cities across America, you can find churches for a variety of Christian
denominations, synagogues and mosques, each serving its own religious
community. Some cities have built interfaith centers, with no permanent
religious symbols, which various congregations can feel comfortable using for
worship. In San Francisco, there is a
project that creates a shared worship space, incorporating a synagogue, a
church and a mosque – a space that will foster solidarity and mutual respect
among the followers of the three religions. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
Noe Valley Ministry is a small Presbyterian church in San
Francisco, California. Like many other American churches, it has welcomed local
organizations and other religious groups to use its facility. Beyt Tikkun, a
Jewish congregation that does not have a permanent building, was invited to
hold its services in the church. The Rev. Keenan Kelsey says when the church
building needed major repairs, she turned to the larger community for help.
years ago, we had some critical work to do on our building," she says.
"As a small congregation of working-class people, we couldn't turn within
the congregation to do this work. So we developed a group called the Center for
this coalition of local organizations and activists, she says, volunteers from
outside the church got involved in the renovation.
"Out of that, almost organically, without thinking it
through," she says, "there is this sense that 'What if we took
seriously the fact that we are a center for spiritual community? What would it
mean to renovate our building to accommodate the three Abrahamic traditions?'
We are not a melting pot of religions. We come and each say our own prayers and
encourage mutual respect."
Beyt Tikkun was already worshipping in the building, the church's Center for
Spiritual Community turned to the third religion that traces its roots back to
Abraham. Souleiman Ghali, founder of the Islamic Society of San Francisco, says
his members liked the idea of a shared house of prayer.
"We discussed it among ourselves in the Muslim community," he says.
"And we like it. We like to be part of something good. We are going to do
as much as we can to make it come into reality."
Kelsey says the next step is to raise the funds needed to complete the project.
"We have an architect," she says. "We have
probably a year to set it up and a year to do the work. Then, we'll begin in
the process, they are also forging strong relationships and better
understanding among people of different faiths, according to Christopher Keen,
co-chair of the Center for Spiritual Community, which is overseeing the
"Souleiman Ghali and several others met last week with this architect,
a famous local architect who has designed a number of churches and synagogues
but never built a mosque before," he says. "We were sitting in a
church building and we talked about, what would it take for this church
building to be a place where Muslims could worship and feel welcomed?
got into all sorts of really interesting things around how do the bathrooms
need to be designed so people can wash themselves before the prayer? Can you
walk from the bathroom to the place of worship up a flight of stairs? So we've
gotten into just a very pragmatic dialogue about how do you physically share
The idea of a shared worship space was welcomed by the Rev.
Paul Chaffee, director of San Francisco's Interfaith Center. He says the
project is another opportunity to educate people and promote interfaith
dialogue in the city.
a lot easier to be biased and hate people when all you have is an image of them
and you don't live with them," he says. "Let people know that those
strangers across the street who look different and sound so different are
really very much like they are. Not only that, they would be good friends if
Keen agrees. He says he hopes the Abrahamic House of Prayer will also give
moderates of each religion a stronger voice.
you look across these three Abrahamic traditions, the moderates of each faith
have more in common than the extremists," he says. "So in all of our
religious faiths, I believe, we see the damage being done by our own brethren,
if you well, and yet moderates oftentimes are comfortable just staying put and
not doing a lot. So, the challenge is – as moderates – to make the effort to
have a dialogue and to create real connections."
says once those real connections are created, it will be easier for Jews,
Christians and Muslims to better understand and trust one another, and
together, build a stronger community.