By the Rev. Alan Jones
Pastor, Campbell United Methodist Church
"I never believed that, in my lifetime, I would see Muslims and Christians sitting next to each other, praying together," said one of the Muslim participants in the 9-11 Dinner and Prayer gathering at Campbell United Methodist Church.
The church provided a dinner and invited friends from the Muslim and wider interfaith community to attend. In all, 215 meals were served. The food was all halal, kosher, and vegetarian, so that most religious traditions could share the food.
The event was organized by the Church and Society Committee, chaired by Franklin Bondonno.
At least 10 different Muslim communities were represented. Campbell church members were hosts at each table.
The evening began with words of welcome from me and from Dr. Fatih Saragoz of the Pacifica Institute, a Turkish Muslim community group. Rev. Ann Hayes of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment offered a prayer of thanks for the food, which had been prepared by church members under the direction of Ginny Johnson.
After the soup course, a leader from the Muslim community chanted the call to prayer, and then most of the participants went to the Chapel to share in Muslim prayers. Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others stood shoulder-to-shoulder facing the back of the Chapel, in the direction of Mecca, as all shared together in prayers. A Catholic nun stood next to a Jewish woman, with Muslim women wearing "hijab" next to them on both sides.
While most of the group was in the Chapel praying, some people waited back in the Fellowship Hall. Claudia Slayman, a Campbell UMC member, was hosting one of the tables and found herself interacting with three Muslim children while their parents prayed. Claudia asked them about praying, and they couldn't understand how she didn't know about the five-times-daily discipline of praying in Arabic. They shared the prayers with her and translated the words into English. They also demonstrated the postures of prayer and drew pictures on a sheet of paper to show the correct body position for each of the prayers.
As everyone was eating the main course there were conversations around tables. Muslims were invited to share experiences and concerns that remain following the events of September 11, 2001. There were many conversations around the other two controversial issues which have raised much anti-Muslim sentiment – the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and the threat to burn the Qu’ran in Gainesville, Florida. There was a lot of laughter, and many tears were shared.
The evening concluded with a time of prayer in the Sanctuary of the church, including the mutual sharing of joys and concerns. There was an overwhelming feeling of joy in the room. One person said that it felt like a "glimpse of heaven." Several people shared personal stories of pain and discrimination. Others offered expressions of support and care. There was an extended period of silence for personal reflection – and then prayers for each other, our community, our nation, and our world were offered.
The evening was a transformational event. Lives were changed. Healing happened. Barriers were broken down. Faith was shared and everyone was celebrated.