Rochester Mennonite Church
Rochester Mennonite Church (RMC) is a congregation of 22 members in a small city with a very diverse population. Immediately after September 11, 2001, Pastor David Brunner was invited to join a sharing circle of persons representing a cross-section of the community to discuss how to address issues of division, misunderstanding, hatred and violence. At his suggestion, RMC decided to invite a spokesperson from the local Islamic Center to present information on Islam and establish a mutual awareness of each other. After three presentations, three Muslim families joined the adult Sunday school class for conversation, followed by meals in church members’ homes. These encounters were a rich time of learning, fellowship and beginnings of friendships. Participants have continued to enjoy meals together and involvement in community activities.
One challenge has been to work through perceptions of Islam as “so different that we can’t share with Muslims at all in learning or prayer.” Brunner notes that first establishing a relationship and trust has been a successful way to lead into deeper dialogue.
RMC has joined other faith groups in various inter-faith and inter-cultural events in the larger community of Rochester. One partner that has cooperated very actively with the congregation – the Rochester Franciscan Community – is an order of Sisters with a deep commitment to a global outlook, which brings experience from its history of intentional activity in working with persons of other faith groups. RMC also works actively with other Historic Peace Church groups in responding to community needs, especially in peace education. An ongoing congregational interest in reconciliation and renewal has led to RMC’s continuing involvement in promoting interfaith relations, including helping to organize a prayer and celebration event with Muslims, Jews and Christians in October 2005.