Pastor Steve Stone
Around about that same time, 722 miles northwest of Gainesville, FL in the city of Memphis, Tennessee there was a second pastor, Pastor Steve Stone of Heartsong United Methodist Church.
Just as New Yorkers were learning that a muslim community was looking to create a community center and mosque near Ground Zero, Pastor Stone received word that a muslim community had purchased the land directly across from his church in order to build the same.
It should be noted that this Muslim community didn’t have their heads in the sand. They had been on the receiving end of all sorts of anti-muslim sentiment ever since 9/11 and they were acutely aware that their little building project was happening at a time of acute interreligious tension in the United States. And so, their greatest hope was simply to fly under the radar. They didn’t want controversy. They didn’t want to make a grand point about first amendment rights. They just wanted to build their house of worship.
Unfortunately, they did not get what they hoped for.
Because what Pastor Steve Stone did was this: he went out and had printed a giant banner and had it placed in front of the church, directly across from where the mosque was to be built. Because the church is right on a main drag, large numbers of commuters got to see it every morning and every evening on their way to and from work.
And what did that sign say?
It said: “Heartsong Church WELCOMES the Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood.”
Dr. Shala and his community were both shocked and surprised. The best they had dared to hope for was antipathy. Instead, they were met with profound openness, welcome, and love.