Over fifty of us gathered to pray in a plain building near downtown Gainesville. It was Friday afternoon and most of us were seated on the floor. We had taken off our shoes. The carpet had arches and other geometric shapes woven into the fabric. We all faced a wall on the eastern side of the room. There was a section for the women who had gathered.
When the time for prayer began, a man came forward and faced the eastern wall and began to chant in Arabic. After the opening prayers a man stood and preached a sermon on persistence, patience, and prayer and called us all to trust God even in the dark times of our lives. He reminded us that we all come from God and will return to God. He encouraged us to be steadfast in faith as an example to the wider world of the goodness of God.
After the sermon this same man led the gathered community in more prayers. We all stood shoulder to shoulder in lines. At a moment in the prayer we all bent our heads low. At another moment in the prayer we all went down on our knees and touched our heads to the floor. This was repeated. At the conclusion of the service the leader welcomed us and honored our presence with this community of faithful people.
The experience was moving. I had never prayed in a mosque before. Several of us who are a part of a clergy interfaith group decided to attend the mosque in Gainesville as a sign of solidarity with this Muslim group after the horrific shootings that had taken place a week earlier in New Zealand.
Men, women, children … fathers, mothers, siblings … some black, some brown, some white … had gathered to pray in the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, when a man with darkness in his heart came and killed 50 people … a man who had been offered a sign of peace as he entered the sacred space and who then defiled it with a spray of bullets that found their targets.
The Imam, Bilal, in Gainesville called us to trust that Allah was still in charge and all-merciful. The Imam called us and his congregation to pray that the gunman’s heart might be changed. The Imam called us to be faithful and he gave thanks for the small gesture of solidarity that his neighbors of different faith traditions had brought to the Friday prayers.
I do not think I will ever forget my Friday prayer time with this group of men and women. Most were African American, but there were other shades of human skin in the group. All of us were united in our desire for a world where people recognize one another as brothers and sisters, as family under God … the Most Compassionate, the Beneficent, the Bestower of Peace.
P.S. Holy Week for us begins on Palm/Passion Sunday, April 14. The services will begin with the waving of palms and then move to a partial reading of the Passion narrative as found in the Gospel of Luke. We will also share the Eucharist at these services.
On Thursday, April 18, at 6:00 pm we will have a Maundy Thursday service in Fellowship Hall. This service is meditative. We will eat a simple meal in quietness and then hear music and remember Jesus washing the disciple’s feet and giving them a holy meal.
On Good Friday, April 19, at 6:00 pm we will have a service of lessons and hymns. We will remember the life of Jesus and his crucifixion. The choir will sing several anthems during this service and the congregation will sing several hymns.
On Easter Sunday, April 21, beginning at 7:00 am we will have a sunrise service in the Memorial Garden. This will be a simple service, and poetry will be shared alongside the reading of the resurrection story. After the service we will share a potluck breakfast.
The more formal Easter service will be at 11:00 am with lots of beautiful music. Following the service there will be an Easter egg hunt in the churchyard. Please join us for this important week in the life of the Christian community.