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It was 1994 when I found myself completely mesmerized by Matthew Fox’s insightful and humbling thesis in his book, “The Reinvention of Work: A new vision of livelihoods for our time. The whole text was an invitation, a roadmap, an urgent call to reform and reclaim the good of our daily work, and our relationship to it.
Mr. Fox wrote: “We dare not miss the truly radical and creative moment in which we live, when we are being asked to redefine work itself.
This “creative moment” was named 28 years ago. Few days have passed without me thinking about what I tried to embody and model from what the pages of “The reinvention of work” and my deep compassion for humanity have taught me.
In my 32.5 years serving Milwaukee as a Lutheran minister, I have been dedicated with countless opportunities to imagine a better Milwaukee – healthier, safer, happier. I have also been entrusted with the blessed burden of birthing (and rebirthing) spaces to nurture the overflowing aspirations and tender ambitions of this city’s children, families, businesses and neighborhoods.
Such another opportunity has evolved for me and The Table, the ministry where I serve through the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA. As members of Capitol Drive Lutheran Church have decided their time as a congregation is coming to an end, they are offering the property at 5305 W. Capitol Drive to expand on the sacred, transformative and visionary work The Table has already brought Milwaukee to life.
You may know this work as Alice’s Garden Urban Farm, where nurturing food and families, health and hope takes many forms. Maybe you know the Kujichagulia growers cooperative, located inside the Sherman Phoenix at 3536 W. Fond du Lac Avenue? The Table launched the store in November 2020 to expand our support for local businesses selling at Alice’s Garden artisan and farmer’s markets. Some thirty entrepreneurs now have merchandise on our store shelves. I believe the farm and retail space have helped sustain and regenerate meaningful and creative work in Milwaukee.
Yet our response to the call to serve this city is still in its infancy.
At 5305 W. Capitol Drive, we are launching The Table Vocational Center. It will focus on both the inner work and the outer work humanity needs to be restored to its fullness. My personal understanding of vocation is that living and working space where what you are passionate about and what you do well merges with what the world needs, and you get paid for such work. Vocation is where your vocation intersects with a means for you to earn a worthy living.
Providing a vocation centered space is a strong and vital ministry for The Table.
Indeed, La Table will meet for worship, in our particular way, around a meal, sharing songs, writing, our life journeys and the communion meal. All are invited to join us. There will be baptisms, Bible studies, weddings. It will be a space for familiar and innovative community gatherings to celebrate and mourn. The building will be a sanctuary, where we will hold all living things in sacred balance. It will also house the year-round offices of Alice’s Garden Urban Farm, as well as the Milwaukee Center for Rural Urban FLOW.
There is more.
Artistic exploration and expression is a pathway to engaging much of the inner work that Milwaukee clamors for, in much of its breakdown. Mystic Phoenix Art, owned by CaBeatrice Hart, will offer a range of art classes and experiences to the community. The Table is also creating a fiber arts classroom in the center. We are restless as we plan to honor and teach some of the arts that have been cherished by our communities, historically, and that have sustained the homes and livelihoods of so many of our ancestors.
Full Circle Healing Farm, a family farm, healing center and apothecary guided by Martice and Amy Scales, is also keen to help facilitate wellness at the vocational training center. They are “passionate about creating a culture of healing in our broken world,” as their website proclaims. They will offer counseling, Reike, yoga, food justice programs and more. They cultivate at the Fondy farm, located in the Mequon nature reserve. Yoga FloWellness began operating in the space, led by Cheryl Robertson. She has led Thursday night yoga classes at Alice’s Garden Urban Farm for the past two growing seasons.
Blake and Anomalous Campbell, partners in life and in the kitchen, have moved Anomaly Catering to the Table Vocational Center. In addition to continuing to delight our taste buds with their delicious meals, they will be the directors of culinary operations, managing the new commercial kitchen. The kitchen will house four enterprises of the Kujichagulia producers’ cooperative. The Campbells are also excited about their new Food Arts Studio, a food education program for children and youth that they are bringing to life in the community. Anomaly Catering will also serve as the “in-house” caterer for many of The Table’s special events and programs.
The kindness continues.
A Miracle Has Happened Wellness and Birthing Services, run by registered nurse and birth doula Vanessa D. Johnson, has found a home right in the heart of the city. In addition to providing future families with prenatal, ongoing childbirth and postpartum care, doula training courses will also be offered to those interested in becoming birth attendants, particularly with the aim of serving at-risk women. high infant and maternal mortality.
For the past 24 years, I have called myself a cultural and spiritual midwife, placed in the world to help people bring forth all the goodness already within them. The Vocational Training Center will provide space for me to again offer a variety of rites of passage courses and to strengthen our Seed, Soil and Soul project. Parent circles will return to our ministry. In my new office, I will welcome those who continue to seek my spiritual guidance services. At the Table Vocational Center, we will create a diverse community council of elders. There will be conferences, summits, retreats, courses not only to mend the wounds of this city, but to help our children and families thrive.
In August 1997, the ELCA adopted a detailed initiative called “In The City For Good”. The intent of the action was for the whole church to take responsibility for strengthening our relationship with and serving the people of urban areas. The goals were “transformed lives, transformed congregations and transformed communities”. This work in Milwaukee is far from over. Other cities, countries, ministries continue to request my work. I haven’t left this town. I chose to be in Milwaukee for real. For the time being. As long as my vocation insists, I stay.
For more information
The Table Vocational Center, 5305 W. Capitol Drive, is holding an open house from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, May 13.
Venice Williams is the director of Alice’s Garden and The Table. She is also a lay minister, teacher, healer and facilitator.