Credit: Timothy Hughes

Rev. Gene Ferrara, , Center for Conscious Living

Perhaps the most obvious question for someone who wins an award for bridge-building is some version of: "Why can't we all just get along?"

Gene Ferrara's immediate response is robust laughter, followed by "I don't know."

Then he gives a more metaphysical explanation: The world by nature is polarized, made up of both negative and positive energy. So conflict is natural.

Ferrara took over the Madison Church of Science in September 2008, and last year he moved the church from a hotel room in Monona to 849 E. Washington Ave., in a space the church calls the Center for Conscious Living.

"Madison is such a rich town, spiritually," he says. "I call it a spiritual smorgasbord. There's something for everybody. But there's a lot of what we would call 'silo-ing' up. One of the notions that came with opening the center - because we don't have a doctrine that we preach, except open your heart and love each other - is we could be a place where people could come out of their silos and have a larger community."

How the space has been used surpassed Ferrara's expectations: dance, music, classes, hula-hooping, tai chi, spiritual workshops, yoga, shamans, wizards and "this endless stream of all these different points of view."

Not everything has worked, including some of the things that Ferrara was certain would. But that's okay with him, as long as people come. "The lesson for me is to continue to show up, sweep the floors, and keep the place inviting for people."

- Joe Tarr