against Hate SE Wisconsin, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1004074376400915/ , where they could share sermons, thoughts, programs, and ideas. We also urged leaders and members of all faiths to create and submit short videos of one or two minutes during the Season Against Hate and to send them to email@example.com. Videos should respond to one of the following prompts:
Oct. 24, 2017 – The Interfaith Conference arranged for Dr. Glen Allgaier to give a lunch-hour presentation on the teachings and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to about 40 employees at Rockwell Automation’s headquarters. This was part of an ongoing collaboration between the Interfaith Conference and the Faith Friendly & Allies Employee Resource Group at Rockwell. Glen, a member of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet, is an ordained patriarch in the LDS Church, whose members are known to the general public as Mormons.
Oct. 19, 2017 – Do you keep the Sabbath through a religious tradition of a weekly observance? Or do you find renewal in other ways? Jewish Museum Milwaukee and the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee partnered to present an interfaith panel discussion on how people of faith set aside time for prayer and rest. Held at the Museum, 1360 N. Prospect Ave., the event was one of several held in conjunction with an international art exhibit there titled The Seventh Day: Revisiting Shabbat.
The moderator and presenter on traditional and not-so-traditional observances of the Jewish Sabbath known as Shabbat was Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, rabbit emeritus of Congregation Shalom. He and Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen served on the art exhibit planning committee. Topics and panelists included:
Oct. 17, 2017 -- The Interfaith Conference launched its new social justice project, One Community, while also participating in the Greater Milwaukee Foundation's On the Table project in which hundreds of people across the metro area gathered in groups on Oct. 17 to share food and to talk about how to improve their local and/or regional community. Several members of Central United Methodist Church in Milwaukee and Community United Methodist Church in Cedarburg gathered for dinner and a guided presentation/dialogue at Central, 639 N. 25th St. The One Community project -- which is being conducted through the Interfaith Conference in partnership with Michael Soika and his Center for Learning Communities -- will link urban and suburban congregations in the hopes of building a constituency to help address one or more of the structural causes of racial segregation and economic disparity in the next state budget. The basic ask is for people from two or more congregations of the same denomination/faith to meet three times to: a) review the institutional causes of the current disparities; connect in a personal way across racial and cultural lines by sharing deep, personal stories through our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue process; and then looking at what their faiths teach them to do while discussing whether and how to take this process deeper to engage members of the congregation.
For more information, go to the Interfaith Conference website's One Community pages.
Oct. 17, 2017-- Our Interfaith Earth Network partnered with the Urban Ecology Center to jointly host six tables at the Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center to dialogue about the environment and social justice the evening of Oct. 17. This gathering was registered as one of hundreds of dialogues that took place in the morning, afternoon or evening of Oct. 17 as part of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s “On the Table” project to get many organizations and groups talking about how to improve their local and regional community. About 30 people participated.
Oct. 15, 2017 -- About 90 people -- an impressive number for a theater that seats slightly more than 200 -- stayed for a talkback by an interfaith panel of women religious leaders about womanhood in their faiths after a performance by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater of the play The Who and The What in the Stiemke Studio Theater. The Interfaith Conference partnered with the Rep by curating the panelists, who included:
Oct. 8, 2017 -- About 400 adults and children gathered at the McKinley Park shelter on Milwaukee's lakefront for the 32nd Annual Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk organized by the Interfaith Conference. This year's event featured a performance by the Latino Arts String Program's award-winning youth strings group, Mariacchi Juvenil. Drummer Jahmes Tony Finlayson also performed and used extra instruments to have people participate in the drumming. Walkers went around the lagoon, into Veterans Park, back to the lagoon and then down Lincoln Memorial Drive to the starting point on about a 2-mile journey. Although there was no longer, 5-mile walk into the city this year, former long-walkers were invited to carry gallon jugs of water on the lagoon walk to be in solidarity with people in developing countries who have to walk long distances to get safe water. Walkers donated nonperishable food for the Hunger Task Force and monetary
Aug. 30, 2017 -- The Interfaith Conference partnered with the Medical College of Wisconsin to do a multi-table interfaith dialogue dinner at the college for 70 people and 10 moderators. A majority of the participants were medical students and faculty, with some participation by medical personnel and staff from Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and Froedtert Hospital, Interfaith Conference representatives, and others. We used our Amazing Faiths dinner dialogue process to evoke personal storytelling during the first half of the evening and then opened it up to general conversation on topics ranging from the importance of interreligious knowledge in the practice of medicine to the value of such interactions at faith-diverse tables. The evaluation forms were overwhelmingly positive, and we are working with the Medical College to partner for additional programming and interactions.
Aug. 17, 2017 – At the request of Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the Interfaith Conference provided representatives of five faiths to offer prayers for hope and unity in front of the Assembly at the start of its session after violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., captured nationwide attention.
Father Tim Kitzke, vicar general for urban ministry for the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee;
Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri, regional executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin and a member of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet;
Janan Najeeb, a founder and president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition;
Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Madison;
Amarjot Singh, a 20-year participant in the Wisconsin Sikh community who is active in the Oak Creek and Brookfield Sikh Temples.
To view Vos’ introduction and the faith leader’s presentations, go Assembly Prayers.
July 28, 2017 -- The Milwaukee County Emergency Food and Shelter Program Board met at United Way of Greater Milwaukee's offices to discuss applications and allocations for $488,000 in federal FEMA money that is available for agencies and organizations in the county. This board is one of nine community boards and commissions on which the Interfaith Conference has a representative. Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen serves on the board and is its vice chair. At this meeting, the board granted a one-week extension for agencies to apply for funding and scheduled a follow-up meeting for Aug. 11 to approve awards.
July 10, 2017 -- The Interfaith Conference began meeting with a committee from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee to discuss ways to engage the interfaith community in a special exhibit on the Sabbath that will run from Sept. 12 through Dec. 31, 2017. The exhibit, titled "The Seventh Day: Revisiting Shabbot," will feature the works of numerous international artists who were asked to explore the concepts around observing the Sabbath. The exhibit was created by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The Milwaukee exhibition will have many but not all of those works. The concept of a day or of time set aside for quiet, prayer, meditation and/or family crosses many faith traditions and has increasing been a topic of conversation by those seeking a respite from the hectic pace of contemporary life in a world where people can be connected 24/7 with cell phones and social networking media. Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen has met with the museum committee and invited Museum officials to speak to the Interfaith Conference's Committee for Interfaith Understanding.
July 10, 2017 -- The Interfaith Conference helped organize a presentation on mass incarceration by Sam Mihara, who as a boy was forced with other members of his family into an internment camp in Wyoming for Japanese Americans during World War II. The event drew a diverse crowd of at least 95 people from throughout the metro area to St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa.
Mr. Mihara's presentation included the reasons why only Japanese Americans living in California were interned, society's fear and attitudes at that time, and his and other Japanese Americans' experiences before, during and after internment. He also made references to the treatment of refugees today and to the potential for Muslim Americans being required to register.
Forward Community Investments funded his appearance in Milwaukee and two appearances in Madison. The Interfaith Conference coordinated the site selection here and worked with the Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin, Inc., in enlisting the following organizations as co-hosts of this event: Forward Community Investments, Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, International Institute of Wisconsin, Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, Japan-America Society of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, Milwaukee-area Sikh community, OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans) – Wisconsin, Rid Racism Milwaukee, Southeast Asian Educational Development of Wisconsin Inc., Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin (UEDA), Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin CHIBA Inc., YWCA Southeast Wisconsin.
June 15, 2017 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen spoke as a panelist at an event that is part of a series on the theme "Poverty: Milwaukee's Power to Address the Systemic Issues." The June 15 event, termed a consultation, focused on "The Community's Power: The People. The Politics. The Purpose." This series is organized by The Urban Center-Milwaukee and Housing Ministries of American Baptists in Wisconsin. Other panelists were: Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton; Dr. Patricia McManus, President and CEO of the Black Health Coalition; the Rev. Martin Childs of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church; and Gerri Sheets-Howard, Administrative Director of Capuchin Community Services. Presentations at this session were combined with a separate panel presentation/discussion by other faith-based and secular community leaders on the same theme of addressing long-standing systemic issues related to poverty and the African-American community in the city, and with individual interviews, to produce a video. See: Urban Center Consultation Video
June 15, 2017 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen attended the annual meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council in the Rubenstein Pavilion at the Jewish Home and Care Center. Michael Pollack, the chair of the JCRC, is a former member of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet and of our Committee for Interfaith Understanding. Elana Kahn, JCRC director, is our Cabinet's secretary and a member of the Cabinet's leadership Executive Committee.
June 13, 2017 -- As part of an ongoing relationship with Rockwell Automation, the Interfaith Conference arranged for a Baha'i speaker and a Zoroastrian speaker to give a lunchtime presentation about their faiths to Rockwell employees who participate in the company's Faith Friendly & Allies Employee Resource Group. Both faiths originated in Persia, now Iran.
May 17, 2017 -- Several Interfaith Conference leaders were among the crowd attending Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's annual Ceasefire Sabbath Breakfast at Christ the King Church's Quality of Life Center, 7750 N. 60th St. The event encourages faith leaders to spread a message of nonviolence at services in the upcoming weekend. The keynote speaker was Pastor Michael McBride from The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, Calif, who has led efforts that have dramatically reduced shooting deaths in a number of cities by engaging pastors, getting them more active with gangs on the streets, and coordinating improved performance by government agencies. Pastor McBride is national director for urban strategies for PICO National Network's LIVE FREE Campaign. Reggie Moore, director of the city's Office of Violence Prevention spoke and distributed a six-page overview of the city's detailed plan for violence prevention. The mayor, Police Chief Edward Flynn and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm also spoke.
May-April 2017 -- Using a grant from the High Wind Association, we began ratcheting up our presentations of the Generation Waking Up Experience for youth adults and others in the region . This is an interactive, 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. Through inspiring multimedia presentation, dynamic group interaction, and engaging dialogue, participants explore critical questions facing this generation and our society today.
Led by Interfaith Staff Member Kirsten Shead, these two- to three-hour experiences are a great opportunity for congregations and other groups to energize, inspire and engage people in their own programs or in other activities in their areas. Thus far in 2017 we have presented:
May 3-4, 2017 -- Members of our Interfaith Earth Network Steering Committee staffed an Earth Network display and handed out information at the 14th annual Sustainability Summit, held this year at Milwaukee Area Technical College. The theme of the event was Building a Sustainable Future: Making it Work.
April 30, 2017 -- -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen was one of the speakers at a service celebrating the Rev. Dr. John R. Walton, Jr.'s 15th anniversary as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, 2959 N Teutonia Ave., the oldest African-American Baptist church in Milwaukee. Dr. Walton is Vice Chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (board of directors) and a member of the Cabinet's leadership Executive Committee. The main speaker was Pastor Hurmon Hamilton, now founding pastor of New Beginnings Community Church in the San Francisco Bay area, who previously founded and led the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. At that time, he was senior pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Boston and was an adjunct professor at Harvard Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell Seminary.
April 29, 2017 -- Hannah Kiger, Interfaith Conference communications and outreach associate, represented the Interfaith Conference along with Interfaith Cabinet member Jeanne Mantsch and did extensive photography for the Southeast Association of the Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ Annual Meeting at Trinity United Church of Christ in Brookfield.
