2011 Events and Activities
The year 2011 was one of the Interfaith Conference’s busiest and most successful years in recent history.
- Nearly 300 people attended our annual awards luncheon at the Italian Community Center on Dec. 8, 2011. Our keynote speaker, the Rev. Jon Magnuson, (founder of the Great Lakes basin Earthkeeper Initiative and the Cedar Tree Institute in northern Michigan), gave an inspired, interactive talk on “Mending the Creation: Challenges and Tactics for Faith Communities in the Crisis-Driven Environmental Awakening. We honored Tonen O’Connor of the Milwaukee Zen Center and gave awards to Tippecanoe Church, social-justice advocate Janet Nortrom, Alliance School founder Tina Owen and Lamar Jude, a dynamic young African-American from Express Yourself Milwaukee who mentors troubled teens.
- Food Stamp Challenge: From Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, 2011, the Interfaith Conference, the Hunger Task Force, and two local Jewish organizations sponsored a Food Stamp Challenge as part of the national “Fighting Poverty With Faith” effort. Among the participants were the executive directors of the Interfaith Conference and the Hunger Task Force, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the minister who two months later was elected chair of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet. They lived for one week on the average food stamp allotment of $1.50 per meal ($4.50 per day) to raise awareness of how difficult it is to eat well and amply on that budget and to hold up the importance of food stamps in the face of pending federal and state legislation. Several news media covered it.
- Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk: On Oct. 9, 2011, an interfaith crowd of 700 to 1,000 adults, youths and children from more than 90 congregations and organizations participated in the Conference’s 26th annual Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk at the lakefront. More than 17,000 pounds of food were collected for the Hunger Task Force from walkers and at participating congregations. We raised more than $50,000 for international and U.S. hunger abatement, disaster relief and economic development.
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
- Cathedral Square Park for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Overall, we had a powerful and moving presence at this event. Reactions were strongly positive. The East Town Association estimated that up to 4,000 people were present. Many more viewed it on a live, statewide public television broadcast and a recorded rebroadcast. Our messages of faith, hope and understanding reached what was arguably the largest audience in the 42-year history of the Interfaith Conference. Our Peace & International Issues Committee helped scores of people write prayers and messages on colorful prayer flags that then fluttered on lines in the park. The printed, full-color souvenir program included the texts of the interfaith reflections/prayers, a statement by the Interfaith Conference Cabinet, and a listing of the Greater Milwaukee Synod and our other member judicatories. We received widespread print and broadcast news coverage.
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."
- Assisted With Other 9/11 Event: The executive director of the Interfaith Conference served on the small committee that planned a symposium entitled “September 11, Ten Years Later: Our Commitment to Peace and Justice” held on Sept. 10, 2011 at the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. The sponsors of the event, which drew more than 200 people, were the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the Islamic Society and the Southeast Milwaukee Interfaith Covenant Community.
- Pius XI High School 9/11 Event: On Sept. 8, 2011, the Interfaith Conference helped Pius XI High School present an interfaith prayer service at an all-school assembly of some 800 students to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary and to help the young people develop an appreciation for the role religion can play in making our world a more peaceful place. Although Pius is a Catholic high school, it has a diverse student body that includes many Protestant youths. Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish students – some brought in from outside schools – presented personal reflections. Pius theater students did dramatic recitations from a book authored by East Coast students who witnessed and/or otherwise experienced the 9/11 attacks. The student body was quiet and deeply moved. Dr. Melinda Skrade, the school’s chief administrator, termed the event “transformational.” WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) covered the service. The Journal Sentinel ran a photo from it on the front of the newspaper’s local news page.
- Interfaith Day at Miller Park: On Aug. 2, 2011, we held our second annual Interfaith Day at Miller Park as part of our effort to bring faith into the public square, create broader awareness of the Interfaith Conference, collect food donations at the ballpark for the Hunger Task Force and build a sense of community among our supporters and their congregations. We sold a record 668 tickets – nearly 200 more than last year – and sold more than 200 “Going to bat for a better world” Interfaith t-shirts. Bobby Cranfield, a 13-year-old girl from Jackson Park Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, won our youth drawing and got to throw the symbolic first pitch before the Brewers-Cardinals game.
- Innovative Movie Screening: On April 12, 2011, the Interfaith Conference experimented with a new paradigm by renting a public movie theater near its offices – the Times Cinema – and offering the Milwaukee premiere screening of a documentary, “The Economics of Happiness.” A critique of globalization and its adverse effects on individuals and communities, it advocates localization. A sell-out crowd of 270-plus that included many people in the environmental and sustainability movements new to Interfaith viewed the movie. Nearly all stayed for reactions from a panel of experts in diverse fields. The event, partly a fund-raiser, raised more than $1,000 as part of our effort to create a broader base of support.
