Saturday, March 25, 2017

Last August, during my first day on campus as the new Protestant chaplain at Tufts, I met my colleague Celene, the university’s Muslim chaplain.  She was impressed to learn about the longstanding relationship that the Episcopal cathedral in downtown Boston, St. Paul’s, has with a local Muslim congregation. (The congregation has met at the cathedral since 2000). Indeed, Celene was amazed to learn that, when the cathedral was recently renovated, the Episcopal community decided to install ablution stations in the lower level for the Muslim congregation. This was an act of radical hospitality that allows worshippers to prepare more conveniently for Friday afternoon prayers (called “Jummah”). She and I discussed the possibility of doing a Christian-Muslim field trip to St. Paul’s for interested students. Of course, neither of us realized how important it would be to host such a trip in the wake of seismic changes in our national life since November.

Just a few weeks after the federal administration’s first travel ban targeting Muslim countries, I rode the T with a group of Christian and Muslim students to St. Paul’s. We attended a brief service of Holy Eucharist in the chapel. With its transparent glass walls, we could see dozens and dozens of worshippers file into the main sanctuary for Jummah. As Eucharist ended, the call to prayer began. We made our way into the sanctuary and settled in for the service. The sanctuary was transformed as hundreds of people prayed and listened to the sermon on beautiful carpets spread over the floor. I had never attended a Muslim service before and felt moved by the devotion and attentiveness of so many people (mostly young men!) on a Friday afternoon. Following Jummah, a few us- students, chaplains, members of the Muslim congregation, and the cathedral dean- gathered for lunch. We introduced ourselves, shared why we were there, and learned more about this unique religious partnership. Especially amid such troubling times for the Muslim-American community, I found God in the friendship I witnessed and shared in that day between Christians and Muslims at St. Paul’s. My prayer is that this kind of friendship, support, and solidarity would become less rare in our world today.

-Dan Bell