April 5, 2017 -- Kirsten Shead, program director of our Interfaith Earth Network, added voices of faith to the 2017 Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Convention in Stevens Point by organizing and leading a workshop titled "Spirituality and
Water: How Faith Communities Connect with Water and How Lake Groups Can Connect with Faith Communities." She arranged for in-person panelists and short video presentations from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian perspectives and faith leaders. She also led participants in dialoguing with water-themed questions using our Amazing Faiths appreciative inquiry method.
The description of the workshop was: Spiritual beliefs can be foundational to how people of faith perceive and practice their relationship with nature and their communities. To many spiritual traditions, water is integral – to symbolism, story and ceremony. In this workshop, leaders from various faith communities in Wisconsin will share how water is part of their spiritual tradition, which will lead us to reflect on and share our own spiritual connections with water through an exercise called “water dialoguing.” We will wrap up our experience with a practical discussion on how lake associations can connect with faith communities in their areas and work together to protect their waters.
April 4, 2017 -- Regional and local leaders from various denominations and faiths were among the more than 100 people who gathered at First United Methodist Church in Madison near the Capital Square for a People of Faith United for Justice advocacy day organized by several faith-based organizations, including the Interfaith Conference. Held every two years in conjunction with the State Legislature's budget deliberations, these gatherings provide an opportunity to learn, discuss, pray and advocate together for social justice issues of importance to all the people of Wisconsin. The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, gave a keynote address. Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), vice chair of the Joint Finance Committee, also spoke to the group before they went to the Capital to meet with legislators or their aides from participants' Senate and Assembly districts.
The issues addressed this year were/are:
The co-sponsoring organizations were: Wisconsin Council of Churches, Faith Voices For Justice, Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, Lutheran Office for Public Policy, Madison Area Urban Ministry, Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of Madison and Wisconsin Jewish Conference, Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin.
March 2017 -- Our Peace and International Issues Committee holds an annual Tuesdays-in-March luncheon lecture series that focuses on significant local, state, national and international issues. These have been held for years at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, 1342 N. Astor St., Milwaukee. The theme for this year’s four-part series was “Youth Power: Inspiring Stories of Active Hope.” It focused on positive efforts and accomplishments of urban youths and young adults. It drew an average of 50 attendees per luncheon. Speakers included youths and adults from: Running Rebels, Teens Grow Greens, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Youth Programs, and the Milwaukee Public Schools’ Community Service/Service Learning efforts.
March 29, 2017 -- Several Interfaith Conference volunteers and leaders from various denominations and faiths took part in sample dialogues at lunch tables with more than 100 Catholic seminarians, faculty and others at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners as part of a symposium on interreligious dialogue organized by the Lux Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, which is based at the seminary. Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen gave an overview of the Interfaith Conference and a description of our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue program, which has engaged more than 1,000 people throughout the metro area in the basic program and adaptations of it. Small groups at lunch tables used some of our program's dialogue questions and its appreciative inquiry process, which evokes deep personal sharing.
Bonnie Shafrin, director of the Lux Center, sent a follow-up letter thanking the Interfaith Conference for co-sponsoring and participating in the Lux Center Symposium for Interreligious Dialogue. She wrote, in part, "As the Catholic seminarians become ordained priests and go out into their ministries, knowing about resources such as the Interfaith Conference will strengthen their bonds within the community while teaching their parishioners about understanding and respect for people of other faiths. The taste of Amazing Faith Dinner model during the extended lunch in the center of the day was a highlight for so many. It was so wonderful to have a number of members of the Interfaith Conference community join with students and faculty at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology to experience what actual interfaith dialogue can actually be like. Many of them were at first hesitant to begin and participate in such a conversation, but in the end, most felt that this was quite an enjoyable and valuable experience. It is the hope that those who will be assigned to parishes in the Milwaukee area will remember crossing paths with the Interfaith Conference...so that you can be called on in the future. It is also hoped that shoe who serve in parishes throughout the country or the world will either seek similar resources or at least know that they can organize interreligious dialogue experiences that best fit their situation."
March 21, 2017 -- The Interfaith Conference and Executive Director Tom Heinen helped Rockwell Automation's interfaith employee group -- Faith Friendly & Allies -- create and hold a lunchtime program on the importance of families.
March 20, 2017 -- Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen met with ordained and lay leaders of First Congregational Church in Wauwatosa to give a presentation on the Interfaith Conference and to assist them in planning interfaith experiences for their congregation.
March 19, 2017 -- Our Interfaith Earth Network marked its 10th anniversary with a free, dynamic open house titled "Renewing Hope" drew more than 200 people to the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee's Riverside Park on the city's east side. There were interactive displays by nearly 30 community organizations offering inspiration and practical ideas on water, food, education, energy, advocacy, consumption, waste, transportation, natural and human-made environments, and more. There also were engaging workshops; discussions; music; delicious sustainable refreshments; kids’ activities amid a family-friendly atmosphere; and a henna artist painting free environmentally-themed and traditional designs on hands and arms.
"Renewing Hope" was organized in partnership with the Urban Ecology Center with the generous support of the High Wind Association. Now a program of the Interfaith Conference, the Interfaith Earth Network returned to its roots for this event. It was founded as a collaboration of the Urban Ecology Center, the Interfaith Conference and the House of Peace.
March 6, 2017 -- Several Interfaith leaders attended Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's State of the City address at Harley-Davidson's headquarters, 3700 W. Juneau Ave., Milwaukee.
Feb. 25, 2017 -- Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen attended a meeting of the Presbytery of Milwaukee at Carroll University in Waukesha which featured a presentation and preaching by Jessica Tate, the director of NEXT Church for the national Presbyterian Church (USA). Her sharing of national trends in religion and other general and Presbyterian demographics was illuminating, as was her take on impediments and opportunities for attracting people to faith communities.
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:
Rev. Dr. John R. Walton, Jr., Vice Chair of the Interfaith Conference and Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church,
the oldest African-American Baptist Church in the city; Rabbi David B. Cohen from Congregation Sinai in Fox Point; Janan Najeeb, a founder and current President of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, based in Greenfield; Imam Noman Hussain from the Islamic Society of Milwaukee West, the mosque that opened in Brookfield in 2015. The moderator was Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen
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.
Two of the play’s main characters are a Muslim man and a Jewish man who are struggling with their identities and are not observant in their faiths. The play is galvanizing and controversial. Demand for the dinner-dialogues was so great that we had to turn down 160 applicants. We organized eleven 10-person tables each night that were highly diverse in faith, philosophy, race, culture, gender, occupation and other ways. This included our recruiting of Muslims, Jews and people of other minority faiths. There were major community and corporate leaders among the attendees.
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. Hannah Kiger, Interfaith's Communications and Outreach Associate, handled all of the processing of applications and assigning of tables to achieve identity-diversity at every table.
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.
January and throughout 2017 -- Kirsten Shead, the program director of our Interfaith Earth Network is our representative with the Milwaukee Water Commons. She also worked part-time with the Milwaukee Water Commons during 2016 and is continuing that in 2017 as co-chair of a major, multi-organization effort to address serious health threats caused by lead pipes in the water delivery system. Pregnant women and young children, especially those in poor neighborhoods, are particularly vulnerable to lead in their water. A woman of deep faith, Kirsten also is uniquely qualified for this on the secular level. She has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and prior professional experience doing power plant testing, including water analysis, for WE Energies. The Interfaith Conference Cabinet endorsed this effort.
Annual Luncheon -- See the DREAM CRAZY BIG Keynote Talk: VIDEO
Dec. 6, 2018 --DREAM CRAZY BIG! -- With arm gestures, inflections, a beaming smile, and a booming voice, Pastor Hurmon Hamilton urged the more 240 people at the Interfaith Conference's annual luncheon on Dec. 6 to bust paradigms and "dream crazy big." We can all make a difference, with steps large and small, in a world that needs our light to overcome the darkness, he said.
Hamilton, pastor of a nondenominational congregation in California that is racially and politically diverse, exhorted people to listen to others, understand their pain, and not demonize them because they hold different political or social views. In his keynote presentation, he drew upon his nearly 10 years' experience as a founder and president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and 17 years as senior pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Boston. During that time, he oversaw that interfaith group's rise as a significant political and moral change agent in Massachusetts.
Also at the luncheon, the Interfaith Conference presented: its Frank Zeidler Award to the Rev. Tonen O'Connor, resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center; its Rev. Herbert Huebschmann Urban Ministry Award to the Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative; and its Mark Rohlfing Memorial Award to Renee Elias, executive director and co-founder of the Rides and Reins therapeutic, horse-assisted program in Slinger, Wis., that serves children with special needs.
Committee for Interfaith Understanding
Nov. 19, 2018 -- Traveling Photo Exhibition on Gratitude for Faith/Diversity -- A few days before the Thanksgiving holiday, our Committee for Interfaith Understanding opened a traveling exhibition in Milwaukee City Hall’s rotunda titled “Gratitude...A Celebration of Our Common Humanity.” A collaboration with the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, it featured 15 photos taken by MIAD students from a sacred texts class during visits to places of worship and meditation. The 20 students each submitted 20 photos to reflect both their experiences at the sites as well as their personal spirituality or philosophy. The exhibition’s photos were selected from 400 entries on the theme of gratitude for faith/diversity. The resulting images showcased the incredible diversity of the Milwaukee area while also acknowledging the similar threads that connect us to our fellow humans. The winning photos were printed on large banners and hung in the City Hall rotunda for two weeks. Smaller versions of the photos were later printed and matted for gallery-type display. All are available as a traveling exhibition.
Previously, on Oct. 11, we also held an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue at MIAD for the participating students and about 15 other students and faculty, with moderators and guests from diverse faiths present to enrich their interreligious experience. These dinners are open to people of any faith, spirituality, or philosophy.
An interfaith program and reception for the exhibit opening drew about 50 people when the exhibition officially opened the evening of Nov. 9. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen, and MIAD Professor Leslie Fedorchuk, director of service learning, all spoke. A portion of the program was devoted to the sounds of calls to prayer and included Jim Salinsky of Congregation Sinai blowing and explaining the shofar, 10th Grader Ubaid Grays reciting the Muslim call to prayer in Arabic, the Rev. Reirin Gumbel from the Milwaukee Zen Center demonstrating and explaining the use of a wooden mallet and sound board in inviting Buddhists to meditation, and the Rev. Marilyn Miller of Reformation Lutheran Church used both silence and a spoken message to focus and inspire the crowd. The Rev. Tonen O'Connor, resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center, and Janan Najeeb, chair of our Committee for Interfaith Understanding and president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition, then led the crowd in an interfaith litany of gratitude before all attendees were invited to take a few minutes to share with someone next to them what they were grateful for. Barbara Tracey, choir director of St. Michael's Catholic Church, then played guitar and led the crowd in a singing of "Malo Malo, Thanks Be to God" in several languages.
May 9, 2018 -- "Mary, Mother of Jesus" Program – About 200 people attended our event at St. Mary’s Catholic Faith Community in Hales Corners to deepen their understanding of Mary: her Jewish roots, her position of honor in both the Christian and Muslim traditions, and different perspectives across the spectrum of Protestant and Catholic theologies and devotional practices..
