Sale of church building to mosque puts spotlight on faith


BURLINGTON (AP) — What began as a real estate transaction ushered in a partnership members hope will reach across faiths to strengthen the community.

Burlington Masjid, Alamance County’s first mosque, plans to begin worshipping in the building currently occupied by Life’s Journey United Church of Christ, at 1908 S. Mebane St., in the new year. The Muslim congregation will include as many as 150 families from more than 20 countries living in or near Alamance County, said Shaher Sayed, the mosque’s prayer leader.

The change opens a new chapter in Alamance County’s faith and expression of it.

That chapter began Saturday as members of both congregations broke bread together and hosted a free meal and health clinic at the South Mebane Street church. Life’s Journey and Burlington Masjid members, as well as an expected contingent of Burlington’s First Presbyterian Church and Elon University faculty, welcomed the community and impoverished to the church.

“Religion is about reaching out and helping people. It’s supposed to make us kinder, make us behave better to each other,” Sayed said. “For me, this is an opportunity to be a better me by walking next to another person of faith.”

Life’s Journey plans to move into a building at Edgewood Avenue and Saddle Club Road in January, the Rev. Phil Hardy said. The congregation has anticipated the move close to a decade as it attempted to sell its current church property, which it built in 1953.

The sale presented the UCC congregation “an opportunity to live out our highest ideals as peacemakers and Christians, building bridges across religious boundaries,” Hardy said.

“This allowed us to fulfill our dream. . We never imagined it would bring an opportunity to enter into an interfaith partnership. This dialogue has the potential to change in a positive way the nature of how we (view) ourselves in this religious community,” Hardy said.

The health clinic will be a regular program hosted by Burlington Masjid. The congregations have plans to cooperate in other events together.

Burlington Masjid emerged from the needs borne of changing demographics. As more Muslim families came to the area, the membership grew from about 30 families in and around Burlington to around 150, Sayed said.

The members have been searching for a permanent place of worship for years. They found Life’s Journey and felt a connection to the social missions the UCC church has taken on.

“It became the idea: Let’s continue what this church is doing, just under a different banner,” Sayed said. “We want to build on what they’ve done here and hope that both churches can continue that work together. It could be the beginning of something positive and big. We see it breaking barriers.”

In Greensboro, the group that would become Burlington Masjid founded a successful health clinic ministering to the needy. Al-Aqsa Community Clinic is open several times a month, staffed by a volunteer network of almost 100 doctors, nurses and students.

It bills itself as, “A clinic run by Muslims providing services for all.” It’s grown from a single room to seven rooms offering general health screenings and treatment of chronic conditions.

Al-Aqsa will transition to providing services in Burlington and Alamance County, prompting Saturday’s open clinic.

Anxieties surrounding Islamic extremism are at a peak of sorts after the attacks Nov. 13 in Paris and ongoing Islamic State-sponsored violence. That anxiety has prompted prominent political figures to suggest IDs and tracking of Muslim Americans, and barring Muslim immigration.

The current climate “only accelerates the urgency of building upon these relationships,” Hardy said.

Sayed hopes the mosque’s outreach and work in the community will illustrate the similarities among faiths and creeds.

“(This is) introducing to people how much faith is the same anywhere,” Sayed said. “We are really hopeful this will bring more (work together) in the future. Together, I see limitless ability to do good for the community.

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