Events and Activities in 2017
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.