Judith Longdin, former director of the Archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Concerns, was the moderator. Presenters included: Mary Matestic, Catholic educator and writer; Dr. Sherry Blumberg, Jewish educator and lecturer; Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition; and the Rev. Karen Sundland, an American Baptist minister.
May 7, 2018 -- Panel Presentation on Arranged Marriages -- The Interfaith Conference arranged for a dynamic panel of five women from different faith and cultural backgrounds to give responses after the free screening of a movie about arranged marriages in the UW-Milwaukee Union Cinema. “Arranged,” the final offering in this year’s Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival, focused on a Muslim woman and an Orthodox Jewish woman who are friends and first-year teachers as their respective families strive to arrange marriages for them.
About 200 people attended the movie, and many remained to hear the presentations afterwards. Panelists commented on the movie and on traditional practices and contemporary changes in arranged-marriage customs in their faith and cultural traditions.
The moderator was Janan Najeeb, a founder and president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, which organizes the film festival.
April 15, 2018 -- A program titled "Mary, Mother of Jesus: Jewish, Christian, Muslim Perspectives" had to be cancelled for future rescheduling because of an unusual April sleet and snowstorm, but nearly 30 people who did not know this showed up at St. Mary's Catholic Faith Community in Hales Corners for the program. Catholic speaker Mary Matestic, who was there in case that happened, gave a presentation on the parish's dynamic statue of Mary and on Catholic perspectives on Mary, with Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen adding interfaith perspectives during a Q&A session for an overall program that lasted about an hour. People were invited to come to the full program when it is rescheduled. People of all backgrounds are welcome to this exceptional opportunity to deepen their understanding of Mary: her Jewish roots, and her position of honor in both the Christian and Muslim traditions.
April 4, 2018 -- Interfaith Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance -- All Saints' Episcopal Cathedral in Milwaukee partnered with the Interfaith Conference to present a program on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination entitled "Continuing Dr. King's Call: An Interfaith Gathering." A religiously diverse crowd of nearly 100 people attended.
The primary speakers were:
Also speaking were: The Very Rev. Kevin Carroll, dean of All Saints' Cathedral; Elana Kahn, chair of the Interfaith Conference board and director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/Milwaukee Jewish Federation; Tom Heinen, executive director of the Interfaith Conference; and Rhonda Hill, director of the Interfaith Conference's inter-religious, inter-racial and intercultural dialogue programs.
Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues and Other Dialogues
Ongoing -- Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues in private homes -- We are continuing to hold one to two of these free dinner dialogues each month in private residences throughout the metro area under the leadership of Rhonda Hill, our AFDD program director. From January through July 2018, more than 80 people particpated in these dinners in private homes across the metro area. Additional people participated at tables in large-group gatherings at Carthage College and Pius XI High School in January and April.
Under this format, 8 to 12 people of different faiths, philosophies, cultures, and races gather for a simple vegetarian meal and a dialogue guided by a trained moderator. Our appreciative inquiry process creates a safe environment in which people share personal stories of their lived experiences and come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another.
Nov. 14, 2018 -- In the spring and on November 14, we collaborated with the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee to hold two Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialgoues that drew about 28 students.
Nov. 4, 2018 -- PRESENCE AT THE PARLIAMENT – We presented a workshop on our creative use and expansion of our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues to 40 people from various countries at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada. The dinners evoke deep personal sharing across faith and racial lines. This workshop was a collaborative effort of presenters representing four different organizations in three geographic localities: The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin; The Buckminster Fuller Center for Spirituality and Sustainability on the Campus of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Illinois; The Interfaith Forum of Greenville, South Carolina; and the Religion Department of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. We do these dinner dialogues throughout the year and had more experience than the other organizations. Rhonda Hill, our Amazing Faiths program director, and Tom Heinen, our executive director, did the main presentation. Furman University students trained by the other organizations moderated live Amazing Faiths dialogues for the attendees so that they could experience what we talked about.
Oct. 21, 2018 -- Congregationalists, Muslims & State Department visitors -- The First Congregational Church of Wauwatosa collaborated with the Interfaith Conference to host an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue that drew 60 Congregationalists and Muslims. We were joined by a delegation of seven U.S. State Department guests from Burundi, Costa Rica, Egypt, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Thailand, and Turkey. The International Institute of Wisconsin hosted the delegation for its visit to the Milwaukee area while on a tour of the United States
The following day, these international visitors met with Elana Kahn, Interfaith Conference Cabinet chair and director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; Ahmed Quereshi, Interfaith Conference treasurer and immediate past president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee; and Tom Heinen, Interfaith Conference executive director. Afterward, the visitors toured the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, which is in the same building as the Jewish Community Relations Council/Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
These visitors are invited to the United States under the auspices of the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program. The Meridian International Center arranged their program. The purpose of their visit to the United States was:
Aug. 12, 2018 -- Congregationalists & Sikhs -- The First Congregational Church of Wauwatosa collaborated with the Interfaith Conference to host an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue that drew a total of 70 Congregationalists and Sikh Community members. This was part of the church's intentional outreach to diverse faith communities.
Aug. 19, 2018 -- New "Amazing Faiths 2.0" Dinners -- 40 people attended our inaugural 2.0 in-depth dinner dialogue, held at the M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism in Franksville, northern Racine County. These 2.0 dinners start with a presentation by the host faith and sometimes an additional faith to make this a more in-depth learning experience prior to the personal sharing of lived experiences of participants' faith or philosophy. Held shortly before the Muslim Eid that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God, we had two Muslim speakers talk about Sufism and the Muslim version of that scriptural story (Armita Saleki & Dr. Nahid Ojand) and we had a rabbi (Rabbi Michal Woll, from Congregation Shir Hadash, Milwaukee) talk about the Jewish version and perspective.
July 22, 2018 -- Amazing Faiths Reunion Dinner -- Our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue (AFDD) program hosted its Annual Reunion Dinner at Plymouth Church UCC, giving those who attended previous dinners the opportunity to rekindle old relationships and establish new ones. Thirty-one dinner guests from eight faith traditions participated in the dinner dialogue with the theme “Stirring the Waters: An Interfaith Perspective on Water.” Stephen Hawkins, Program Director for our Interfaith Earth Network (IEN), opened the dialogue by sharing personal stories from his agricultural work with religious leaders in Uganda, where he recently served for a year and a half with his wife as Peace Corps Volunteers. He and religious leaders created community gardens able to withstand both droughts and flooding. Dinner guests were then served a vegan meal while they used our appreciative inquiry process to talk about the sacred qualities of water within their faith traditions. The event was held at Plymouth Church in space leased by Congregation Shir Hadash, a Reconstructionist Jewish community.
April 8, 2018 -- Carthage College Dialogue -- Led by Rhonda Hill, our Dialogue Program Director, the Interfaith Conference held simultaneous Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues for 24 students and faculty in a gathering room at Carthage College at its lakefront campus in Kenosha. We provided volunteer moderators. The Rev. Kara Baylor, College Pastor and leader of the college's Center for Faith and Spirituality, organized the event and participated in the dialogue at one of the tables. The college provided food.
Jan. 15, 2018 -- Pius XI High School Dialogue -- The Interfaith Conference and Rhonda Hill, director of our interfaith, inter-racial and intercultural dialogues provided moderators and conducted lunch dialogues for 100 faculty, staff, and administrators in various rooms at Pius XI Catholic High School in Milwaukee on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day as in-service training.
Interfaith Earth Network of Southeastern Wisconsin
Ongoing – Justice at the Tap – Interfaith Earth Network Program Director Stephen Hawkins is continuing to meet with potential community partners to learn and share as we form our plan to address the health threat to children and women of child bearing age of lead in in the city water system through education, outreach, distribution and installation of filters, and some advocacy.
Ongoing – Faith and Ecology – We continue to plan and lead conversations on the third Tuesday of every month at the Urban Ecology Center, Riverside Park. The primary purpose of these “conversations” is not to teach or provide information, but to call on us to reflect on, become more mindful about, our connection to creation. Our overarching theme for this year is “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril” exploring the question: do we have a moral obligation to take action to protect a planet in peril?
October 13, 2018 – "Wisconsin Unleaded;" American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin Annual Gathering – In partnership with the Milwaukee Water Commons (MWC), IEN's Stephen Hawkins and MWC's Brenda Coley presented during a breakout session on the current lead exposure concerns in Milwaukee and throughout the state of Wisconsin. Participants were provided a state map indicating whether lead pipes were prevalent in their counties and were provided information for addressing this issue through their congregations in their home communities.
September 19, 2018 – "Our Spiritual Ties to the Earth" – The Sum-mer-del Garden Club (and all women's club from Delafield, Oconomowoc, and Summit, WI) invited our Interfaith Earth Network’s Faith & Ecology Team to lead club members through a guided reflection of “Our Spiritual Ties to the Earth.” Thirty-seven skilled gardeners participated in this discussion-based presentation, highlighting the prominence of environmental stewardship among the world religions. Participants were provided passages of sacred texts from diverse religious traditions and quotes from key religious figures, sparking open-ended small group conversations. Coming together as a large group, participants were then given the opportunity to discussed how faith impacts work in their gardens and with their neighbors.
June 7, 2018 – “Lead-Safe Homes” – The Interfaith Earth Network sponsored an open house event at Hephatha Evangelical Lutheran Church for families in Milwaukee's Amani neighborhood. In collaboration with the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers' Lead Outreach staff, blood testing was available for children while parents learned about the dangers of lead exposure through paint, water, and soil. With the help of the Dominican Center and the Social Development Commission, 58 lead water filters (NSF/ANSI 53) were distributed to households with a total of 83 children under the age of six. A nutritionist was also present to share information about the importance of a healthy diet in preventing lead absorption. Refreshments high in calcium were served.
April 20, 2018 – Trash Talking Workshop – Our IEN Trash Talking Project Team offered a variation of our “Trash Talking” workshop with four, 15-minute sessions for 80 to 100 students at St. Catherine’s school on Milwaukee's west side as part of their Earth Day event.
April 11 & 12, 2018 – Sustainability Summit & Exposition – Our Interfaith Earth Network Steering Committee again participated in the annual Sustainability Summit & Exposition, sponsored by and held at Milwaukee Area Technical College's main downtown campus. The theme was "“Moving Toward a Sustainable Economy: Engaging Our Future Leaders.” The summit is intended to attract primarily adult students of many ages. IEN leaders took turns staffing our display and interacting with participants as well as making connections with other individuals/organizations we might collaborate with. They spread the word and generated discussions about sustainable lifestyles and practices, including natural burial and the health threat caused by lead in the city's water system. Stephen Hawkins, our new IEN Program Director, participated in a panel discussion on sustainability and volunteerism opportunities around the world. He and his wife recently returned from 1½ years in Uganda as Peace Corps Volunteers. He was an agribusiness specialist, teaching nutrition, drought-tolerant gardening, and financial literacy.
March 11, 2018 – Mini Green Fair at St. Pius X Parish – IEN participated in this congregation's first-ever mini green fair, by tabling and interacting with participants, much the same as at the Winter Farmers' Markets.
