By Bill Hennessy
Since 2008, North Presbyterian Church in Amherst, where I serve as pastor, has co-sponsored, along with our sister congregation, Westminster Presbyterian Church of Buffalo, Congregation Havurah of Williamsville and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an event called the Abraham Walk.
The Abraham Walk is held each year during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and charity. One late afternoon during Ramadan a group made up of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others interested in joining us gathers at North Church on North Forest Road and walks 5 miles to the Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier mosque on Heim Road in Amherst.
During the walk we share conversation and get to know one another a little better. At the mosque we learn about the tradition of Ramadan and share in iftar, the meal breaking the fast at sundown.
It is a time of celebration and friendship when we acknowledge our common heritage in Judaism, Christianity and Islam as spiritual descendants of Abraham. On that night during their sacred month of Ramadan, our Muslim friends and neighbors lay what is called Abraham’s Table, where people of every faith are invited to come and be part of the feast.
I recently learned three rules for interfaith dialogue, the first of which I think is most important: Always learn about another faith from someone who loves and practices that faith rather than from someone who hates it. Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about Islam from people who hate it and have a twisted understanding of it.
Here at North Church we’ve had many opportunities to learn about Islam from people who practice it. Also, we’ve been privileged to sit with our friends and neighbors from the mosque and get to know them better on a personal level. It has been rewarding and inspiring.
This month we Christians are celebrating the Incarnation, the event when God takes human form through an infant born in Bethlehem. The point of Incarnation isn’t to say “our God wins!” The point is to acknowledge God’s presence with us, all of us, by meeting us directly. When we meet one another directly – sharing a meal together, learning one another’s traditions – we experience God with us.
On behalf of North Presbyterian Church, I say to our Muslim sisters and brothers: “We love you and we want to know you better!”
May we all experience the peace that comes through compassion and the warm embrace of love in the days and weeks ahead.
Bill Hennessy is pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Amherst.