Heartsong Church in Cordova has ‘open doors’ for Muslim neighbors
Members of Memphis Islamic Center pray at Heartsong Church. Photo by Steve Stone
Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.
That slogan of the United Methodist Church is one that this month is being prominently modeled by the congregation of Heartsong Church in Cordova, TN as it literally opens its doors to the Memphis Islamic Center (MIC) for its observance of the holy month of Ramadan, which began Aug. 11.
“They are in the final phase of building an Islamic Center for worship and education on about 30 acres across the street (from Heartsong), explained Heartsong Pastor Steve Stone.
“Their hope was that it would be completed by Ramadan, but it still has a way to go. They asked us if they might use our facilities and we were eager to welcome them.”
Stone said on Aug. 11 that about 75 men and women were in the Celebration Center at Heartsong for the beginning of Ramadan prayer service.
“They will be here every night until their building is complete or the end of Ramadan,” said Stone.
Ramadan is Islam’s most sacred time of the year when Muslims abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during daylight hours. It is a time for purifying the soul, refocusing attention on God and practicing self-sacrifice.
Heartsong began its relationship with the MIC more than a year ago when it first heard the Center was moving across the street, said Stone.
“As soon as we could, we put up a large red banner welcoming them into the neighborhood,” he said. “It started an amazing kind of relationship.”
Stone said the first time MIC’s leaders saw the sign, “they were overwhelmed with joy.”
He added, “Along the way, we have met occasionally for dialogue and our time together has always been warmhearted and loving.”
Knowing his congregation would be asked why Heartsong is opening its doors to Muslims, Stone said he instructed them to reply, “We are loving our neighbors, for Christ’s sake!”
In response to this direction, Stone said Heartsong members cheered.
Started in 1998, Heartsong describes itself on its Web site as “an innovative, contemporary church of growing Jesus followers” whose “experience of Jesus following is a new flavor and filled with all kinds of people of varying backgrounds and experiences.”
When their Muslim neighbors asked to meet at Heartsong for Ramadan because their campus was not yet finished, Stone said, “The first story that popped into my mind was the Good Samaritan. It was Jesus teaching that being a neighbor has nothing to do with politics or theology or whether or not you think the one you are being a good neighbor to would be a good neighbor to you.”
Stone likes to imagine that the MIC foundational story will always include the love of Heartsong.
“And many in their community are having to rethink what a Christian is in light of our love shown to them,” he said.
Stone acknowledged that at least one member of Heartsong has left the church over the presence of Muslims in the church and said he has received emails from people in the community with questions and concerns about Heartsong’s association with the MIC.
To them Stone said he has responded, “How are we ever to reach anyone with the good news of Jesus if we only associate with those who already follow him? Our call from the Lord is to go everywhere and be his witnesses. And he said people would know we are his disciples by our love.
“The folks at Heartsong are strong in their support of loving as Jesus did, and are enthusiastically in support of those who are leading them in this regard. I pray that the love of our Lord would grow deep inside you, and that if there is any fear in you, it would be cast out (because) perfect love casts out fear.
“These people have not in any way presented themselves to us as our enemies. But even if they took that stance, the direction of our Lord would be to love them still,” said Stone.
By Lane Gardner Camp