- Stewardship of the Earth: The Interfaith Earth Network became a formal program of the Interfaith Conference this year. It previously was a collaboration of the Conference, the Urban Ecology Center and the Tomorrow’s Present program at the House of Peace. On Sept. 20 and Sept. 27, 2011, the Earth Network ran our first-ever Eco-Spirit bus tours for clergy and lay leaders. It toured and/or drove past faith-based and secular sites of dynamic challenge and change in industrial redevelopment, community gardens, urban aquaculture, solar panel manufacturing and the inspirational new Urban Ecology Center that is being built along the Menomonee River Valley. Sixty-three people participated in the mini-coach bus tours.
- Ground for Hope – Wisconsin: These pilot bus tours are a prelude to a major regional environmental training conference to enhance the preaching, teaching and advocacy of clergy, seminarians and lay leaders from a wide range of faiths and denominations. It is being organized by our Interfaith Earth Network and the national GreenFaith organization for October 21 and 22 of 2012. This two-day event will feature Harvard-educated Native American environmentalist Winona LaDuke as keynote speaker. It will offer a wide range of workshops It will be a two-day event. More than 15 major organizations, faith groups and educational institutions have agreed to be co-sponsors.
- Amazing Faiths Dinners: In the first quarter of the year, we held three pilot Amazing Faith Dinners, based on a model created in Houston. Eight to ten people of different faiths gather in a private home for a simple meal and structured conversation about their lived experience of faith. Drawing question cards, they answer from the heart while others listen without interrupting. Open conversation follows. This is a dynamic way to address hate, religious illiteracy and – indirectly -- racial prejudice. Participants came away highly enthused, with some saying they now know the people at the table better than they know their own neighbors. We expect to seek grant money from foundations to expand this in 2012 as a way to bridge major social/cultural chasms here.
- The Interfaith Conference has had an active year of advocacy that included:
- An Interfaith prayer service for a state budget addressing the common good that drew about 150 people to Immanuel Presbyterian Church on the East Side on March 20, 2011. There was TV news coverage.
- Participation in the planning and running of a biennial state budget Advocacy Day in Madison as co-sponsors with the Wisconsin Council of Churches and three other faith-based organizations. It drew over 400 clergy and laity.
- Issuing of advocacy statements on the state budget, on voter ID legislation, and on concealed-carry gun legislation, plus participating in a news conference at Milwaukee City Hall with WAVE (Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort), which was covered on two television station’s newscasts.
- Participation in an advocacy effort as part of the Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative that achieved a rare success in the state budget, getting $12 million in funding for transitional jobs reinstated by the Joint Finance Committee and getting Gov. Walker to veto the committee’s attempt to exclude the non-profit sector from participating in this hiring. Legislators and various organizations were involved. But Episcopal Bishop Steven Miller as chair of the Interfaith Conference and a resident of Racine made an important contact with the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, whose district is in Racine County. The Conference’s executive director serves on the transitional jobs collaborative.
- Issuing of a statement opposing a Nazi rally in West Allis and participating in pre-rally counter-demonstration meetings with the Milwaukee Urban League, the NAACP and other organizations. Our news release called for “A Sabbath of Peace and Healing.”
- PIIC Luncheons: Continued the annual Tuesdays-in-March luncheon lecture series organized by our Peace and International Issues Committee, focusing on threats to peace over the struggle for water, oil, food. More than 70 people attended each of the five luncheons, with more than 150 different people participating.
- Interfaith Youth Cafes: Continued co-sponsoring at least four Interfaith Youth Cafes per year, where high school youths from diverse denominations and faith gather under adult guidance for conversations on a variety of topics, followed by youth-led summary presentations and prayers. These cafes are inspirational and moving encounters, open to any congregation or to any individual youths or groups who are accompanied by at least one adult.
- Advocacy Manual: Issuing a how-to advocacy manual in 2011 for congregations through our Congregation Action Network. It can be downloaded on our Website, www.interfaithconference.org
- “Alike & Different”: Continued to distribute our “Alike & Different” training manual to teach acceptance and tolerance to children
- Restorative Justice: Continuing being the organizer and convener of a Restorative Justice Committee with representation from the district attorney’s office, Marquette University, Milwaukee Public Schools and several other agencies and organizations.
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.