Members of two faiths traditionally divided came together this month in a mutual show of compassion in Reading, Pa., where Muslim brothers and sisters joined their Christian counterparts in serving the underserved.
On Oct. 3, congregants of Immanuel UCC in Shillington, Pa., teamed with members of Reading's Islamic Center for a 2.3-mile walk that culminated in the parking lot of a local restaurant, where they helped nearly 200 people pick up coats, clothing, shoes and other items, along with sandwiches and snacks.
"God's grace sometimes becomes apparent in unlikely settings," says the Rev. Megan Huesgen, pastor of Immanuel UCC. "The event was one in which we shared our experience of God's grace and the spirit on the move."
Young people – some in t-shirts and jeans, others in long dresses and headscarves – took turns painting flowers, whiskers and peace signs on children's faces. Youths from the church and the mosque played with the children who had come with their parents to get clothing, sharing laughter and friendship as well as the donated items. Adult members did likewise.
"It's given us a real sense of spirit in terms of paying attention to our sense of community," says Huesgen, noting that the Islamic Center invites Immanuel members to Ramadan. "This was especially important during this time because it was during that week that the Florida pastor was talking about burning the Quran. Timing is everything."
An additional blessing, says Huesgen, is that individuals used the experience to take a strong sense of mission into their daily lives. Among them:
* the elementary school student home sick from school, writing a letter to classmates, who responded with bagfuls of donations
* the high school student hanging posters to encourage classmates to donate sneakers, shoes and coats
* the global-studies teacher coordinating and hosting an assembly for middle school students to learn firsthand about Islam from a practicing Muslim.
"Making these connections – living, practicing their faith every day of the week and strengthening community – were all unexpected outcomes," says Huesgen. "Blessed gifts!"
For Sue McCoy, the essence of the event was one man and one coat.
"As I was moving around, I saw a man with a coat in one arm and a bag in the other," says McCoy, longtime Immanuel member who was on the outreach committee organizing the event. "Our eyes met, and I asked him if he found what he was looking for. He smiled and said, 'Yes, look at this coat!' It was practically brand new, and he held it like it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. I was so happy for him.
"As we parted, he said, 'May you be blessed by all of this!' I offered him a blessing in return, and his comment was 'I am blessed!' "
"The coat given, no longer needed or wanted; the coat received, needed and wanted – same coat," says McCoy. "God is good!"
Plans for the next walk are underway, says Huesgen. "We are confident that God will guide and direct us, and bless us with the same grace we've experienced. It is truly difficult to put into words how palpable the Spirit was not only throughout the Oct. 3 walk and the sharing of gifts, but also in the preparation."