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Churches Plan Interfaith Open Houses to Commemorate Sept. 11

August 20, 2002, NEW YORK CITY - Churches in Tulsa, Okla.; San Diego, Calif., Setauket, Long Island, N.Y., and Bridgewater, Va., are among those planning "interfaith open houses" welcoming their Muslim neighbors for refreshments and reflections a year after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The open houses respond to a call from the National Council of Churches, which is offering resources for the events through its "Open Doors: Interfaith Hospitality Project."

The resources are available on the NCC’s Web site -- specifically, at www.ncccusa.org/interfaith/openhouse-intro.html -- and include "Steps in Planning and Holding an Open House," "Help to Find Muslims Living Near You," "The Experience of One Congregation in Christian-Muslim Dialogue," "After the Open House - Going Forward Together," "Basic Facts About Islam, and Resources" and "Hospitality."

After the Sept.11 attacks, hundreds of Islamic centers and mosques across the United States held open houses, inviting their neighbors of other faiths in to grieve together and build bridges of understanding, commented the Rev. Dr. Jay Rock, Interfaith Relations Director for the National Council of Churches.

"For many Christians, it was their first occasion to enter a mosque and talk with a Muslim," he said. "Muslims for their part wanted their neighbors of other faiths to understand who they really were - not terrorists, but peace-loving, PTA-going, regular Americans who came here from all parts of the world."

Now the National Council of Churches is urging Christian congregations to hold interfaith open houses on or around Sept. 11, 2002, thus commemorating the first anniversary of the attacks by extending hospitality to their Muslim neighbors. Among churches planning interfaith open houses are:

* The Tulsa (Okla.) Network of Churches Uniting in Christ, an informal network of a dozen congregations whose parent bodies are among the nine denominations that are part of Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). Some congregations will invite a representative from a mosque or the Tulsa Islamic Society to speak in worship or a Sunday church school class. Others will hold an open house on the Sunday prior to the 11th, Sept. 8, sharing refreshments and conversations about how life has changed in the past year. For further information, contact Russell L. Bennett, Fellowship Congregational Church, 918-747-7777, or John Imbler, Phillips Theological Seminary, 918-610-8303.

* Atonement Lutheran Church, San Diego, Calif., and Abu-Bakr Mosque (Islamic Center of San Diego), which will hold a combined "open house" from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 8. Members from both congregations will have an opportunity to observe one another’s worship, hear a presentation and ask questions about one another’s faith. There also will be time for informal conversation over refreshments. On Sept. 11, the church and mosque will participate in the Clairmont area Interfaith Association’s "A Time of Remembrance and Hope," set for 7 p.m. at the Marston Junior High School Auditorium. For further information, call the Rev. James Jerpseth at 858-278-5556.

* An interfaith group is planning an "Interfaith Conversations" event from 2:30-5 p.m. Oct. 27, 2002, to be held at the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren, Bridgewater, Va. "We wanted to do something that would draw our religious communities together in this time when seeds of fear and mistrust are being sown. Our chief functioning objective is to build interfaith solidarity/community," says organizer David Metzler. "We’ll have time for discussing a common issue or two - not a highly charged issue; more likely, "Parenting in Our Secular Society" and/or "Role of Women in Contemporary Societies." Contact David Metzler, dmetzler@bridgewater.edu, 540-828-2126.

* The Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Setauket, Long Island, N.Y., which reports plans to hold an interfaith open house on Sept. 11. Contact Fr. R.D. Visconti at 631-941-4245.

The NCC’s Interfaith Relations Commission designed the "Open Doors" project as "a very simple and grassroots way" for churches to continue to build good communication between Christians and Muslims in local communities, said Dr. Barbara Brown Zikmund of Rockville, Md., co-chair of the NCC’s Interfaith Relations Commission.

"After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, churches across the nation spontaneously opened their doors for people to come in to pray," Dr. Rock said. "There was an upsurge of people seeking out religious institutions as a place to reorient themselves. Also during those days, responsible leaders reminded us that it was a group of Islamist terrorists, and not Islam nor ordinary American Muslims, that had attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"As we looked ahead to the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, we thought, wouldn’t it be great to have our congregations open their doors once again, this time specifically to their Muslim neighbors?," he said. "In some cases they’ll be reciprocating for open houses already held, in others it will be a new overture."

The "Open Doors" project was developed in consultation with major U.S. Muslim organizations and is being promoted through the NCC’s 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member communions. The idea and materials also are being made available through state, regional and local ecumenical and interfaith councils, which can help local congregations coordinate their open houses as community-wide events.

Congregations also may be in direct contact with either Jay Rock: jrock@ncccusa.org or Jane Smith at Hartford Seminary’s Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations: jismith@hartsem.edu 

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