As one of Minnesota's most well-known religious figures, the Rev. Peg Chemberlin has worked with leaders as diverse as former President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Gov. Jesse Ventura.
The CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches has built collaborations among Christians, Jews, Muslims and others across the state. And in times of crisis — from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge — her council orchestrated the faith-based events that helped Minnesotans grieve and go on.
After 22 years of leading the council, Chemberlin retired Tuesday, leaving as a legacy one of the largest and most engaged such groups in the nation.
"I think in Minnesota, the faith community values itself as a significant community actor," said Chemberlin, reflecting on how the state's strong civic traditions have been an ideal match for her mission.
"Faith is not just a private matter here," she said. "It responds to the needs of society."
The Minnesota Council of Churches is an organization of 25 Protestant denominations that works with other faiths on religious and social issues. It also oversees such projects as a refugee resettlement program, Ramadan open houses for non-Muslims, and a "respectful conversation" project that helps communities address divisive issues.
The council's activism and scope long ago caught the attention of the National Council of Churches, where Chemberlin served as president in 2009.
"The Minnesota council is one of the most active and complex in the country," said Jim Winkler, president of the National Council. "It's a full-scale operation."
"What I always appreciate was [that Chemberlin] was a state ecumenical director who was aware of the state, national and international scene," he added. "Everyone knew she was aware of the big picture."
That big picture perspective was evident at Chemberlin's retirement party Tuesday evening, where civic and religious leaders praised her work.
On hand were dozens of religious leaders, as well as St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., delivered a video message.
Rybak recalled his conversations with Chemberlin after 9/11, telling her that she "put the wind back in my sails."
Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, said that Chemberlin was "a dynamic force in the growing interfaith movement in the state."
"Minnesota is a national leader in interfaith issues," Zaman said. "And she's a big reason for it."
Chemberlin said she was just doing her job, which included running a $4 million organization with 44 employees and rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Dalai Lama and other global spiritual leaders.
• As a member of Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Chemberlin shared spiritual moments with the president and helped shape a report recommending how the government could work with faith-based groups.
• Before Oprah Winfrey launched her 2015 documentary series "Belief," Chemberlin was among the guests invited to her Santa Monica estate for a preview, dinner and deep religious discussion with the celebrity icon.
• After Jesse Ventura told Playboy magazine in 1999 that organized religion was for "weak-minded people," Chemberlin penned a "Dear Governor" letter and offered to tell him about "some good things about religion in Minnesota." A group of religious leaders ultimately met with Ventura, she said. The meeting, she said, "went well."
As she looks to the future, Chemberlin's thoughts go back to the "Good News" board she often used in council staff meetings. Employees would share the good news on their projects, she said, whether it be finding an apartment for a refugee or hosting an event that drew a good turnout.
Keeping good news in mind, and building relationships to achieve goals, will remain part of the next chapter of her life, she said. It also will include spending time with a new grandchild, "decompressing" and possibly consulting with national faith groups.
"Whatever I do, it will be for the common good," she said.