The 2019 Branching Streams Conference, held at the Siena Center, a Catholic retreat center on the shores of Lake Michigan near Racine, WI, and hosted by the Milwaukee Zen Center, was a great success. It was attended by 40 participants from 20 sanghas and was a wonderful opportunity for participants to join in our formal practice, have meals and conversations with each other, and discuss issues of importance to Branching Streams sanghas and to our wider community and culture.
The theme, a Buddhist View of Justice, was developed by keynote speakers on prison justice (Rev. Tonen O’Connor), restorative justice (Rev. Michaela Bono), and climate justice (Stephanie Kaza) and in several breakout groups. Other breakout groups focused on issues many Branching Streams groups are exploring including how to welcome newcomers, fundraising, ongoing training for sangha leadership including board members, and the paths of lay entrustment and dharma transmission. The conference included a presentation on election sesshins by Rob Lyons, and a reading by Native American poet Kimberly Blaeser. Key points from the breakout groups were captured on newsprint.
We created a zendo in one of the break-out rooms and began our mornings and ended our afternoons with zazen and service. One participant said, “It was very meaningful to sit, bow, and chant with people of my lineage. Being at the conference was a wonderful gift and reawakened in me a deep sense of mind-to-mind transmission and the true meaning of lineage.”
The Milwaukee Zen Center hosted an open house in their lovely center after the Conference and offered tours of their city with many waterways and trees the next day.
Great appreciation to Rev. Reirin Gumbel, guiding teacher of Milwaukee Zen Center, and to the many MZC sangha members who attended and supported the conference in so many ways. Kudos also to the members of the Program Committee that met for eight months prior to the conference to shape the program and share facilitation during the Conference: Rev. Reirin Gumbel, Susan Winecki, and Greg York from Milwaukee Zen Center, Rev. Choro Antonaccio from Chapel Hill Zen Center, Rev. Inryu Ponce-Barger from All Beings Zen Sangha in Washington, D.C. Rev. Shinmon Michael Newton from Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Judson Dunn from Houston Zen Center, and myself.