Following a national Interfaith service on August 16 that kicked off the 2020 Democratic National Convention, members of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee gathered on the roof of Redeemer Lutheran Church on August 17 for a Milwaukee-focused prayer message just prior to the start of the convention.
Because the DNC moved to a virtual format due to the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, Milwaukee’s status as host city for the convention was tragically diminished. However, the situation did allow for some unique opportunities. One of which was when Democrats came together for the Interfaith Prayer of Hope, Gratitude, and Healing with faith leaders from all over the nation. In an effort to amplify many of those messages but use local voices, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee presented a prayer session with almost a dozen participants, representing faiths from area.
Speakers included The Rev. David Simmons-Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, Rector of St. Matthias Episcopal Church; The Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom – First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee; Imam Noman Hussein – Islamic Society of Milwaukee; Rev. Dr. John R. Walton Jr. – American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, Calvary Baptist Church of Milwaukee; Rabbi Moishe Steigmann – The Spark Wisconsin; Rev. Christie Melby-Gibbons – The Moravian Church; Pr. Jonah Overton – Zao MKE Church; Sarvesh Geddam – Hindu Temple of Wisconsin; Rev. Mary Carlin – Presbytery of Milwaukee, Pastor St. Luke’s United Church of Christ; Minister Byron Johnson – Progressive Baptist Church; and Rev. Lisa Bates – Greater Milwaukee Synod (ELCA), Pastor Redeemer Church; with music by Aaron Musser and Cherrie Hanson.
Pardeep Kaleka, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference, led the program with opening remarks that are republished here:
Video: Watch the Interfaith Prayer Service
“In 1970, nine Christian denominations and the Jewish community came together to form the Interfaith Conference. Today, there are 21 different Christian and non-Christian member judicatories, organizations that oversee a total of more than 500 congregations. We include mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’i, Hindus, Latter-day Saints, Moravians, Pentecostals, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, and others.
At our core, we are a humanitarian organization whose motto is, ‘To uphold the dignity of every person.’
This year is our 50th Anniversary of celebrating faith diversity and the love for religious pluralism, and just like so many in Milwaukee, we anticipated a much different 2020.
However, what we anticipate may be completely out of line with God’s will. And to be clear, I’m not saying that NOT celebrating anniversaries, or birthdays, or graduations is somehow God’s will I’m not saying that the division that seems to be so apparent in this world, is God’s will I’m not saying that suffering is God’s will And finally, I’m also not saying that COVID-19 is God’s will
What I am saying it that our God is a creative God, an Omnipresent, Omnipotent, a Guiding and Loving God. While we may see and be concerned about what we have to do in the next hour, or day, or maybe even months, we know that our creator can see well into the future.
2020 represents a numerical clarity. This year we have been forced to humble ourselves and think about the frailness of our existence. We have been forced to be inconvenienced. This inconvenience and isolation has led to much needed reflection and introspection.
We have been asked to prioritize both our value systems and whom we value. Not having access to all, provided us the opportunity to deepen our relationships to our immediate families and circles. And for some, deepen our relationship with ourselves.
Our earth, which has long felt the strain of our industrial aspirations with rising CO2 levels, has been able to breathe once again.
We will eventually come out of this season, and we will all look back at 2020 and all that it entailed for our faith families, our organizations, our city, and ourselves.
However, if we don’t learn from what the creative spirit is trying to teach us in this moment in history, then we as a species will have severed not only our connection to one another but we will have severed our relationship with this earth.
My simple prayer for our city and world is that we trust the vision and the dangers that our creator is attempting to show us, and we come together and invest in a reconnecting with ourselves, with our families, our communities, and this one and only earth that we call home.
Often times we say, Pain without purpose is pointless, however purpose derived from pain is the most powerful. Our God is attempting to fix our gaze not on the present moment but on our future.
If 5, 10, 50, 100 years from now, we, our children, our children’s children look back at 2020 and reflect on this year being a tipping towards the betterment of our city, and a deepening of our connection with each other, and this planet, then this year would indeed have served the spiritual purpose that God is attempting to manifest.
This morning, we are blessed as we are surrounded by Interfaith leaders who understand all of this and understand the time and place that our existence is in. We are honored to be joined by them as we offer Interfaith Invocations of Hope and Healing from our respective faiths.”