November 2017 - March 2018 -- Winter Farmers' Markets -- IEN leaders collaborated with the Food, Faith and Farming Network to demonstrate our support for their Winter Farmers' Markets and accompanying locally-sourced breakfasts, which are hosted by and held at various congregations. These offer farmers financial support by giving them venues to sell their products. We help by promoting the markets through our email, social media platforms, and by staffing IEN table displays at these markets to share information about other sustainability issues. We have been generating a lot of interest/conversations around the idea of natural burial as well as the problem of lead in local municipal water systems. This season we tabled at 5 of the 9 markets in Milwaukee and area suburbs.
PIIC Tuesdays-in-March Luncheon Lectures
This year’s March luncheon-lecture series drew an average of 108 registrations for each of the four Tuesday sessions, which had the overall theme “The Danger of Silence: Using Our Voices, Hands, Feet & Pocketbooks to Effect Change.” In an effort to not only inform people about critical issues but also to give them opportunities to take action, each session featured table displays and representatives from organizations engaged with that day’s focus.
The schedule was:
March 6, 2018 – ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’
Peter Bakken, PhD, Coordinator for Public Policy, WCC; Bruce Wiggins, Chair, First Unitarian Society Social Justice Council; Astar Herndon, State Director, 9 to5 Wisconsin
March 13, 2018 – ‘Human Trafficking: Sex & Labor’
Jeanne Geraci, Executive Director, Benedict Center; Mariana Rodriguez, UMOS Program Manager, Latina Resource Center
March 20, 2018 – ‘Homelessness’
Amy Rowell, Manager of Community Relations, Guest House; Rev. Karen Hagen, Pastor, Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church; Tim Baack, President/CEO, Pathfinders
March 27, 2018 –‘Lead in our Water’
Kirsten Shead, Water City Program Manager, Milwaukee Water Commons; Robert Miranda, Founder & Community Advocate, Freshwater for Life Action Coalition
All sessions were held at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, the traditional site for this series. Average attendance was 90, with attendance at three sessions exceeding 100.
Outreach into the Workplace
Nov. 29, 2018 -- Jewish Speaker at Rockwell Automation -- As part of the Interfaith Conference's continuing collaboration with the interfaith employee group at Rockwell Automation, we arranged for Moshe Katz, chair of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation Board, to speak about Judaism at a lunchtime event organized by the corporation's Faith Friendly and Allies Employee Resource Group. He gave a lively, wide-ranging presentation to about 25 employees in person while others at remote sites viewed and listed to a video feed. The presentation was video recorded and archived so that other employees could view when they have time.
Sept. 18, 2018 -- Interfaith Honored at Rockwell -- Susan Schmitt, then senior vice president for human resources at Rockwell Automation, presented a crystal globe award to Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen in recognition of the assistance he has given over the past several years to the corporation's interfaith employee group. The presentation was part of the Faith Friendly and Allies Employee Resource Group's annual Members' Appreciation Event, which was held in the lounge atop the global corporation's landmark clock tower with some Interfaith Conference leaders present.
Aug. 15, 2018 -- Hindu Speaker at Rockwell Automation -- Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj, a representative of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin in Pewaukee and a member of the Interfaith Conference's Committee for Interfaith Understanding, gave a presentation on the basics of Hinduism to about 35 members of Rockwell Automation's Faith Friendly and Allies Employee Resource Group at the global corporation's Milwaukee headquarters on the near south side. The presentation was viewed by employees at other sites via a video link and was recorded and archived so that other employees could view it later. The Interfaith Conference arranges these educational experiences for the employee group.
June 26, 2018 -- United Church of Christ Speaker at Rockwell Automation -- The Rev. Jane Anderson, a regional minister overseeing the southeastern district of the United Church of Christ's Wisconsin Conference, spoke about her denomination's history, beliefs, and ministries to about 40 employees at Rockwell Automation's corporate headquarters in Milwaukee. The appearance by the Rev. Anderson, who has a designated representative on the Interfaith Conference's board, was arranged by the Conference's executive director.
Oct. 27, 2019 -- CONDEMNING ANTI-SEMITIC VIOLENCE AT PITTSBURGH SYNAGOGUE -- The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee issued a statement strongly condemning the anti-Semitic violence carried out against worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although this atrocity has not taken place in our geographic area, we are aware of the effect such acts of terror can have on our local community. Our prayers, our support, and our commitment to continue to act in solidarity are with those in Pittsburgh and our local Jewish community as they mourn and continue to struggle with the immoral scourge of anti-Semitism. The Interfaith Conference reaffirms our common commitment to the inherent dignity of every human being as made by a loving Creator and recommits itself to peacemaking and justice among our constituent bodies and beyond. For full statement, see: Interfaith Advocacy.
Nov. 15, 2018 -- HELPING IMMIGRANTS -- The Interfaith Conference Cabinet, our board of directors, voted to endorse the efforts of a newly created group to provide more accurate information and more knowledgeable referrals to effective, honest and affordable legal services for legal non-U.S. citizens seeking help with citizenship and other immigration-related legal matters. In doing so, the Cabinet asked that the group of individuals, which had been meeting as a steering committee under the working title of Milwaukee Assimilation Project, change its name to better reflect its purpose and to use language that does not carry the multiple meanings that "assimilation" does for some faiths. Before voting, the Cabinet also asked to have a representative on the steering committee to help with the effort and to ensure close coordination with our Interfaith leaders. Patricia McFarland, a Cabinet member from the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee and the Unitarian Universalist Congregations of Southeast Wisconsin, volunteered to serve as the representative. (The steering committee subsequently changed its name to the Wisconsin Immigration Network, or WIN.)
Oct. 29, 2018 -- STANDING AGAINST HATE – After a gunman killed 11 people and wounded 7 at a Pittsburgh synagogue, we helped gather dozens of Milwaukee area religious leaders to stand in solidarity at a Jewish community gathering on Oct. 29 in Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid, Glendale. With the large group of religious leaders behind him on the synagogue's bimah (front platform), the Rev. David Simmons -- the Interfaith Conference's vice chair and the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee's Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer -- spoke these powerful words to the hundreds of Jewish community members who were facing them, "You are not alone!"
Oct. 10, 2018 -- FAITH AND DEMOCRACY – Three Interfaith Conference leaders served on a planning committee led by Daniel Bergen, executive director of Marquette University’s Office of Community Engagement, to collaboratively organize an interfaith panel discussion on the topic of Faith and Democracy in Troubled Times. The Zeidler Center for Public Discussion also participated in the planning and moderated roundtable discussions after the presentations by panelists. The event was held Oct. 10 at Bader Philanthropies, 3300 N. Doctor M.L.K. Jr. Drive. The five panelists included Dr. Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University. Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen served as moderator for the event, which drew a capacity crowd of about 120. Other panelists included: Rabbi Dena Feingold of Temple Beth Hillel in Kenosha; Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, director of religious affairs for the Islamic Society of Milwaukee; Grady Crosby, vice president of public affairs & chief diversity officer for Johnson Controls and president of the corporation's foundation; and .Dr. Jenny Heckman, a private faith-based counselor who formerly served as woman’s pastor at Elmbrook, Metrobrook, and Brew City evangelical churches.
May 16 & 17, 2018 -- Southeast Wisconsin Reentry Employment Expo -- The Interfaith Conference was one of the co-sponsors of this expo and helped with the publicity for this networking event. It was designed for employers, work-readiness agencies, and other supporting agencies. Faith leaders called them to develop new relationships that will make hiring and retaining qualified, work-ready citizens returning for incarceration profitable for all. The main organizers were the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. A total of 53 businesses and 26 agencies were represented at the event. The mission was: to inspire employers to hire the formerly incarcerated and make it easier for them to hire by connecting them with people and organizations that can deliver work-ready employees by providing prompt, sustained support services.
May 12, 2018 -- Rhonda Hill, director of our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues Program and liaison to our Committee for Interfaith Understanding, spoke about her Interfaith Conference work at the 6th Annual Milwaukee Public Montessori Peace Summit at Lloyd Barbee Montessori School, 4456 N. Teutonia Ave. With the theme of Kindness Rocks!!!, the event featured keynote speaker Ajamou Butler speaking on "Brother Heal the Hood."
April 26, 2018 -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen participated with several members of faith communities from Southeast Milwaukee County in sharing visions for the community and new ways to unite it. It was organized by Pastor Lynne Hines-Levy and was held at her church, Cudahy United Methodist Church, 5865 S. Lake Dr., Cuday.
Awards & Honors
Dec. 1, 2018 --Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen and his wife, Katie, were jointly presented with the Together We Can! award by the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition at the MMWC's annual dinner in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts for their "ongoing commitment to diversity, partnership and building community." Their work with the Interfaith Conference and also with its Committee for Interfaith Understanding was cited. At the same dinner, U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore presented them with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition in honor of their "tireless service." .
New Leadership & New Members
New Executive Director
June 27, 2019 -- The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee announced that its Cabinet (board of directors) selected Pardeep Singh Kaleka at its June 27th meeting to be the organization's next executive director, effective July 1. Kaleka was hired after a long search process that included many candidates. He will begin July 1. Tom Heinen, who has served for nearly a decade as executive director, will retire after a short transition period.
Pardeep is a first-generation immigrant from India. He received a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice/Sociology from Marquette University and a master’s in Clinical/Community Psychology from Alverno College. He has served the community through multiple positions, as a police officer, educator for at-risk high school students, community consultant, and trauma therapist.
He is one of the co-founders of Serve2Unite, a nonprofit organization founded after the 2012 white supremacist attack on the Oak Creek Sikh Temple to counter extremism. His late father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, a founder of that temple, was one of six people slain in the attack. In 2018. Pardeep co-authored a memoir, “The Gift of Our Wounds,” with former white supremacist Arno Michaelis.
Pardeep's columns on mental health and community trauma appear regularly in the Milwaukee Independent. He serves on the City of Milwaukee Mental Health Task Force’s Steering Committee and the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin’s board of trustees. An accomplished public speaker and advocate, he has spoken with groups locally and across the globe.
The IFCGM will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020, which will include unveiling transformative new initiatives that are now being planned.
(For print, television, and radio coverage of the transition - and for other interviews with Pardeep -- go to our
In the Media page )
Two New Member Faiths/Denominations
June 27, 2019 -- The Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) voted unanimously to welcome two new members: the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin (based in Pewaukee) and the Western District of the Moravian Church in America. With these additions, the Interfaith Conference now represents the top regional leaders and adherents of 20 different faiths and denominations. We are judicatory-based rather than congregation based. Our member "judicatories" assist, oversee or manage multiple congregations, with the exception of some small faiths that have only one or two worship sites in Southeastern Wisconsin.
New Staff Member
August 26, 2019 -- New Interfaith staff member -- Interfaith Conference agreed to train an Intern in partnership with the Department of Workforce Development, Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, a social service organization that helps people with diabilities find a job, keep a job, or in the case of Cherrie Hanson, learn new skills in order to seek employment outside of the field she has worked in for 30 years, but is unable to continue full time because of a serious injury. The decision of the Interfaith Conference to train and teach her a plethora of new skills was an opportunity to make a difference in public service to the State of Wisconsin. The Department of Workforce Development has a mission to advance Wisconsin's economy and business by empowering and supporting the workforce. She has now been officially hired as a parttime employee.
