Community Conversations, a monthly gathering that features speakers on a variety of issues that drew increasingly large audiences during its pilot season last year, will resume at noon Sept. 20 at English Lutheran Church at 1509 King St. in La Crosse.

“We try to look at issues of significance across the community with a broader look,” said the Rev. Mark Solyst, pastor of English Lutheran and the driving force behind the conversations under the co-sponsorship of the La Crosse Interfaith Leaders’ Coalition, which Solyst founded.

“People have a tendency when they look at things an inch deep that things are looking pretty well, but looking deeper, you can see the pain,” Solyst said. “We are trying to be authentic and honest and not dodge issues.”

Solyst cited the elimination of the racist system of apartheid in South Africa, which existed from 1948 to 1991, as an example of honest confrontation in which the wrongdoers were required to confess their misdeeds.

While La Crosse obviously does not have issues that are as black and white as apartheid, Community Conversations is intended to raise awareness and promote wider discussion, Solyst said.

Community Conversations will convene at noon the third Wednesday of each month, except for December, with the first session on Sept. 20 being an update on the progress of the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness. Mayor Tim Kabat will introduce speakers Kim Cable, housing and community services director for Couleecap and a member of the collaborative from the outset, and Julie McDermid, the collaborative’s project manager.

“These are open discussions from thoughtful people in our own community discussing issues,” Solyst said. “To be real honest, we are not problem-solvers but trying to raise issues.”

Solyst expressed mild surprise at the popularity of Community Conversations during its inaugural year.

Expecting audiences in the 70 to 90 range, he soon found the crowds growing to 120 and 140, he said.

“I didn’t know that many would be coming. Otherwise, we’d have had more food,” laughing as he recalled volunteers raiding the church’s freezers to provide more lunches — lacking the wherewithal of any historical figures known to multiply loaves and fishes.

Pre-registrations are requested to plan the amount of materials and the number of lunches, for which free-will offerings are welcomed. Registration also can be made online at the website of the La Crosse Interfaith Leaders Coalition or by calling the church at 608-784-9335.

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Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

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