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It was 1994 when I found myself completely mesmerized by the insightful and humbling thesis of Matthew Fox in his book, “The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time.” The entire text was an invitation, a roadmap, an urgent plea to reform and reclaim the goodness of our day-to-day work, and our relationship to it.
Mr. Fox wrote: “We dare not miss the truly radical and creative moment in which we live—one in which we are being asked to redefine work itself.”
That “creative moment” was named 28 years ago. Not many days have passed where I do not think about what I have attempted 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 of serving Milwaukee as a Lutheran minister, I have been consecrated with countless opportunities to imagine a better Milwaukee — healthier, safer, more joyful. I have also been entrusted with the blessed burden of birthing (and rebirthing) spaces to cultivate the overflowing aspirations, and tender ambitions, of children, families, businesses and neighborhoods in this city.
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 the members of Capitol Drive Lutheran Church decided their time as a congregation is coming to an end, they are gifting the property at 5305 W. Capitol Drive to expand on the sacred, transformative and visionary work The Table has already been bringing to life in Milwaukee.
You may know that work as Alice’s Garden Urban Farm, where the nurturing of food and families, health and hope takes on many forms. Maybe you are familiar with the Kujichagulia Producers Cooperative, located inside of the Sherman Phoenix, at 3536 W. Fond du Lac Avenue? The Table launched the store in November of 2020 to broaden our support of the local businesses that are vendors at the Alice’s Garden Artisan & Farmers Markets. Thirty entrepreneurs now have merchandise on our store shelves. I believe both the farm and the retail space have contributed to upholding, and regenerating, meaningful and creative work in Milwaukee.
Yet, our answering the call to serve this city is still in its infancy phase.
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 wholeness. My personal understanding of vocation is that space of living and working where what you are passionate about, and good at doing, merges with what the world needs, and you are compensated for such work. Vocation is where your calling intersects with a way for you to make a dignified living.
Offering a space centered on vocation is solid, life-supporting ministry for The Table.
Indeed, The Table will gather for worship, in our special way, around a meal, sharing songs, scripture, 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 for celebrating and grieving. The building will be sanctuary, where we hold all of living in hallowed balance. It will also house the year-round offices of Alice’s Garden Urban Farm, as well as the Milwaukee hub for Rural Urban FLOW.
There is more.
Artistic exploration and expression is a pathway to engaging so much of the inner work Milwaukee cries out for, in so much of its brokenness. Mystic Phoenix Art, owned by CaBeatrice Hart, will offer an array of art classes and experiences for the community. The Table is also carving out a fiber arts classroom at the center. We are restless as we anticipate honoring and teaching some of the arts that were treasured by our communities, historically, and supported the homes and livelihoods of so many of our ancestors.
Full Circle Healing Farm, a family-run farm, healing center and apothecary guided by Martice and Amy Scales, also is eager to help facilitate wellness at the vocational 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 programming and more. They farm at the Fondy Farm, located at the Mequon Nature Preserve. Yoga FloWellness has begun operating in the space, led by Cheryl Robertson. She has been leading Thursday evening yoga classes at Alice’s Garden Urban Farm throughout the past two growing seasons.
Blake and Anomalous Campbell, partners in life and in the kitchen, have relocated Anomaly Catering to The Table Vocational Center. In addition to continuing to make our taste buds happy with their delicious meals, they will be the directors of culinary operations, managing the new commercial kitchen. The kitchen will house four businesses of the Kujichagulia Producers Cooperative. The Campbells are also excited about their new gastronomy arts studio, gastronomy education program for children and youth they are bringing to life in the community. Anomaly Catering will also serve as our “in-house” caterer for many of The Table’s special events and programs.
The goodness continues.
A Miracle Happened Wellness and Birth Services, operated by registered nurse and birth doula Vanessa D. Johnson, has found a home right in the heart of the city. Along with offering expecting families prenatal, continuous birth and postpartum care, doula training courses will also be offered for those interested in becoming birth workers, especially with the intent to serve women who are at risk for high infant and maternal mortality outcomes.
Over the past 24 years, I have called myself a cultural and spiritual midwife, placed in the world to help people birth all of the goodness already inside them. The vocational center will provide a space for me to once again offer a variety of rites of passage courses and to strengthen our Seed, Soil and Soul project. Parenting circles will return to our ministry. In my new office, I will welcome those who continue to seek my spiritual direction services. At The Table Vocational Center, we will create a diverse, community council of elders. There will be conferences, summits, retreats, coursework to not just mend to the wounds of this city, but to help our children and families thrive.
In August of 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 relationships with, and service to, people in urban areas. The goals were “transformed lives, transformed congregations and transformed communities.” This work in Milwaukee is far from complete. Other cities, countries, ministries continue to seek my work. I have not left this city. I have chosen to be in Milwaukee for good. For now. For as long as my vocation insists I remain.
For more information
The Table Vocational Center, 5305 W. Capitol Drive, is hosting an open house from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, May 13.
Venice Williams is director of Alice’s Garden and The Table. She is also a lay minister, teacher, healer and facilitator.