Dec. 5, 2019 -- 49th Interfaith Conference Annual Luncheon -- "GOING BEYOND COEXIST"
"Going Beyond Coexist" was the theme at this year's annual luncheon at the Italian Community Center. The center's Festa Ballroom was filled to capacity, demonstrating the enthusiasm and support for the Conference. Our new Executive Director, Pardeep Singh Kaleka, with his friend and co-author, Arno Michaelis delivered this year’s keynote. Our Executive Director Emeritus, Tom Heinen, interviewed them about their experiences on both sides of hate and its destructive behaviors. Pardeep and Arno joined forces to write a book, “Gift of our Wounds” published in 2018, and created a mission based program called Serve 2 Unite for at-risk teens.
We thanked our extraordinary 20 faith members and their staffs, partners and friends for supporting the Interfaith Conference.
We honored our exemplary award recipients: The Frank Ziedler award went to Janan Najeeb, founder and president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition and chair of the Interfaith Conference's Committee for Interfaith Understanding. The Rev. Herbert Huebschmann Urban Ministry award went to Acts Housing. Barbara Beckert from Disability Rights Wisconsin received the Mark Rohlfing Memorial Award, and Darrin Madison received the Emerging Leader award.
We were grateful for the great remarks by the Interfaith Cabinet's Chair, Elana Kahn (director of the Jewish Community Relations Council) and the opening invocation by the Rev. Christie Melby-Gibbons (Moravian minister serving on Interfaith Cabinet and executive director of Tricklebee Cafe emerging ministry). Many thanks to our Executive Committee, our Cabinet members, and our Interfaith Conference Staff. We thank our good vibe musicians, Susan and John Nicholson of Frogwater and their guest vocalist, and our newest staff member, Cherrie Hanson. Gratitude for our photographer, Dean Johnson. Lastly, we appreciate the never-ending leadership for our Executive Director Emeriti, Tom Heinen, Marcus White, and Jack Murtaugh.
Gold Level Table Buyers -- Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition
Silver Level Table Buyers -- Jewish Community Relations Council/Milwaukee Jewish Federation; M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism - Franksville (Racine County); Rohlfing Family
Bronze Level Table Buyers -- Archdiocese of Milwaukee (2 tables); Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee; Islamic Society of Milwaukee; Redeemer United Church of Christ - Sussex; St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) - Wauwatosa; Sikh Temple of Wisconsin - Oak Creek; Tom & Katie Heinen
Supporting Level Table Buyers -- Acts Housing; BEGIN - Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network; Congregation Shalom - Fox Point; Disability Rights Wisconsin; Rev. Sue & Richard Lindberg; Presbytery of Milwaukee; Rockwell Automation; Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom; Southeastern Wisconsin Association United Church of Christ; South East District United Methodist Church
Other judicatories, congregations, and organizations with attendees at the luncheon included: American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin; Buddhist Peace Fellowship Milwaukee; Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); Hindu Temple of Wisconsin; Western District Moravian Church; Milwaukee Friends Meeting (Quakers); Unitarian Universalist Congregations of Southeast Wisconsin; First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee; Milwaukee Zen Center; Wisconsin Council of Churches; Brown Deer United Methodist Church; Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Milwaukee; Good Earth Church of the Divine - East Troy; Bethel-Bethany United Church of Christ - Milwaukee; Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist - Milwaukee; Christ Church UCC - Milwaukee; Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church - Milwaukee; Immanuel Presbyterian Church - Milwaukee; First Congregational Church - Port Washington; St. Benedict the Moor Parish - Milwaukee; Bay Shore Lutheran Church; Redeemer Lutheran Church - Milwaukee; Western District Moravian Church & Tricklebee Cafe emerging ministry in Milwaukee; Village Church - Milwaukee; Milwaukee Islamic Dawah Center; Lake Park Lutheran Church; St. John's on The Lake - Milwaukee; Companions in Ministry; Unitarian Universalist Church West - Brookfield; St. Sebastian Church - Milwaukee; St. Sebastian Catholic Parish - Milwaukee; St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish - North Lake; First Congregational Church - Wauwatosa; Congregation Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun - River Hills; YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee; St. Michael's Catholic Parish - Milwaukee; Rogers Behavioral Health; Hephatha Lutheran Church - Milwaukee; Church of the Gesu (Catholic Parish) - Milwaukee; The Nehemiah Project - Milwaukee; Common Ground; Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council; Calvary Baptist Church - Milwaukee; St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church - Milwaukee; St. Luke's United Church of Christ - South Milwaukee; St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church - Milwaukee; Kingo Lutheran Church - Shorewood; Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; Unitarian Church North - Mequon; Marquette University; Milwaukee Water Commons; Frank P. Zeidler Memorial Lecture Committee; St. Mary Catholic Faith Community - Hales Corners;
Opposing Hate (Also see "Advocacy" below)
Oct. 30, 2019 -- Past Interfaith Executive Director Moderates Presentation and Q&A about Border Immigrants/Refugees --The Catholic-Jewish Conference of Milwaukee presented an evening program titled "Faith & Action: A Rabbi and Nun at the US-Mexico Border" at Congregational Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale. It drew about 120 people and featured two nationally prominent, faith-motivated advocates for immigrants and refugees, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, and Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, spoke about their experiences on the U.S.-Mexican border in Arizona and Texas and shared stories of how immigrants have impacted their lives. Tom Heinen, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee's newly retired executive director, was the moderator. Yanklowitz is the founder of Arizona Jews for Justice. Pimentel is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus and has been recognized by Pope Francis for her work. Sponsors of the event were the Catholic Jewish Conference, a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation; the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and the Wisconsin Council of Rabbis.
The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle did a story. See: Rabbi & Nun
Oct 28, 2019 -- New Interfaith Conference Executive Director Writes Article for Religion News Service -- Pardeep Kaleka wrote an article titled “Before another shooting, let's do these necessary things to stop hate.”(RNS)
He wrote, in part, "This weekend in Pittsburgh and across the country, Americans remembered the 11 Jewish worshippers who were killed and seven others who were injured by a gunman at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Tragically, the attack, though the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in U.S. history, was far from an isolated event. Hate is on the rise in the United States, documented by the annual increase in reported bias-related crimes over the past three years and illustrated all too graphically by a string of shootings targeting ethnic and religious minorities dating back at least to the attack on a Sikh Gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012.
Pardeep began his remarks by telling about the history of the young man who killed his father and five other worshipers at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek on August 5, 2012 -- his failure to make it in the military, his dissatisfaction with his life, his feelings of rejection, his fascination with Columbine, his journey into a hate group, and his eventual shooting at the Sikh Temple. Pardeep spoke about the need for forgiveness, for hope, and for love if we are ever to move beyond such horror. He also called for action, both with within our faith communities and in our broader communities in order to address these issues.
For Journal Sentinel photos of this event, see: Midday Prayer
August 9, 2019 -- Lanterns for Peace event with Peace Action at Washington Park Urban Ecology Center, 1859 N. 40th St., Milwaukee. Speakers included Pardeep Singh Kaleka, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. The event commemorates the victims impacted by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This educational vigil including making art, lighting and floating lanterns at the lagoon, instrumental music, and the folding of origami peace cranes.
Aug. 5, 2019 -- Vigil Against Hate, Walkers Square Park -- The Interfaith Conference and its executive director, Pardeep Kaleka, partnered with Darryl Morin from Forward Latino to hold an evening prayer vigil at Walkers Square Park in remembrance of the lives lost in mass shootings in Oak Creek, Gilroy (Calif.), El Paso (Texas), and Dayton (Ohio). Representatives of 35 faith-based and community organizations from the Milwaukee area came together to pray for the deceased and to demand an end to gun violence, to take steps to reduce violence in the United States and to halt the promotion of hate. A crowd estimated at 200 or more people participated.
June 5, 2019- Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, San Diego, CA. “A Path Forward,” was held there in the wake of the recent shooting at the Chabad of Poway and featured a panel of speakers from throughout the country to share the lessons they’ve learned from dealing with crisis and tragedy in their communities. One of the panelists was Pardeep Kaleka, who was hired in June as the Interfaith Conference’s new executive director, effective July 1. The speakers included:
The forum was sponsored by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, the National Conflict Resolution Center, and The San Diego Union-Tribune “A Path Forward,” was held in the wake of the recent shooting at the Chabad of Poway and featured a panel of speakers from throughout the country to share the lessons they’ve learned from dealing with crisis and tragedy in their communities.
April 30, 2019 – Standing with Catholics and Other Christians – Response to Sri Lankan bombings – A diverse crowd of 175 people gathered at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, Milwaukee, for this Interfaith Conference prayer service in response to the Easter bombings that killed nearly 300 people in Sri Lanka. One of the Catholic churches bombed also was named St. Sebastian. The service also noted a recent shooting at a California synagogue. There were six Christian and non-Christian speakers, including Fr. Larry Chapman, the pastor. Tom Heinen, executive director of the Interfaith Conference, welcomed the crowd and made opening remarks. The crowd – with many Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and others – included the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s new president/CEO, Greater Milwaukee Synod ELCA’s bishop, Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition’s president, Islamic Society of Milwaukee’s past president, Hindu Temple of Wisconsin’s secretary, Milwaukee Zen Center’s resident priest emerita, Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin people and others.
Prayers and reflections were offered by:
March 21, 2019 – Standing with Muslims – The Interfaith Conference helped publicize and recruit leaders to participate in a "We Stand United Against Hate" prayer vigil that drew more than 1,000 people of many faiths to Milwaukee’s Islamic Community Center in response to the hate-motivated shootings that killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand. Many members of the Jewish community attended, including several rabbis. Organized by the Islamic Society of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition, the event included comments from Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition (and chair of the Interfaith Conference's Committee for Interfaith Understanding) presented a Muslim Community Statements.
Statements of unity were spoken by:
A video of the event is available at: Vigil Video
May 29, 2019 -- "Interrupting Racism - A Community Conversation: Planting a Seed of Change within the Workforce" -- Rhonda Hill, program director of the Interfaith Conference’s Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues, was the guest speaker at a community workshop at the Goodman Center in Madison sponsored by Journey Mental Health Inc. and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. There she gave a keynote address about racism in the workplace to about 75 people. Rhonda, who has master’s degrees in marriage & family therapy and theological studies, has significant experience in race relations. She made this presentation under the auspices of the Race & Faith consulting business that she operates with Marquette University Professor Sharon Chubbuck.
Intercultural Outreach through the Arts
August 3 & 4, 2019 -- Rag Head -- The Interfaith Conference partnered with actress/playwrite Sundeep Morrison, and Co-producer Deanna Singh, to bring Rag Head: An American Story to the Broadway Theatre Center's black box stage for three sellout performances. Since 9/11, there has been an alarming increase in hate crimes committed against Sikhs, Muslims and other immigrant communities. With their turbans and long beards, Sikhs have become increasingly targets in the United States. According to the Sikh Coalition, there are roughly 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S., many of whom have been subject to xenophobic harassment or violence. The show explores Sikhs and xenophobia in a post 9/11 America. Inspired by actual events, Sundeep Morrison’s one woman show addresses hate, hope and American identity.
For TV Story see: WTMJ
Sept 27, 2019 -- Department of Homeland Security, CISA, FBI and Department of Justice Meeting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek with the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Communities. Goal of the meeting was for the subcommittee to gather information regarding the response to the August 5, 2012 shooting at the Sikh Temple by a white supremacist who killed six people. The goal was to discern best practices moving forward to prevent further hate attacks on faith members and buildings, and to improve responses. Interfaith Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka, whose father was among those slain in the temple shooting, participated in this meeting.
