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Christian Youth Director Reflects on Her Iftar Experience

First United Church Oak ParkA number of Christian churches are getting to know their Muslim neighbors, giving and receiving hospitality, working together on service projects, and studying together.  This Interfaith Reflections post features a report from just such a church, the First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.  Thank you, Marylen Marty-Gentile, for sharing this news about your church’s celebration of Iftar.  Marylen writes :  “I’m the Director of Children and Family Ministries at First United Church of Oak Park. I have served this church for 19 years. My passion is how children grow in faith in the context of the whole community, which is why I was so taken by the similarities in how children behave in both the Islamic Foundation and our church. “


Marylen kindly allowed me to repost the following article, which appeared in her church’s newsletter:


There, Too
Friday night a group of First United adults and youth traveled to the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park to share in Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Iftar is one of the religious observances of Ramadan and is often done as a community, with people gathering to break their fast together, usually right after sunset. A woman, Tasneem Matthis, whom many of us had met during the church’s year with Islam, extended a broad invitation to break the fast with her community.

We gathered first in their version of Centennial Hall and watched a pre-recorded message President Obama gave during an Iftar at the White House earlier in Ramadan and listened to others talk about Islam, Ramadan, hospitality and the possibility of relationships that extend far beyond our cozy familiar.

At 7:45 pm, we prayed, ate a date, and the evening fast ended. Before we gorged ourselves on the feast prepared for all, though, we went upstairs into their worship space for the evening prayers. The men entered the main sanctuary and the women a glassed-in upper room.

I expected absolute decorum during the prayers–no children walking around there, disrupting the peace of their worship.

You know what’s next, don’t you?

In the women’s room, a little boy, maybe 4 ran around in and through us, smiling and trying to catch my (and everyone’s) eye. A young girl, maybe 8 or 9 circled her father on the men’s floor. Sometimes she followed the body prayer of her father and sometimes she didn’t. There were other children, paying various degrees of attention to the business of prayer.

But they were there, in the midst of the worship and prayer, soaking in the words, rhythms, movement, smells of the community. And swirling around the children, youth and adults, men and women was God, Allah, Yhwh, whatever word we use to name the Holy One.

The children sense that. They want to be with the adults, and they want to be with God. Being present doesn’t mean they are always still and solemn, but they were there in worship in the mosque, like they are here in worship at First United, soaking up the presence of God, letting the words and spirit of prayer and praise seep into their bones.

Most of all, being present is how children (and adults) come to love and know God, watching and hearing others of all ages sing, speak and pray. Eventually they run around less and less, circle us less and less, and join more and more in the mysterious and wonderful behaviors that are church.

It’s true in mosques, too.

–Marylen Marty-Gentile

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