By Lara Bockenstedt
Leaders in the interfaith prayer service group, as well as Joining Our Neighbors Advancing Hope (JONAH) and city councilman Andrew Werthmann have been organizing events intended to offer support following the recent Presidential election and series of executive orders.
The first event, “Eau Claire Coming Together,” was a candlelit event at Phoenix Park. Rev. Julianne Lepp of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation led the crowd through songs such as “This Little Light of Mine” and “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.”
Later, an event followed in response to executive orders initiating a travel ban. During the evening of February 1st, Werthmann, Lepp and JONAH organizer Brandon Buchanan held an Eau Claire “Welcoming City Proclamation.” It was a gesture meant to enact hospitality for local immigrants and refugees.
“We have to bridge some of the gaps that are there in the community,” Werthmann said. “The idea affirms our city as being welcoming and bringing open. To pursue that, we will have to do some more resolutions.”
Continuing the series of events, a peaceful picket was held Friday afternoon at the Altoona Mosque. Around 50 people from Eau Claire’s interfaith prayer service group participated; a dozen held signs and members of a variety of congregations participated in conversation.
Laughter and questions about one another’s religions ensued as the varying faith members mingled around the corner of 2nd St. West and Bartlett Avenue.
Prayer service member Bob Lesniewski coordinated the event, and addressed the crowd. Many cupped hands over their eyes under the unusual February sun to listen to him speak.
“Your presence is a wonderful, wonderful gift as to living your values,” Lesniewski said.
He thanked the crowd for coming and for “showing up” amid political controversy.
Imam Tamer Abdelaziz then spoke to the group . “It’s just breathtaking to see this,” he said of the interfaith attendees. “Thank you for that.” He then invited inside those who wished to observe the prayer service. Most of the interfaith group did so, women donning scarves before entering the mosque.
Lepp said the events were a response to the change in presidency and the rhetoric of President Trump’s campaign. “There’s been a lot of fear and pastoral care needs from people who are afraid,” she said. “The role of congregations is not to tell people how to vote, it’s a place to show our support.”
Faith communities become engaged with their values, Lepp said, and this is further exercised throughout their civic life.