The Committee for Interfaith Understanding (CIU) – a program of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee – is Southeastern Wisconsin’s largest and oldest inter-religious program conducting educational programs and bringing people together from a wide array of faith traditions to build understanding and friendship.
Recognizing and respecting cultural and spiritual diversity among all people, the mission of the Committee for Interfaith Understanding is threefold:
We come together offering the richness of each unique heritage to our community and the world around us.
Representatives of various religious traditions meet as a committee to dialogue, plan events and discuss issues. These include Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Islamic Sufi, Jewish, Sikh and other traditions.
The Interfaith Conference's highly successful Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues Program is assisted by this committee and is partially listed in yearly highlights below. That program is detailed on other pages of this website.
The committee and its members also serve as resources to many congregations and organizations seeking information about various faith traditions.
Highlights of Committee for Interfaith Relations activities are now listed on our Year in Review pages
May 21, 2020 - Our third zoomcast series, "Deepening our Faith Through the Pandemic" features a conversation with Unitarian Universalist community minister, and long time Interfaith Conference committee member, Rev. Dr. Bobbie Groth and Buddhist Rodney Sanchez who studies and practices Buddhist teachings, is active in the Milwaukee Interfaith community, and on the Committee for Interfaith Understanding of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. His Sangha practice, hosted with his wife Bethany takes place at the Tender Shoot of Joy Dharma Center in Milwaukee.
In this zoomcast, hosted by Interfaith Conference's Executive Director, Pardeep Singh Kaleka, we explore the role of suffering and healing within Buddhism and the balance between our beliefs and putting it into action for the Unitarian community. Each guest shares their personal life experiences and how they have helped others during this time of Covid-19.
Deepening Our Faith Zoomcast 5/21/2020
May 6, 2020 - On this Facebook webinar called, "Deepening Our Faith Through the Pandemic" we featured a discussion with The Reverend Dr. John Richard Walton, Jr. of American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin and Janan Najeeb, President of Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition. We explored the need for communities to continually reflect and grow during the pandemic and discuss the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
Deepening Our Faith Zoomcast 5/6/2020
April 6, 2020 - Our kickoff facebook zoomcast series, "Deepening Our Faith Through the Pandemic" explores the effects of COVID-19 are taking an emotional, physical and spiritual toll on us all and how faith leaders are helping our communities navigate these challenging times. Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee's Executive Director, Pardeep Singh Kaleka invited Imam Noman Hussain from the Islamic Society of Wisconsin, Rabbi Noah Chertkoff from Congregation Shalom Milwaukee, and Rev. Dr. Lisa Bates-Froiland from Redeemer Lutheran Church - Milwaukee to discuss how they are staying in touch with their communities and their plans to handle observances of holy days safely. Clergy are leading cooperative worship and study through Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook Live throughout the week.
Deepening Our Faith Zoomcast 4/6/2020
January 26, 2020 - "Interfaith Music and Fest for Peace and Unity” at Brown Deer United Methodist Church, 5736 W.Brown Deer Road, Brown Deer, WI. A coat drive donation event with music from various faith traditions. Soup, bread and pastries were served while people mingled and listen to performers in the church. Musicians included Val Sigal, Cherrie Hanson, Jane Wester, Chris Deily, Mary Stryck, Rae Ellen Sena, Kay Reppen, Anne Van Deussen, Cantor Karen Berman of Congregation Shalom, and David Noll. Planning Committee included Pastor Ellen Rasmussen, Joe Masterson, Heather Forbes, Nooshin Nekooei, Hamid Dehbod, Jane Wester, David Noll and Jackie Haessly. Event was co-sponsored by Brown Deer Methodist Church and Northern Milwaukee County Interfaith Group.
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
July 17, 2019 - Sacred performing arts event to celebrate 2020 anniversary year. A subcommittee is created to plan the concert for next year. Committee included Cherrie Hanson, Pardeep Kaleka, Janan Najeeb, Nooshin Nekooei, Dan Di Domizio, Donna Neubauer, Katie Heinen, Rhonda Hill. (The concert was scheduled for September 13th, 2020 at Alverno College. Due to Covid-19 this any many IFCGM events were cancelled or post-poned.)