Sept 20, 2019 - “Sanctuaries or Soft Targets.” As houses of worship are grappling with the threat of attacks, the Religious News Association convened a conference panel discussion in Las Vegas. Panelists included Pardeep Singh Kaleka, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee; Deepa Bharath - Staff Writer, Southern California News Group; Rev. Mark Whitlock – Senior Pastor, Reid Temple AME Church; and Captain Sasha Larkin – Las Vegas Metro Police Department, who highlighted a community approach to response and prevention of targeted hate towards faith communities and places of worship.
June 11, 2019 – Interfaith Safety and Security Symposium -- Working in partnership with federal, state, and local law enforcement/security agencies, we helped draw a very diverse, interfaith crowd of more than 250 faith leaders to a free, half-day Wisconsin Interfaith Safety & Security Symposium in the Miller High Life Theatre's Plankinton Hall. With a rising tide of hate and an increase in violent attacks on faith sites across the nation and world, this was an exceptionally timely event. The Journal Sentinel covered the event and published a story: See JS Story
Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues Program
Our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Program brings people of different faiths, philosophies, races and cultures together in private homes or intimate institutional settings for a vegetarian meal and a moderated dialogue about their lived experience of faith/philosophy. Our appreciative listening process evokes deep sharing. People can come to just one dinner, or more, as guests, hosts or trained moderators.
AMAZING FAITH DINNERS 2.0 In October and November we offered expanded versions of the basic dinners which featured speakers presenting more in depth information about specific religions, religious practices, or social issues and outreach.
Nov. 7, 2019 - Our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue programs this year included a fantastic introduction to Hinduism, including a tour of the temple spaces. The Hindu Temple of Wisconsin is the most recent addition to the Interfaith Conference. Deepest thanks to our new friends at the temple: President Himanshu Parikh, Girish Shah, Govardhan Katta, Pavan Attili, Subba Rao and more.
Nov. 3, 2019 - The Reverend Christy Melby-Gibbons was our featured speaker for the 1st Annual Faith, Food and Generosity – hosted by the Turkish American Society of Wisconsin. Christy’s mission and ministry at Tricklebee Cafe, Milwaukee’s only pay-what-you-can-pay cafe is food and faith in practice.
Oct. 10, 2019 - The Greater Milwaukee Foundation asked us to participate in this year’s On The Table MKE event to discuss actions around gun policy, hate crimes, and to address inequities in our state. Governor Tony Evers, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, Mayor Tom Barrett, Reggie Moore, Senator Lena C. Taylor, Maria A. Hamilton spoke at the event The Milwaukee Asian market. Market owner, Mayhoua Moua provided food as did Damia Causey and Laura Reizner Emir. Guests also included Darryl Morin, Tom Heinen, Rhonda Hill, Cherrie Hanson, Elana Kahn, Tammy Athena, Lee Matz, James Causey, and our entire faith based, mental health, advocate and gun survivor community.
Oct. 15, 2019 - FAITH & POLITICS Amazing Faith Dinner Dialogue hosted by former U.S. Attorney Jim Santelle. Our panel included former District Attorney E. Michael McCann and Organizer of Wisconsin Voices, Markasa Tucker.
In the first half of 2019, through mid-June, we have held six Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues for a total of over 150 people. Two dinners happened at universities- Cardinal Stritch and UW-Milwaukee. Two large-group dinners happened in the wider community, with one being held at the American Albanian Islamic Center in Kenosha and the other being held in the Grand Hall at Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa. The other two dinners were held in private homes. The variety of place in which this program happens proves that it is suitable for a variety of audiences ranging from 8 to about 100 in size. As we strive to expand our work throughout the community, we hope to engage more corporations, high schools and universities. This summer we have three dinners planned in personal spaces of hosts, with two dinners being hosted on a pontoon boat in Pewaukee Lake, Waukesha County.
On June 26, 2019 there will be a moderator training in Racine, WI from 3:00-6:00 p.m. People should contact Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Program Director Rhonda HIll to register, at Rhondah@interfaithconference.org.
June 23 to July 10, 2019 -- The Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue program is well has been cruising through this summer. We had our first dinner of the summer aboard a pontoon boat on Pewaukee Lake on June 23rd. The eight of us gathered and shared deeply while admiring the beautifully view. The next gathering of this type is August 11th, 5-8 p.m., also on Pewaukee Lake. We also had the opportunity to host a group of visitors from the Philippines on July 10th. This gathering happened due to our collaboration with the International Institute of Wisconsin. The intimate gathering of ten gave those gathered an opportunity to not only share stories of faith but to also examine how interfaith dialogue can promote peace and security.
February 24, 2019 -- Amazing Faiths 2.0 Dinner Dialogue featuring Baha'i Faith -- Nearly 30 people attended the year's first Amazing Faiths 2.0 Dinner, on the Baha'i Faith. These large-group dinner dialogues go beyond our the personal sharing that is at the heart of our home-based Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues. A faith group hosts a 2.0 event and presents some in-depth information about that faith; then participants dialogue and share, using question cards that include some themes and topics highlighted in the presentation.
The Baha'i event was hosted by the Baha'i community and was held in the grand hall at the "Tosa pool at Hoyt Park" in Wauwatosa. Speakers included:
Jenny Wanasek, a founder of the Center for Applied Theatre. She has worked as a professional director and actor with the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act, Renaissance Theatre, and First Stage, among others, and is an instructor at UWM. She has earned numerous teaching and acting awards. Jenny’s training includes interactive and transformative theatre with Nobel Prize nominee Augusto Boal, Beyond Racism and Ally building with Healing Our Nation, and The Virtues Project. Jenny’s applied theatre work includes interactive projects, new play development, and communication technique workshops. She has conducted Applied Theatre technique workshops at conferences and seminars throughout the United States and in Vienna.
January 27, 2019 -- Rabbi Michal Woll hosted an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue at her home, and IFC Executive Director Tom Heinen served as the moderator.
January 23, 2019 -- CUSH/Interfaith Dinner Dialgue in Kenosha Draws 90 People -- A collaborative Interfaith Conference/CUSH Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue drew 90 people to the American Albanian Islamic Center in Kenosha. The dinner, sponsored by Kenosha-area Congregations United to Serve Humanity (CUSH) and its Religious Leaders Caucus, “brought together people of diverse faiths and religions — Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Muslims — and included those who also aren’t associated with a religion in a first-of-its-kind event during Kenosha’s annual Kindness Week.”
Rhonda Hill, our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Program Director, trained some CUSH members to serve as moderators at the tables and also arranged for some of our experienced AFDD moderators to volunteer.
This event was partly an outgrowth of a group Amazing Faiths dinner dialogue we previously held at Carthage College in Kenosha. There appears to be a strong hunger for people of different faiths to connect more widely in our region.
The Kenosha News did a feature story about this event. See: Kenosha Dinner Dialogue
January 20, 2019 -- Amazing Faiths Dinner & Panel Discussion at Cardinal Stritch University -- Rhonda Hill, director of our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues program, moderated a panel discussion at a workshop on religion, sprirtuality and behavioral health care at Cardinal Stritch University and then held an Amazine Faiths Dinner Dialogue for about 15 students.
Rhonda, who has a broad background of experience in the non-profit and faith-based communities, has mater's degrees in marriage and family therapy, and in theological studies.
Committee for Interfaith Understanding
Mid-May through August, 2019 -- Part of our traveling exhibition of photographic banners and matted prints titled Gratitude: A Celebration of our Common Humanity will be on display through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Interfaith program director Rhonda Hill arranged for this display and is discussing with college officials the holding of some related programming there in the fall. (More information about this exhibition, which was created in collaboration with faculty and students at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, is in the item below and in our 2018 summaries.)
January 6 to 15, 2019 -- Traveling Interfaith/MIAD Art Exhibit at Immanuel Presbyterian Church -- After opening in the rotunda of Milwaukee City Hall during Thanksgiving week in November of 2018, our traveling art exhibition entitled Gratitude: A Celebration of our Common Humanity moved to Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 1100 N. Astor St., for a 10-day showing. Under a generous grant from the ELM II Fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Interfaith Conference partnered with the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design for this project. Students from a MIAD class visited sites of worship and meditation in the Milwaukee area and took photos that reflected those experiences and their personal spirituality or philosophy. A panel of judges selected 16 photos from 400 submissions. Large photo-printed banners and smaller, matted photos were produced and are available for display.
Interfaith Earth Network
October 9, 2019 – Strong Baby Sabbath – The Interfaith Earth Network participated in Ascension healthcare system’s “Strong Baby Sabbath” event at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee. The event, designed to educate churches on practices to reduce infant mortality, was attended by Mayor Tom Barrett and City Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik. Following a presentation on maternal and infant health by Ascension doctors, IEN connected with members of 20 area churches from low-income neighborhoods, distributing 40 lead filter pitchers and 40 replacement cartridges. Each church received instruction on the proper use of lead filters and a letter from IEN outlining our plans to provide future in-house lead education at their churches in the coming year.
September 26, 2019 – Lead-Free Summit – The Interfaith Earth Network and multiple community partners helped organize the Coalition On the Lead Emergency's (COLE's) Lead-Free Summit at Hephatha Lutheran Church. Those in attendance heard from six Milwaukee alderpersons voicing support for funding a new "Birthing Moms Pilot Project" that would provide free lead education kits with filters for all birthing moms from lead-poisoning dense zip codes prior to being discharged from the hospital.
July 10, 2019 – Vacation Bible School & Lead Education – The Interfaith Earth Network assisted Cross Lutheran Church in preparing educational activities for pre-school and elementary school children as part of the church’s Vacation Bible School summer programming. Coordinating the guest presenter (Patti the Lead Clown), take home educational material from the Hunger Task Force, and water filters through Hephatha Lutheran Church, we reached 18 children from K4 – 5th grade along with their parents.
May 21, 2019 – Lead Education & Community Celebration – The Interfaith Earth Network and our partners of the Coalition On the Lead Emergency (COLE) collaborated with the Milwaukee Health Department to celebrate the progress made over the past year to reduce lead exposure in the Amani neighborhood and the surrounding area. The celebration included games and music for children, food and door prizes for adults, and presentations from COLE leaders on our advocacy work in the community. More than 65 adults and 37 children participated in the celebration. Families were also given the opportunity to learn about ways to protect themselves from lead exposure in paint, water, and soil while also receiving free filters from the Milwaukee Health Department and Hephatha Lutheran Church.
April 30 & May 2, 2019 – Lead Water Filter Campaign Presentations; Marquette University – Seventy-eight Marquette University undergraduate students from Dr. Stacie Waites's two marketing classes presented their semester-long projects on lead water filter promotion. IEN Program Director Stephen Hawkins invited leaders from four Milwaukee neighborhoods (Amani, Metcalfe Park, Clarke Square, and Riverwest) to serve as panel judges in order to provide feedback to students. Each lead water filter campaign was evaluated based on the accuracy of the customer profiles, the ability to capture an observer's attention, and the feasibility of implementation by non-profits with limited financial and personnel resources. The campaigns were then given to these community leaders for potential implementation in their local neighborhoods. This provided students with the opportunity to experience what it is like to "pitch" a marketing campaign while also meeting some of the city's non-profit environmental leaders.
