Since the 1960s, Chippewa Valley residents have been involved in various interfaith initiatives. Perhaps the longest running example is the Trialogue, a quarterly gathering for interfaith book discussions going on for more than 25 years.
Since January 2016, Eau Claire-area faith leaders have also organized six Interfaith Prayers for Peace events, each hosted by a different local church, inviting people of all faiths to spend time in worship together. The Leader-Telegram and local news channels have covered these services, which have been well attended — at times with standing room only.
The purpose of the Interfaith Prayers for Peace initiative, launched by Bob Lesniewski, is to go beyond mere dialogue on the similarities and differences between various religions, denominations and faith practices. Instead we come together to contemplate our relationship with the Almighty by listening to readings from the Torah, the Bible, the Quran and the scriptures of other world religions, including Buddhism, the Baha’i faith and Hinduism. Congregants celebrate with inspirational messages of peace, hope and love as well as music, meditation and supplication, while also providing background and context so we can learn from each other. The Quran says, “O mankind! (God) ... made you into nations and tribes (so) that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other)” (49:13, Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation).
The Interfaith Prayers for Peace initiative is an expression of love, inclusion and caring for our entire community. In the Bible, Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Eau Claire is a predominately Christian community reflecting only some of the hundreds of denominations in the United States. When we all come together as multi-denominational Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’is, and other neighbors and friends, we are all honoring our teachings.
We dare say that the Chippewa Valley’s Interfaith Prayers for Peace are unique and may be hard to come by anywhere else in our country. Thus, when speakers are invited to our area bringing a message that could undermine local interfaith collaboration efforts and potentially incite individuals to spread misinformation or fuel misconceptions about a particular religion, it reflects poorly on our community and undermines our efforts to foster interfaith understanding, peace and security.
Over the years, our interfaith cooperation has created positive and essential partnerships in reducing fear of one another, building stronger friendships, creating deeper understanding and working toward the shared mission of many faith traditions: to live in peace and harmony with one another and to provide for the welfare of the poor, oppressed, marginalized and suffering.
In addition to the Interfaith Prayer Service, the outgrowths of our willingness to work together have included free medical clinics; the Chippewa Valley Street Ministry; the formation of JONAH (Joining Our Neighbors Advancing Hope), whose programs include Treatment Instead of Prison and CVEXPO (Chippewa Valley Ex-Prisoners Organizing); the living wage ordinance in Eau Claire County; environmental sustainability; and more.
Those involved in the Interfaith Prayers for Peace invite people of all faiths, perspectives and beliefs to join us at the next Interfaith Prayer Service at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, at First Presbyterian Church, 2112 Rudolph Road. Together we can strengthen our community and make it a more just, prosperous and secure environment for everyone.
Tamer Abdelaziz, Ali Abootalebi, Mahmoud Ahmed, Mohammad Alasagheirin, Michael Baker, Jen Barnet, Christine Emerson, Suzon Gordon, Anne Halloin, Mark Judkins Helpsmeet, David Huber, Naghma Hussein, Greg Kaufmann, Thomas Krieg, Julianne Lepp, Bob Lesniewski, Shafat Mubin, Ruth Peterson, Sadie Polttila, Kathryn Reid Walker, Amy Renshaw, Curt Rohland, Lori Ruge-Jones, John Samuelson, Paul Savides, John Schultz, Sarah Semmler-Smith, Dean Simpson, Sahar Taman, Jennifer Templin, Christine Warloski, Mike Wollman and Aaron Zook.