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United Methodists Bond with Muslim Neighbors

In 2010, tensions were growing in the U.S. in places with growing Muslim populations. A pastor in Florida was threatening to burn Qurans and protesters were fighting the construction of mosques in some communities. Despite these stories in national headlines, two faith communities near Memphis, Tennessee decided to give love a chance and their friendship lasts to this day.

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(Locator: Cordova, Tennessee)

Hana Saleh: "You don't feel like a stranger in this country when you see that other people have a good heart."

Elaine Koger and Hana Saleh met in 2010.

Elaine Koger: "We go to each other's houses. We spend time outside of these events and have just an amazing friendship. It's wonderful."

These friends are part of two faith communities determined to build bridges between Christians and Muslims.

Members of Heartsong United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee admit that when word got out that a mosque might be built next door, the initial reaction was fear.

The Rev. Steve Stone, former pastor, Heartsong United Methodist Church: "Wow that kind of made my stomach tighten up a little bit because I didn't know any Muslims."

The Rev. Chris Eaves, Heartsong United Methodist Church: "For us, we had a choice. We could either be against them. We could be indifferent and cold to them, or we could welcome them to the neighborhood."

Mark Sharpe, Heartsong United Methodist Church: "Didn't want to do it at all. Matter of fact, I was thinking seriously about leaving the church."

Former Heartsong pastor Steve Stone says the story of the Good Samaritan helped the congregation cross the road.

The Rev. Steve Stone: "So we put up a sign that said, 'Heartsong welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood.'"                                                         

Beth Ewing, Heartsong United Methodist Church: "They were bringing an imam. As they were driving down the road, they saw the sign. They stopped. They were blown away with the fact that we were welcoming them."

While the mosque was under construction, Heartsong opened as a place for daily prayers during the month of Ramadan. 

(Dr. Bashar Shala, Memphis Islamic Center speaks at podium) "…inviting the Muslim congregation into this hall, right here (points) to pray Ramadan."

The Rev. Steve Stone: "At the end of it, their resident scholar called me up in front of everybody and said to the Muslim congregation, 'This is what a Jesus follower is. This is a Christian. I know you have heard bad things about Christians.' At the end of that night, we all cried because we had really built some great bonds."

Elaine Koger: "Our churches just wanted to do things together. We started doing the Thanksgiving dinners and we wanted to do more things together to help the community."

Hana Saleh, Memphis Islamic Center: "In Arabic we say, 'If you share bread with each other, like this friend becomes your brother. Sharing a bread, this is my brother."

Heartsong United Methodist and the Memphis Islamic Center get together for picnics and host a blood drive every year on 9/11.

In 2017, Rev. Stone and Dr. Bashar Shala were honored alongside Dan Rather and Harry Belafonte, receiving the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award for Freedom of Worship.

(Rev. Chris Eaves blessing the food) "Great Creator, holy God, we're so grateful that you bring us here together."

Heartsong's congregation of 800 lost about 20 over the decision to welcome the mosque. But members say the choice helped this church family grow in love and in numbers.

(Voice of Beth Ewing) "It deepens your own faith. You will be asked,'What is it that you believe?'"

Elaine Koger: "I'm just very thankful that Pastor Steve Stone put that sign up and we get to be a part of this because love does win!"

The annual Thanksgiving meal is open to the public. 2017 marked seven years and organizers say the event continues to grow each year.

For more information, contact Heartsong United Methodist Church in Cordova, Tennessee.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was first posted on December 7, 2017.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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