CIU Committee welcomes new member, Cherrie Hanson
May 13, 2019 - Regarding hate group that held “Midwest National Security Conference” in Waukesha at the Waukesha County Expo Center from May 10-11, 2019
Janan Najeeb's initial action was to inform a variety of people and organizations that this group was advertising this conference. Letters, emails, and telephone calls were sent/made to the offices of the Waukesha mayor and Waukesha County executive. The general response was that freedom-of-speech rights prevented a public venue from cancelling the event.
We learned later that the Waukesha County and Milwaukee County Republican Parties helped promote the event.
The tactic that was agreed upon prior to the event was to put pressure on public officials but to avoid organizing a demonstration or holding a news conference because that would give the group a public platform to spread their hateful information and could help them boost attendance. A member of the Interfaith Conference Cabinet and others who drove past the Expo Center during the event counted only 30 cars in the parking lot, which probably included Expo Center staffs’ cars.
A statement entitled, "Stand Against Hate in Waukesha County" was issued by Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.
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.
Our Committee for Interfaith Understanding and staff met a number of times with staff of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in 2016 to plan a collaboration whereby intercultural dinner dialogues for the public will be held each Monday night in Rep rehearsal halls during its production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Disgraced" in January and February 2017. About 400 participants are expected. Registration began in late 2016.
December, year-end Amazing Faiths Overview -- We held more than 20 Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues in 2016, most coordinated by our then Amazing Faiths program director, Jenni Reinke. This included two for students in the UWM Student Union and one for Christian and Muslim older adults at the Wilson Park Senior Center. Because of the commitment to conduct intercultural dinner dialogues with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in January and February 2017, our regular Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues will gradually begin for 2017 in March and April.
Dec. 6, 2017 -- As part of our collaboration with Rockwell Automation and its Faith Friendly and Allies interfaith employee resource group, we helped arrange for Tonen O'Connor, resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center, to give a lunchtime presentation on Buddhism for 50 or more employees. She is a longtime member of our Committee for Interfaith Understanding, formerly named the Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations (MAIR). 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.
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 (MMWC). 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. Janan Najeeb, a founder and president of the MMWC, is a longtime member of our Committee for Interfaith Understanding, formerly named the Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations (MAIR).
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.
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. 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. 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,
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 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.
April 27, 2016 -- An energized crowd of 240 people from Mequon and other parts of the metro area listened, asked questions and applauded vigorously at an interfaith event on the evening of April 27 that was titled "Exploring Islam: Addressing Difficult Questions. An interreligious conversation from Muslim, Christian and Jewish perspectives." Many lingered for refreshments and conversation aftewards.
Held at Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Mequon, the event was co-planned and co-sponsored by the church and the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee's Committee for Interfaith Understanding (CIU). The panelists were the Rev. Scott Hauser, Crossroads' senior pastor; Janan Najeeb, a founding member and president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition; and Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shalom in Fox Point, the largest Jewish congregation in the Milwaukee area.
This was a follow-up to a similar event on Islam that the Interfaith Conference co-organized in February with the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network (BEGIN). For that event, we rented the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove and filled its 300 seats to capacity. Some latecomers had to be turned away.
These events are part of our continuing effort to counter hate, fear, prejudice and anxiety with interfaith education and personal contact that leads to understanding, tolerance and friendship.
March 31, 2016 -- Jenni Reinke, director of our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues Program, collaborated with the Faith-Friendly & Allies Employee Resource Group at Rockwell Automation to hold a workplace interfaith dialogue for approximately 50 employees during the lunch hour. The dialogue was based on the Amazing Faiths model and adapted for the corporate setting. It was the first in a series of four interfaith dialogues the Interfaith Conference and Rockwell will be holding this year. Through this collaboration, the Interfaith Conference is developing a workplace interfaith dialogue model that can be used by other corporations and organizations. Jenni trained Rockwell employee resource group leaders to serve as moderators. To supplement them, she and Executive Director Tom Heinen also moderated, and she also brought in experienced Amazing Faiths volunteer moderator Marge Krupp.
March 22, 2016 -- 50 area employees of the Interfaith Older Adults Programs participated in an interfaith/intercultural training session arranged by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee in the Washington Park Senior Center. Dr. Michael Donahou, assistant professor of religious studies at Cardinal Stritch University, gave an egaging and informative presenation on Islam. He will be returning to focus on other faiths in one or more subsequent sessions. Interfaith Conference Executive Director Tom Heinen, who asked Donahou to do the presentation, spoke briefly about the Conference's history and current programs. People often confuse the two organizations because we both have "Interfaith" in our name. Actually, the older adults program started from a task force that the Interfaith Conference started in the early 1970s but has been independent ever since. The Interfaith Conference office fields misdirected calls every week from people trying to reach the older adults program, and we direct the callers to the correct telephone number.
March 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 10, 2016 -- Ten people participated in an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue hosted by the Rev. Christie and David Melby-Gibbons in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood. David and the Rev. Melby-Gibbons, a minister of the Moravian Church Northern Province (a Protestant denomination), operate the Tricklebee Cafe at 4424 W. North Ave. It is an elegant, faith-based, pay-what-you-can cafe. It opened in December of 2016.
Feb. 28, 2016 -- Eight people participated in an Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue hosted by Mayank Mital, a Hindu, in Greendale.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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."
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, 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. 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. 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."
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.
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.
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
Feb. 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.
Feb. 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.
Jan. 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 presenations 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:
Dec. 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.
Nov. 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.
Aug. 4, 2014 - Two Interfaith Conference representatives were among six panelists who participated in an online video discussion from the studios of Milwaukee Public Television following MPTV's broadcast of a documentary video, "The Sikh Temple Shootings: Waking in Oak Creek....A community rocked by hate is awakened and transformed," on the eve of the second anniversary of the shootings. Representing IFCGM in the discussion were Executive Director Tom Heinen and the Rev. Nancy Lanman, a United Methodist deacon who serves on the Interfaith Conference Cabinet (our board of directors). She has extensive experience moderating our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues, including one in Oak Creek co-hosted by Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, who was one of the MPTV panelists for this online discussion.
Aug. 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. (For news coverage of the prayer service, see: In the Media)
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.
April 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.
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. 6, 2014 – Our Committee for Interfaith Understanding collaborates with our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogue Committee in our highly successful dinner dialogue project. 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 22, 2013 – Several Interfaith Conference representatives, including some participants in our CIU Committee, 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.
Jan. 15, 2013 – The Committee for Interfaith Understanding collaborates with our Amazing Faiths Committee in organizing our Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues. The first dinner dialogue of 2013 was held on Jan. 15 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.)
In August and September of 2012, the committee -- then still known by its longtime name of MAIR (Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations) and other Interfaith Conference members responded in a variety of ways to the tragic slayings of six people and the wounding of four others by a lone gunman at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.
The Interfaith Conference issued a statement of condolence and support for the Sikh community. Faith leaders and MAIR participants attended prayer vigils and a community wake. The Interfaith Conference collected $5,558 in donations for the victims and invited the public to post prayers and expressions of concern on its website.
On September 24, 2012, MAIR organized a metro-area event titled “Know Your Neighbors: Exploring Our Diverse Faiths” that drew a diverse, overflow crowd of more than 200 people to Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church for keynote presentations on the Sikh faith and local history by Sikh leaders, followed by shorter presentations by representatives of Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist traditions. Many people remained afterward to socialize and to share ethnic snacks. (The event was hosted by Pastor Paul Armstrong of the Oak Creek church and moderated by Tonen O’Connor, MAIR chair and resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center. Presenters included: Captain Kanwarjit S. Bajwa, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin chairman; Mr. Inderjit S. Dhillon, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin secretary; Mr. Pardeep S. Kaleka, son of the slain president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin; Mr. Ahmed Quereshi, Islamic Society of Milwaukee president; Rabbi Moishe Steigmann of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School; Dr. Darshan Pandya of the Hindu Temp[e of Wisconsin; and Hoko Karnegis of the Milwaukee Zen Center.)
On June 10, 2012, MAIR and the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin organized a metro-area event titled “Interreligious Dialogue: A Friendship” that drew more than 220 people to the temple in Pewaukee for a talk by Dr. Anantanand Rambachan of Saint Olaf College and responses by panelists representing Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Dr. Rambachan structured his talk around the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Gandhi’s closest friend and collaborator, Anglican priest Charles F. Andrews. A dinner of Indian food prepared by temple volunteers followed. (The event was moderated by Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin. Panelists included: Rabbi Noah Chertkoff of Congregation Shalom, Fox Point; Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, Islamic Society of Milwaukee religious director; Ms. Judith Longdin, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Concerns, Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and Swamini Svatmavidyananda, director-preceptor of Arsha Vijnana Gurukulam, a Hindu spiritual organization in the Washington, D.C., area. )
On September 11, 2011 – the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – nine representatives of MAIR and the Interfaith Conference provided an opening invocation, individual reflections and a jointly recited prayer for the future at a Bel Canto Chorus/Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra concert entitled “United We Stand.” The concert program, which honored first responders, was held on an outdoor stage in front of a large audience in Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park. It featured performances of Mozart’s Requiem and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The entire program was broadcast statewide by Milwaukee Public Television.
On June 27, 2010, MAIR and the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin organized a metro-area event entitled “Celebrating Our Interfaith Community” at the temple in Pewaukee. The event, which explained faith traditions and spiritual practices, was attended by more than 230 people from throughout the area. It featured a keynote talk by Swami Tyagananda, the Hindu chaplain at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Panelists and the faith traditions they spoke about included: Dr. Mohan-Singh Dhariwal, Sikhism; Mr. Kamal Shah, Jainism; Mr. Jim Beasley, Baha’i faith; Mr. Roland Rutkowski, Nichiren Buddhism; Dr. Tom Pilarzyk, Hatha Yoga; Rabbi Steve Adams, Judaism; Rev. Tonen O’Connor, Buddhist traditions; Rev. Mary Ann Neevel, Christianity. Dr. Walter Neevel, associate professor emeritus of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, gave a response. A dinner of Indian food prepared by temple volunteers followed.
In May 2008 we had a panel discussion at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Milwaukee's east side entitled "Religious Perspectives and Practices: Birth and Death." Panelists were from Christian (Rev. Jean Dow, Immanuel Presbyterian Church), Jewish (Rabbi Roxanne Shapiro, Congregation Shalom), Baha’i (Jerry Johnson, Baha’i Society of Milwaukee), Muslim (Ahmed Quereshi, Islamic Society of Milwaukee) and Buddhist (Mike Vater, Milwaukee Shambhala Center) traditions. This occasional series will explore the beliefs and practices of different faith traditions around major life events such as birth, marriage, and death
In 2007 we teamed up with the Peace and International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference to present a luncheon/lecture series focusing on "Violence: Faith Perspectives." We heard from speakers of four religious traditions: Isa Sadlon, Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, Bishop Paul Stumme-Diers of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, Congregation Shalom, and Rev. Tonen O'Connor, resident priest of the Milwaukee Zen Center.
The May 2006 Lecture Luncheon series was entitled "Seeking the Common Good," which explored the concept of the common good, hopefully setting the stage for a dialogue that will help us to look at the theological and moral impulses that lead us to desire the common good. We had speakers from the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.
In May 2005 our "Tuesdays in May" Luncheon/Lecture series was entitled: "Finding Our Place through Faith," which addressed how faith influences our major life choices and ethical decisions. Speakers included Unitarian Bob Chernow, Buddhist Peter Neuwald, and Roman Catholic E. Michael McCann.
In May 2004 the series was titled "Traditions and Treasures of Living Faiths," with presentations from Rabbi Shlomo Levin of the Lake Park Synagogue on Judaism: an Orthodox perspective; Dr. Trinette V. McCray speaking from the American Baptist perspective, Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj of Hindu Temple of Wisconsin who spoke about Hinduism, and Ahmed Quereshi of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, who spoke about Islam.
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