Pastor Chris Griffin, Pittsburgh, PA
Allison Park Church
It was Easter Sunday and I was awake early getting ready for church, spending time in prayer and reading my scriptures one final time before speaking in a few hours. I take a brief minute to check my email on my phone and I see an invite from Imam Chris Caras: “we’d like to invite you to join us next Sunday, for a meal, conversation, and community.”
My first feeling was honor. I felt honored to be invited to visit Imam Chris’ mosque for an iftar during the month of Ramadan. I was excited to learn more about the month of Ramadan and I was eager to build my ongoing relationship with Imam Caras. I also was at peace knowing that Rabbi Symons was also going to be joining us for dinner at ICP (the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh).
The afternoon before the iftar, I started to ask myself a few questions – What should I wear? What kind of food will we eat? Will I understand anything that is read or said?
When I arrived, I was greeted at the door, I took my shoes off, and was asked if I was here for the clergy dinner. I said “yes” and was then led to the area where the other faith leaders were talking. It was pretty amazing to step into the circle and to look around and see three pastors, two rabbis and one imam.
Honestly, once the prayer time started, I felt pretty confused, since nothing was in English (more on that later). I could sense that it was a holy moment for everyone who came for prayer. I was inspired by all of the children who were praying with their parents. Once the prayer time was over, the mood significantly shifted from reverent and serious to a community celebration filled with joy and laughter and eating the meal together.
We (the clergy) were then led downstairs to the library for our meal together. Imam Chris and his community hosted us with such kindness, warmth, hospitality and excellence. The food was incredible. The baklava was amazing. And our discussion as faith leaders was authentic and sincere. We each took turns speaking about our families and children. As Rabbi Symons always says, there was a lot of “shared humanity” moments of common experiences in raising children, caring for aging parents and working with people in our various congregations.
I then asked Imam Chris “since none of us fully understood what was being said, could you please give us the 5-minute overview of the content and theme behind tonight?” Chris’ explanation was a perfect launching point into the next phase of our discussion – a topic that only religious nerds would enjoy – the state of the Jewish and Christian religious communities during the 7th Century when Islam was birthed.
After the iftar, I continued to experience feelings of deep honor – I was honored to be invited by Imam Chris to break bread together with his community. I am acutely aware of the tension that exists between the Evangelical and Muslim communities.
This is at the heart of Multi Faith Neighbors Network – to break down these walls of separation and animosity and to build bridges and make peace. It takes intentional events like a multi-faith iftar meal to break down these walls and build bridges. There is risk involved. There is vulnerability involved. But there is also joy in the journey. I honestly enjoy spending time with Ron and Chris. Each time I’m with them, I sense a divine calling to build these relationships – with one another and across our city.
I know that we are just in the beginning stages of building our relational network here in Pittsburgh. We started in Nov 2019, and the majority of our efforts have been under the shadow of the pandemic, but we grow closer and closer every month. I look forward with great expectation for what lies ahead of us, as we bring together clergy and congregations to truly live as neighbors.