January 24, 2016

Pastor Letter

Faiths Join Hands in Long Beach

Following the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, fear of Muslims in our country has been fanned by the flames of ignorance and overblown rhetoric. Our own Los Altos United Methodist Church is significant among many in our community whose members asked what they could do to counter the wave of hatred and ignorance towards Muslims in Long Beach. Imam Tarek Mohamed, an old friend of the congregation, provided a ready response, “Come and pray with us.”

On Friday, January 15, 25 members of the Los Altos congregation, together with representatives from Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, donned scarves and doffed shoes to sit with members of the Long Beach Islamic Center, at 995 27th Street, for an hour of prayer and communication. Imam Mohamed went straight to the questions on everyone’s mind, namely the nature of Islam, the links between terrorism and the religion, and the Muslim understanding of Jesus. Over and over he reiterated the message of Islam as one of love and understanding for all of mankind—not just Christians, but for people of every faith. Citing his own immersion in the Quran, he assured his guests that the passages seeming to condone violence have been singled out and twisted for other purposes. Finally, he spoke of the reverence Muslims feel towards Jesus and pointed out the Quran’s Book of Mary. With a twinkle in his eye, he reminded Christians that their own Bible has no such Book. Imam Mohamed introduced Pastor Melinda Dodge and Nancy Mullio by name, honoring the contributions of women in attendance. Finally, a path was made for Pastor Mark Ulrickson, who delivered a closing message of love and solidarity among all people of faith.

Perhaps the sweetest communication of the afternoon, however, occurred after the service. Each guest was given a copy of the Quran, a white rose, and treated to a sumptuous multi-course outdoor feast. With Muslim congregants serving, waiting tables, and dining next to their brothers and sisters of different faiths, a spell came over the group. Guests lingered and posed for photos, savoring their gracious welcome. In that tiny lot, perched on a corner of Signal Hill, 150 people of several religious traditions experienced exactly what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.