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Thanksgiving gathering fosters understanding, respect among people of different faiths

Nov. 20, 2009

As the mid-November rain drizzles outside the windows of Brookfield's Cross of Life Lutheran Church, dozens of people pour into the church's brightly lit sanctuary.

When everyone is seated, Katy Wilson of Elm Grove's Community United Methodist Church starts things off, "There are many places we could be tonight."

"But we are here, and gladly so," the crowd responds.

Wilson continues, "There will be many voices here tonight."

"A welcome abundance of backgrounds and beliefs, commitments and values," the crowd answers.

In essence, that's what the night - the fifth annual Thanksgiving gathering of the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network - is all about.

Group fosters understanding

The Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network, or BEGIN, is a group of eight local faith communities that meets monthly to discuss religious issues and learn more about each others' faiths in an effort to foster respectful dialogue between the groups, said the Rev. John Horner-Ibler of Cross of Life.

For the last five years, the group has held an annual interfaith Thanksgiving gathering, which is open to the public and allows area residents to come and hear from priests, rabbis and other religious leaders about their faiths and traditions.

The event hops from church to church, and this year's gathering, which took place Nov. 18, was "the best one yet," Horner-Ibler said.

About 150 people attend the event yearly, and he pegged this year's attendance at a little more than 200. Money and food collected during the event goes to help the Waukesha Food Pantry.

Horner-Ibler said members of his congregation often ask about other faiths, but hearing from religious leaders in person can have more of an impact than reading something in a book or online.

"Of course you can look that up in a book, but it's so much more valuable when you hear that from someone who is of that faith or tradition themselves," he said.

Gathering focuses on unity

The Rev. Suzelle Lynch, minister at Unitarian Universalist Church West, said the event gives people the chance to learn "little things we don't know about each other."

Thanksgiving is the perfect time for an event like this, since it is "the one holiday that doesn't really present any conflict religiously," explained Rabbi Steven Adams of Waukesha's Jewish Emanu-El Congregation.

Plus, it brings people of different faiths together with a message of unity.

"It's just important for people to be reminded that, yes, we're different, but we can respect each other," he said.

That's a sentiment the Rev. Ken Knippel of St. John Vianney Parish echoed after the event, which he attended for the first time this year.

"When you come together, you see the unity that there is among different kinds of religious groups," said Knippel, who took over at St. John Vianney about 18 months ago. "I think the call for unity is important."

AT A GLANCE

Members of the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network:

• Baha'i Faith

• Brookfield Presbyterian Church

• Community United Methodist Church (Elm Grove)

• Congregation Emanu-El (Waukesha)

• Cross of Life Lutheran Church (Brookfield)

• Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Milwaukee)

• Islamic Society of Milwaukee

• Peace United Methodist Church (Brookfield)

• St. John Vianney Catholic Church (Brookfield)

• Unitarian Universalist Church West (Brookfield)

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