Mennonites and Muslims gathered around food and film at The Abraham Project Sept. 6-8 in Lancaster, Pa., in the hopes of deepening interfaith relationships.
Mennonites representing a handful of churches and Muslims from the Islamic Center of Lancaster screened a documentary about peace in the evening Sept. 6 at James Street Mennonite Church, then observed Saturday prayer times at the mosque and shared a meal.
The weekend concluded with an invitation to observe a Mennonite worship service Sept. 8.
Sunnyside Mennonite Church Pastor Brian Miller came up with the idea while reading Leader magazine.
“The spring issue focused on interfaith dialogue and had a number of stories on ways this was happening in Mennonite communities, and also mentioned the [MennoMedia] documentary Waging Peace,” he said. “That triggered my imagination looking at how we would look at this in the Lancaster area.”
Miller said the Sunnyside congregation had been involved with resettling a number of Muslim families in the last decade.
“The last family was from Baghdad; the family before was Turkish,” he said. “Those were good opportunities to have good human interactions with Muslims settling around here.”
To add another dimension to the relationship, Miller approached other Lancaster Mennonite churches about combining a viewing of the film with a meal.
James Street and East Chestnut Street Mennonite churches joined in. Eastern Mennonite Missions’ Christian/Muslim Relations Team served a consultant role.
James Street took the lead with the entree, preparing a halal (permissible) beef, potato and carrot casserole. In addition to forbidding pork and alcohol, Islam has rules about how animal and food products are to be processed. By purchasing food from a local store operated by Muslim owners, the hosts confirmed their meal would be hospitable for all of the roughly 100 people who participated in the weekend’s activities.
“I was hoping for at least 75 or 100 participants, but kind of holding that lightly,” Miller said. “When you do something for the first time, you aren’t sure, but it feels like there’s a broader base of energy for this and this type of storytelling. People are drawn to that and working at this kind of initiative.”
The gathering also sparked optimism for future events. Miller said Sept. 9 that mosque leaders are receptive to hosting a similar event next year.
“I just called Khalid [Hassan, president of the Islamic center’s leadership council] today to thank him for representation from the mosque, and he was asking when we can get together to discuss the next steps,” he said.
Miller’s goal is for the conversation to continue in a collaborative fashion, without one group being in charge.
“The thought is that for the next event, the Muslims would prepare a different menu,” he said. “That’s a way we can share out of our culture.”