April 28, 2019 – Earth Day Worship Service Presentation; Underwood Memorial Baptist Church, Wauwatosa – Our Program Director Stephen Hawkins was asked to share about IEN's mission to "serve as a catalyst for people of faith to live, work, and worship in environmentally sustainable ways" during the congregation's Earth Day celebration. Emphasis was given to our "unleaded" initiative, while information was also provided regarding "green" burials and sustainable celebrations.
April 16, 2019 – Rotary Club of Beloit, WI: “Wisconsin Un|Leaded” Presentation – After attending our breakout session presentation at the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin’s Annual Gathering in Milwaukee last October, the First Baptist Church of Beloit invited our Interfaith Earth Network to share its ongoing lead educational outreach and advocacy efforts at the Rotary Club of Beloit’s weekly lunch meeting. With approximately forty Beloit-area community members in attendance, the presentation outlined the negative health effects of lead, the prevalence of lead service lines throughout the state of Wisconsin, and the steps IEN is taking to reduce residential lead exposure through neighborhood workshops and coalition creation. According to a recent Beloit Daily News article, “Beloit's public water system has around 17 percent of lateral connections to the city's water mains that are lead” (Montgomery 2019).
March 2019 -- Stephen Hawkins, program director of our Interfaith Earth Network, was interviewed by the national River Network organization about the Earth Network's mission and activities, about the connection between ecology and spirituality, and other matters. (The Milwaukee Water Commons partnered with our Earth Network in applying for and receiving a River Network grant to address the health issue of lead in Milwaukee's water system.) To read the interview, see: Hawkins Q&A
February 27 - March 1, 2019 – River Network Drinking Water Conference – As recipients of an eighteen-month grant initiative, our Interfaith Earth Network (IEN) partnered with Milwaukee Water Commons to host participants from the River Network's "Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Peer Learning Cohort," a national conglomerate of grantees charged with exploring "policies and practices that communities can use to effectively engage a broad range of stakeholders in order to secure safe, clean and affordable drinking water." Fourteen organizations from seven cities across the US participated in this conference, sharing lessons learned and best practices for improving access to cleaner, more affordable drinking water in their communities. As a cohort, we also visited the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences and TRUE Skool, Inc. while also listening to local coalition efforts focused on reducing lead exposure in Milwaukee residential neighborhoods. Two IEN members served as guest panel speakers during this conference.
Outreach into the Workplace
July 22, 2019 -- More Interfaith Corporate Outreach -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka and Executive Director Emeritus Tom Heinen met with an employee interfaith leadership team at Rockwell Automation's corporate headquarters to talk about future educational and dialogue programming there and to discuss the employees' desire to help Interfaith bring such workplace interfaith programming to other industries and businesses. Interfaith has a $4,500 grant from the ELM II fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to do that outreach. The efforts at Rockwell have been coordinated by its Faith Friendly & Allies Employee Resource Group.
June 26, 2019 -- MMWC Presentation at Rockwell -- Janan Najeeb, a founder and president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition, gave a lunchtime presentation titled "Women in Islam: Unveiled!" at Rockwell Automation's corporate headquarters to members of the company's Faith Friendly & Allies Employee Resource Group. This was an outgrowth of the Interfaith Conference's partnership with Rockwell employees and executives over the past several years as, together, we developed interfaith programming for the workplace that ranged from small-table dialogues to presentations about specific faiths.
January 24, 2019 -- World's Religions Fair at Rockwell Automation Corporate HQ -- We helped provide some of the table presenters at Rockwell Automation's annual World's Religions Fair at the global corporation's corporate headquarters on Milwaukee's south side as part of our continuing collaboration with Rockwell and its Faith Friendly & Allies interfaith employee resource group.
Wisconsin Immigration Network (WIN)
January to June, 2019 -- In November of 2018, the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) formally endorsed a new organization that is now called the Wisconsin Immigration Network (WIN) and placed a Cabinet representative on the WIN Steering Committee. Begun as a group of private individuals with ties to various organizations, WIN has benefited thus far in 2019 both from the Interfaith endorsement and from the expertise and energy of the Cabinet's representative, Patricia McFarland, who is from the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee and the Southeast Wisconsin Unitarian Universalist Congregations.
WIN is led by a group of individuals from significant Southeastern Wisconsin religious, civic, immigraton and health care organizations. WIN's immediate objective is creating an effective system of information and referrals so that Wisconsin immigrants and their families can identify and use honest, competent, accessible and affordable immigration legal services. It does this through research, surveys, interviews and follow-up to attorneys and to non-profit, U.S. Department-of-Justice "Recognized Organizations" authorized to prepare immigration applications and petition. WIN plans to launch a user-firendly website and print materials that publicizes comprehensive, up-to-date and accurate information on where and how to procure immigration legal services, and how much they cost.
In early 2019, the Steering Committee researched the five agencies that are recognized by the DOJ to provide services for immigrants and determined the status, actual services, and capacity of each. In the process, the committe learned that much of the current information about legal services for immigrants is outdated and/or wrong. Committee members also did research to create a list of credible attorneys who offer their services pro bono or at low cost to immigrants.
And committee members did extensive community outreach to learn more about immigrants' experiences here and to make contacts,. In one week in April, they visited 10 Milwaukee Public Schools on the south side of the city. That month, they also visited: Central United Methodist Church, the Consulate General of Nicaragua, CORE El Centro, Ghana Milwaukee Association; Hmong American Women's Association, Hmong-American Friendship Society;Iglesia Pentacostal, International House, Irish Immigration Services, Islamic Society of America, Jewish Family Services of Milwaukee, Korean Baptist Church of Milwaukee, Korean United Methodist Church of Milwaukee; Lutheran Social Services; MATC Office of International Student Admissions, Mercado El Rey, Mexican Consulate of Milwaukee, St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Waukesha, St. MIchael's multicultural Catholic Church in Milwaukee, St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Milwaukee, the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS), and the UWM Center for International Education.
Interfaith Restorative Practices Coalition (Click here for Coalition information)
Restorative practices are listening and communication skills that honor the dignity of each one of us. Restorative practices can be used with adults, youth, and children to prevent conflict, to manage conflict, or to heal broken relationships that have been impacted by conflict.
People are coming to recognize restorative practices as ways to form trusting relationships, build community, and manage conflict that can be implemented in any venue.
In response to requests, the IRPC was able to help coordinate two events in May:
May 2, 2019 -- Escuela Verde -- Cynthia Gonzalez from Escuela Verde reached out to our coalition in search of speakers for their students. Thursday May 2nd, four speakers from IRPC agencies spoke on how they use restorative justice in their work to four groups of about 20 students each. Speakers were: Myron Edwards (Safe and Sound), Sharon Lerman, (Working Innovations), Cathy Warmington (WCS) Michele Wink (MCCY)
Quotes from some of the students in attendance:
Cynthia asked that Escuela Verde be added to our coalition of restorative agencies and that her name and contact info be added to our roster. Bethany and Fernando from Escuela Verde will attend the next coalition meeting.
May 13, 2019 -- International Institute -- Heather Sattler and Alliance School students hosted a restorative circle for International visitors from the Middle East. This was coordinated by the International Institute and the IRPC.
Other Outreach, Presentations & Representation
December 2019 -- Staff member Cherrie Hanson pens a feature article about Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee for The Washington Heights Highlighter. This quarterly magazine of the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association is delivered to the neighborhood surrounding the Conference office. As a longtime resident, Cherrie felt it was important for the neighbors nearby to know what the office on Vliet St. was all about.
Nov. 24, 2019 – Interfaith Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka and immediate past Executive Director Tom Heinen were among the attendees at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's 175th Anniversary Closing Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presided. This was followed by a reception at the Pfister Hotel – Grand Ballroom.
Nov. 10, 2019 – Interfaith Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka spoke and offered a reflection during Kristallnacht Remembrance at the Ovation Jewish Home presented by the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center to never forget the violence unleased by the Nazis in Germany on Jewish synagogues, shops, and people Nov.9 and 10,1938. Dr. Shay Pilnik, Executive Director of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, was one of the main speakers.
Nov. 6, 2019 – Interfaith Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka was the keynote speaker at a National Council of Jewish Woman's "Advocacy, Agency, and Action” event held at the Shorewood Public Library. Pardeep spoke on the role of taking care of ourselves when advocating for others. The event was held In partnership with Pathfinders, Moms Demand Action - WI, Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters - HIPPY USA, Tables Across Borders, and the City of Milwaukee Election Commission.
Oct 31, 2019 – Milwaukee Archdiocesan Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey E. Hanes spoke about the history and importance of the Interfaith Conference's work as part of an ecumencial gathering of religious leaders commemorating the 10th anniversary of the historic national/international Lutheran-Catholic agreement about the doctrine of justification. Disagreement over this doctrine, which involved how a person achieves salvation, through good works or God's mercy, was a major cause of the Protestant Reformation. This Oct. 31 event was held at the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee's Mary, Mother of the Church Pastoral Center in St. Francis. Participants acknowledged the progress made in the 20 years since the original Joint Declaration was signed, and did a resigning. Faith leaders who signed the declaration included Bishop Hanes; the Rev. Paul D. Erickson, Bishop, Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Rev. Dr. Christian D. Boyd, Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Milwaukee, the Rt. Rev. Steven Miller, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee; the Rev. Forest R. Wells, SE District Superintendent, Wisconsin Conference United Methodist Church.
Oct. 24, 2019 - Interfaith Conference Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka offered comments and a reflection about the importance of helping to provide employment opportunities, especially in the central city, at the opening of a Transitional Jobs Expo at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center in St. Francis. The Interfaith Conference's executive director position has had a seat on the Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative since it was formed 10 years ago. Transitional jobs are subsidized jobs that offer real work experience for real pay, leading them to full-time non-subsidized employment and independence. In Wisconsin, these government-funded programs offer employment for up to six months at minimum wage. There is no expense to the employers, though some choose to pay more than minimum wage. This offers many people with limited work histories and skills, including those with prison records, an opportunity to prove themselves, gain experience, and remain in the workforce.
Oct. 7-8, 2019 – Reflections Offered at SDC Poverty Conference -- Pardeep S. Kaleka, Interfaith Executive Director, provided an opening Interfaith Invocation and Rev. Reirin Gumbel, a member of the Interfaith Conference board and resident priest at the Milwaukee Zen Center, provided a guided meditation at the 2019 Summit on Poverty/SWIM Conference hosted by the Milwaukee County Social Development Commission (SDC) and Marquette University. Nearly 900 people convened at the Wisconsin Center to explore the themes of Self-Reflection, Hope, and Collective Impact.
Oct. 9, 2019 – Participation at Yom Kippur Study Session -- Interfaith Conference Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka was one of the speakers at "Sleepless in Milwaukee," a study session held at Congregation Shalom in Fox Point on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Leaders of several faiths shared what keeps them up at night and what they are doing to address such challenges. Organized by Congregation Shalom, the event featured comments by: .
