Rev. Todd Harris Presented with Bishop Oden Award
In the fall 2017, Todd began working with the staff of FUMC Allen to cast a vision for the new year. He created a worship series called “Building Bridges,” which focused on fostering relationships with people of other races, religions, nations, and sexual orientations, and gender identities.
Todd wrote a piece capturing his vision for this series that included these words: “The truth of the matter is that we live in a global community made up of many cultures, religions, mores, biases, and even prejudices. Even Allen, Texas is a very plural community. How can the Christian community build bridges with other religious traditions to build trust? How can the Christian community seek to better understand other practices and in turn be understood for our practices and beliefs? