Going Beyond Coexistence

Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee

Cherrie Hanson

A tiny storefront on Vliet Street has been the launchpad for a mighty non-profit organization known as the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. While you might not have noticed its modest presence or were clear about its mission, it has been historically significant to our greater Milwaukee community. And as it prepares to celebrate a monumental 50th anniversary next year under a bold, new executive director, dynamic plans are being developed to reach even more people in Southeastern Wisconsin with the message that religious, cultural, and racial diversity is something to protect and value beyond mere coexistence.

In 1970, nine Christian denominations and the Jewish community came together to form the Interfaith Conference. Today, there are 20 different Christian and non-Christian member judicatories, organizations that oversee a total of more than 500 congregations. They include mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Latter-day Saints, Moravians, Pentecostals, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, and others.

Members of the Interfaith Conference’s board of directors meet monthly. Their mission is threefold: dialogue to build relationships; do programming to counter hate and foster understanding, tolerance, and friendship; and work together on social issues to create a better society for everyone.

The Interfaith Conference, at its core is a humanitarian organization whose motto is, “To uphold the dignity of every person.” One of the flagship programs, Amazing Faith Dinner Dialogues, assembles people of diverse faiths and philosophies — non-religious, spiritual, and the open-minded to share a meal together and speak about their personal, lived experiences. Participants are asked to listen without interrupting. A trained moderator ensures an emotionally safe environment. Dinner Dialogues are held in interesting places and spaces in six counties, from private homes and colleges, to a Sufi School to a pontoon boat. One of the many benefits for dinner goers is the valuable opportunity to meet someone from a different belief system.

In July, after a decade of selfless service, Executive Director Tom Heinen welcomed a new Executive Director, Pardeep Singh Kaleka. You may know Pardeep from the tragic shooting at the Sikh Temple in 2012, his Serve 2 Unite mission to foster genuine community connection, or his recently published book, Gift of Our Wounds, which he co-authored with former white power activist Arno Michaelis.

I recently joined the staff of the Interfaith Conference to produce their 50th Anniversary Concert that will celebrate the diverse faiths and philosophies of its members. My inspiration came from the Global Union concert series that Alverno College used to sponsor, so it seemed fitting to pick Alverno’s Pittman Theater for our location. The date will be Sunday, September 13th, 2020. Consider this your invitation to get to know us as we establish a new music tradition. Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for further updates.

To learn more about Interfaith Conference, visit www.interfaithconference.org or its Facebook pages: Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues, and Interfaith Earth Network.

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