2013 Events and Activities

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.