Sept 20, 2019 – Interfaith Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka gave a presentation on interfaith engagement and outreach to Catholic seminarians, priests/educators, and staff at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners. Also participating were Dr. Stephen Shippee, and Bonnie Shafrin,
Sept. 8, 2019 - Somos Agua: We Are Water event by Milwaukee Water Commons, which brought together 300+ Milwaukeeans to explore their relationship to the earth and their water story. As part of the program, Interfaith Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka shared a story about Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and the first of 10 Sikh gurus, which illuminated the relationship between faith and water. Interfaith staff member Cherrie Hanson chanted a prayer of peace and harmony.
August 3, 2019 – C.A.F.E. Day—The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee and the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin partnered with the city of Oak Creek and the Oak Creek Farmer’s Market to celebrate Southeastern Wisconsin’s growing cultural diversity through educational interaction and thoughtful conversation. This community event was made possible through the participation of organizations sharing their history and culture to create a global experience. C.A.F.E. Day highlights the unique aspects of participating groups through: Culture, Art, Food, and Entertainment. Highlights included music, turban tying, sharing ethnic foods, and dancing events in Drexel Square.
Aug. 8, 2019 -- Participation at national ELCA Churchwide Assembly -- Several local Interfaith Conference leaders were among a group of national and international guests from diverse Christian and non-Christian faiths who stood on the wide presentation platform and received an extended standing ovation from more than 900 delegates at the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in downtown Milwaukee on Aug. 8.
Prior to that, a few national and international representatives of different faiths offered greetings and gave brief presentations. Dr. Sayyid Syeed, president of the Islamic Society of North America, had been scheduled to speak but was unable to attend because his wife had a serious medical issue while traveling in India. Ahmed Quereshi, past president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee and a Cabinet member and Executive Committee member of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, represented ISNA on his behalf and spoke.
After some brief discussion and debate, and with the guests waiting on the platform, the Assembly overwhelmingly approved “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment.” There was resounding applause throughout the massive hall in the Wisconsin Center, and many of the interfaith leaders on stage clasped the hand of the person next to them and raised their arms in unison. It was a moving and historic moment.
A draft of the statement, which was not amended, can be read at: ELCA Policy Statement.
Guests representing the Interfaith Conference and/or their respective faiths were introduced individually before the discussion and vote. They included:
Pardeep Kaleka, the Interfaith Conference’s new executive director, and his wife, Jaspreet; Interfaith Executive Director Emeritus Tom Heinen and his wife, Katie; Kishore Acharya, a board member of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin in Pewaukee; The Rev. Reirin Gumbel, a member of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (board of directors) representing the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and resident priest of the Milwaukee Zen Center; Elana Kahn, chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) and director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation; Nooshin Nekooei, a member of the MTO Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism in Franksville and Vice Chair of the Interfaith Conference’s Committee for Interfaith Understanding; Ahmed Quereshi, treasurer of the Interfaith Conference and past president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee; Girish Shah, a member of the board of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin; and Dick Smith, the Baha’i Faith’s representative on the Interfaith Conference’s Committee for Interfaith Understanding.
Housing Trust Fund
July 19, 2019 -- Dr. Swarnjit Arora, who represents the Interfaith Conference on the City of Milwaukee Housing Trust Fund Advisory Board, was present with Interfaith Executive Director Pardeep Kaleka and former Interfaith Executive Director Tom Heinen for the grand opening of a new affordable apartment building, SEVEN04 Place, at 704 W. National Ave. The building was constructed on an empty lot with a vacant warehouse that has been transformed into a vibrant new community that includes 46 units of affordable housing for working individuals and families. UnitedHealthCare provided much of the $12.2 million cost of the project. There were several other funders, including the Housing Trust Fund. The building was designed to meet Wisconsin Green Built Home certification standards.
UCC General Synod
June 21, 2019 -- Interfaith Conference Workshop at national UCC gathering -- Three Interfaith Conference leaders gave an "educational intensive" presentation and Q&A on interreligious relations and responding to religious bigotry to about 40 people at the United Church of Christ's General Synod -- a national gathering -- in the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee as preparation for the Synod adopting a resolution reaffirming the UCC's commitment to interreligious relations and deploring religious bigotry. Speaking were Elana Kahn, chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors) and director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation; Janan Najeeb, chair of the Interfaith Conference's Committee on Interfaith Understanding and president/founder of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition; and Tom Heinen, executive director of the Interfaith Conference.
The Rev. Bob and Julie Ullman, who reached out to the Interfaith Conference in organizing this workshop, later wrote:
"Many thanks for your willingness to do an Educational Intensive presentation on the resolution reaffirming the UCC's commitment to interreligious relations and deploring religious bigotry for the recent UCC General Synod in Milwaukee. We are so grateful that the three of you were willing to make this collective witness to this important issue. We were heartened by the committee chair's remarks to the plenary session that the EI had been most helpful for the committee's understanding of the issue as they deliberated what to recommend about the resolution. We thought you might be interested to see the press release after the Synod voted on the resolution. See link below. Also if you go to http://ucceverywhere.org/synod/resolutions and click on View All Resolutions you'll be able to see the progression of the resolution through the committee process to the final amended resolution as adopted by the General Synod.
"Again, many thanks for what many delegates said was one of the highlights of their Synod experience. We hope our paths will continue to cross as we support this important work. As a personal and side note, we are delighted by the Interfaith Board's decision to call Pardeep Kaleka as your new Executive Director. We look forward to new and renewed collaboration with you. All the best."
Peace and International Issues Committee (PIIC)
March 2019 -- Tuesdays-in-March Luncheon Lectures -- History and Importance of Immigrants/Refugees Opens Series -- About 112 people attended the opening session of our annual Tuesdays-in-March luncheon lecture series to hear award-winning journalist and author Barbara Miner talk about Milwaukee's changing immigration landscape and related issues. This year's series is entitled "#Immigrants&RefugeesMatter, 'no one leaves home unless..." The series addresses the history and importance of immigrants, the coming wave of climate migration, current refugee resettlement efforts, and navigating the justice system. All sessions are being held at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee and are organized by the Interfaith Conference's Peace and International Issues Committee (PIIC).
Slightly more than 100 people attended the second session, on March 12, to hear Sumudu Atapattu, director of the UW Law School Research Center, talk about climate change and its current and future causes of refugees in the context of human rights, the environment, and international law.
The final two sessions, which averaged attendance of more than 100 people, featured:
a) March 19 -- Mary Flynn, program manager of refugee resettlement for Lutheran Social Services, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, talking about "Where is the welcome mat for refugees? And refugee resettlement efforts.
b) March 26 -- Barbara Graham, managing attorney for Catholic Charities Legal SErvices for Immigrants Program, talking on "The Tidal wave of changes in law and policies affecting asylum seekers, refugees and other immigrants.
The Milwaukee Independent published a story and several photos from the Tuesday, March 5, 2019 session. See: Milwaukee Independent & Interfaith
July 25, 2019 -- Detention Statement -- The Interfaith Conference Cabinet (board of directors) adopted a statement on the United States' detention centers for asylum seekers, saying that it sees our nation at the crossroads of a spiritual crisis because of the inhumane conditions created by our government. "The spiritual and ethical future of our nation is being determined by how we react in this humanitarian and spiritual crisis. If we fail to act and build compassionate policy and infrastructure surrounding asylum-seekers, we will not only cause irreparable harm to those in detention today - we will morally wound our nation and the generations to follow." For the full statement, see: Interfaith Advocacy.
May 13, 2009 -- Statement Against Hate in Waukesha County -- The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee issued a statement that noted with concern the use of the Waukesha County Exposition Center this past weekend by a group purporting to be a “Security Conference,” but with a roster of speakers who are known to have repeatedly engaged in virulent hate speech against Muslims as a group. See: Interfaith Advocacy.
April 11, 2019 – People of Faith United for Justice -- Over 80 religious leaders and laypersons from across Wisconsin gathered at First United Methodist Church in Madison to add their voices to debate surrounding the state legislature’s 2019-20 budget process.
Participants at the sixth biennial “People of Faith United for Justice” advocacy day heard from Rep. Melissa Sargent, who provided a legislator’s perspective on advocacy and the need to hear a social justice perspective in the Capitol.
Preparation for legislative visits was provided by workshops led by experts on the three social justice issues of importance to all the people of Wisconsin – ensuring there is access to clean drinking water in every part of the state; accepting federal funding to expand BadgerCare so more can afford health care; and support for more affordable early childhood education for working parents.
Co-sponsors included: the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin Council of Churches, WI Faith Voices For Justice, Lutheran Office for Public Policy, Madison Area Urban Ministry, Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of Madison and Wisconsin Jewish Conference. For more details, see: Advocacy Day
March 15, 2019 -- Stand Against Hatred and Violence -- The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee issued a statement strongly condemning the horrific attack on two mosques in New Zealand. Although this atrocity has not taken place in our geographic area, we are aware of the effect such acts of terror can have on our local community. The rising tide of hatred across the globe affects us all. See: Interfaith Advocacy.
Awards & Honors
Oct. 8, 2019 – Heinen honored by Archdiocese -- Immediate past Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen, who retired this summer after 10 years in that position, received a Vatican ll Award for Service in Ecumenism from Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. The criteria for receiving this annual award include being active "in works of ecumenism and interfaith concerns, promoting love, understanding, and unity." Tom led a significant expansion of Interfaith Conference programming and the addition of seven new member faiths and denominations from Sept. 1, 2009 to July 1, 2019. The Archdiocese has been a member denomination since the Conference's founding in 1970 and has consistently had representatives in key leadership positions. The Conference now represents the regional leaders and members of 20 faiths and denominations. Tom and his wife, Katie (a very active Interfaith Conference volunteer), are longtime, active members of St. Michael's Catholic Church, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee's near west side with many refugees and immigrants, and a Mass in eight languages and dialects.
Vatican II awards for other types of dedicated service to the Catholic faith, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and to society were given to 13 other individuals in the cathedral with Tom.
Sept. 17, 2019 – Heinen honored by Rockwell -- Tom Heinen, who concluded 10 years of service as executive director of the Interfaith Conference when he retired July 1, was later honored by Rockwell Automation during an employee awards ceremony in the lounge atop the corporation's giant four-sided clock in recognition of his "valuable contributions, dedication, and services to the Faith Friendly & Allies Employee Resource Group." Steven Etzel, vice president/treasurer of Rockwell and the executive sponsor for this employee resource group, signed the certificate of recognition and participated in its presentation. Tom also received a mall crystal globe that had the Faith Friendly & Allies logo on it. Rockwell previously has honored the Interfaith Conference for its corporate outreach to them, which has included conducting lunchtime employee dialogues and arranging for presentations that provide in-depth information about diverse faiths.
June 20, 2019 – Pardeep & Arno Honored -- Pardeep Singh Kaleka and Arno Michaelis received the Robert H. Friebert Social Justice Award at the annual meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation at Renaissance Place, 1451 N. Prospect Ave. A week later, on June 27, Pardeep was appointed executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, effecive July 1. At the time of the JCRC award presentation, he was a co-founder and head of Serve2Unite a nonprofit organization founded to counter extremism after the 2012 white supremacist attack on the Oak Creek Sikh Temple. His late father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, a founder of that temple, was one of six people slain in the attack. In 2018. Pardeep co-authored a memoir, “The Gift of Our Wounds,” with Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist. He and Arno have spoken together about hate and reconciliation throughout the Milwaukee area, especially in schools, and elsewhere in the United States and overseas.