The U.S. Muslim community is estimated to be 4 million to 6 million--and growing. With that in mind, the ELCA New Jersey Synod, the Presbytery of the Palisades of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Synod of the Mid-Atlantics of the Reformed Church in America are funding a project to help Christian laity and clergy better understand their Muslim neighbors.
The North Jersey Christian-Muslim Project brings together two denominations that will vote on full communion with the ELCA this summer. At its Churchwide Assembly in August, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will vote on agreements with the Episcopal Church and also with three Reformed churches: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ.
The Christian-Muslim Project offers workshops on various aspects of Islam, provides congregations with information and arranges visits to local mosques for both formal and informal dialogues.
The project has helped congregations that sponsor Bosnian refugees, many of whom are Muslim, to dispel misunderstandings about Islam. The ecumenical effort also provides counseling for families struggling with Christian-Muslim engagements and marriages--which are increasing in the United States.
Early in 1993 Calvin Spann, a young teacher in Paterson, N.J., and a member of the Reformed Church in America, attended a project seminar. As part of his congregation's prison ministry, Spann had met Muslims and wanted to learn more about Islam. The seminar introduced him to trends and concerns in Christian-Muslim relations. It also allowed him to discuss issues directly with Muslims.
Intrigued by this experience, Spann attended another project-sponsored dialogue. He entered an RCA seminary and recently accepted a call in Brooklyn, N.Y., an area with a significant Muslim community.
The ecumenical project hopes more members of ELCA and Reformed congregations will become equipped to make authentic interaction between Christians and Muslims possible.
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