Presbyterians and Muslims in the greater Chicago recently sat down to dinner together in celebration of a new relationship and a new covenant.
Although preparatory discussions have been percolating for a few years, the convening dinner to celebrate the covenant officially marked the beginning of the journey for the Presbytery with the Muslim community at the grassroots level.
The covenant between the Presbytery of Chicago and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago is a single-paged document that outlines common values between both faith communities (including care of the earth and the pursuit of justice for all), recognizes that both faiths do not agree on all things and commits to model respect, deepen understanding of the other faith and work together on issues consistent with our religious values.
Of note, both communities of faith unanimously endorsed the covenant.
Christine Hong, interfaith associate in the office of theology and worship for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), attended the gathering and remarked of its significance not only as a starting point for Chicago, but for the denomination itself. In her knowledge, this is the first covenant of its kind to exist in the PC(USA).
The convening gathering opened with a time of fellowship. A communal dinner was followed by words of greeting and blessings from both Bob Reynolds, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Chicago, and Mohammed Kaiseruddin, chair of the CIOGC.
The covenant was then read aloud in its entirely. Reynolds and Kaiseruddin signed it in an act of solidarity before all gathered.
In his remarks, Kaiseruddin succinctly stated the objective of the partnership: help each other practice our faith better and be of service to the community.
He stated that he sensed a significance in the timing of the dinner. It happened to fall within the first 10 days of the Islamic celebration of Dhul-Hijjah, the month of annual pilgrimage to Mecca. He noted that these first 10 days are marked by special devotion and during which God especially blesses good deeds.
Jay Moses, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton, explained the nature of the atmosphere into which this covenant was signed. He noted that Presbyterians are well-familiar with the coexisting tensions of good news and bad news. The good news, Moses stated, was that there were many good people present at the convening dinner; the bad news is the people who need to be there were not. He emphasized the need to continue the dialogue at the local level in churches and mosques so that the full community can be present at the table in dialogue.
Dialogue requires discipline, a characteristic practiced well by both Presbyterians and Muslims, Moses noted. The discipline for interfaith dialogue requires “wild patience.” This discipline requires participants to sit together at the table with patience, maturity, and humility – all of which culminate in a willingness to be changed.
Moses concluded with the reminder that both traditions believe God has sent messengers because God wants to be in dialogue.
Shakir Moiddouin, representing the interfaith committee of COIGC, described himself as Moses’ counterpart. He shared that his initial curiosity about Presbyterianism was originally piqued over a decade ago when he learned about PC(USA) divestment efforts and the stance the denomination took on social justice and humanitarian efforts.
Mouiddouin noted that factions like servicemen and the business industry “have contributed to make this a great nation,” but faith communities have failed to have the same levels of significance. He stated that he “would like to see this great nation of ours be known” not for military effectiveness, but for ethics.
The Presbytery of Chicago’s Ecumenical and Interreligious workgroup hopes that this will be the first annual dinner of its kind. “I can’t think of any more important work at that moment when it comes to interreligious relations. We’ve got to weave the fabric of communities at the pew and prayer rug level, for the long haul, and for the challenges that are surely ahead of us as an increasingly diverse and interactive world,” said Dirk Ficca, Chair of the work group.
As they look forward, they hope dialogue will spread to individual congregations and mosques. Some ideas they envision include:
- Joint book discussions hosted by community churches and mosques. Some suggested books are noted on the work group’s website.
- Neighborhood youth events such as community service projects or a shared meal.
- Educational programming offered in churches and mosques promoting basic education on each faith and discussion in small groups.
- Outreach to young adults, including a co-leading class at the presbytery’s annual leadership development event on talking with neighbors of other faiths.
- Ongoing use of the covenant, perhaps as a tool for small-group study or as part of liturgy in worship.
Covenant between the Presbytery of Chicago (POC) and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) Approved, June 18, 2013
As communities of faith, we, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and the Presbytery of Chicago, believe that our religions are the rich wellsprings from which we draw our commitments to serve, support, and benefit one another. Our religions teach us that God is the creator and sustainer of the world and that responding faithfully to God requires us to commit to serve God’s creation.
Responding to God requires us to strive together for the common good: the care of the earth for the generations to come, the pursuit of justice for all, and the protection of our rights to practice and express our faiths as best we can. Responding to God requires us to take to heart a genuine concern for the well-being of each other. Only when our neighbors’ well-being becomes our own concern can we truly be faithful to God. So, consistent with our religious teachings, we commit to stand together for those who are vulnerable and to speak up with those whose voices are not heard. We commit to teach our children compassion for those whose struggles are different from our own. We promise to become a force for good for each other and for others.
In order to achieve this vision we recognize that our two communities in metropolitan Chicago have much work to do. With sincere effort, we commit ourselves
- to deepen our understanding of each other’s religions
- to recognize that we do not agree on all things
- to model respect for each other’s religions
- to work together on issues of human equality and social justice, consistent with our religious values.
Together we place our trust and hope in God, that God will bless and guide our efforts and that God will turn our efforts into a blessing for us.