The food on the table reflected different cultures. Women, some in headscarves and others in shorts, were conversing about historic religious figures such as Abraham. Men wearing beards and goatees lined up and bowed down to say their afternoon prayers in Arabic while the rest of the men peered.
Then everyone gathered around the food table. A pastor and an imam murmured short prayers before everyone grabbed something to eat.
That’s how an interfaith picnic at Lake Calhoun started Sunday. A coalition of churches and mosques, which organized the event, said it’s the third time they’ve held a similar event.
“The purpose is to build a relationship and friendship between our communities,” said Allen Henden, pastor of Lyndale United Church of Christ. “We also hope to break down the misunderstanding between our faith communities.”
His church is among several Twin Cities-area Christian groups, all part of the Minnesota Council of Churches, that embarked on an interfaith effort with the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Minnesota Da’awah Institute to explore common values.
Advocating and helping the needy has become a uniting factor, said Henden. Recently, the interfaith group served food at a local shelter and lobbied the state legislature to raise the minimum wage.
“People of faith have more in common than they are given credit for,” said Asad Zaman, vice president of the Minnesota chapter of MAS.
As lake visitors peeked on, a curious conversation continued. A group of men sitting in circle talked about Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Though the names sounded familiar to almost everyone, their historic roles was in dispute. Some described Jesus as the son of God who was resurrected after crucifixion. Others said he was a revered prophet of God.
Both Henden and Zaman noted that such discussions are healthy and critical for their interfaith bond to last. In fact, both said that they are taking the message inside their congregations, where some of their members are still hesitant about interfaith efforts.
“The community is picking up steam,” said Zaman of his congregation. “But we are not there yet.”
Henden describes the interfaith effort as an “ecumenical.”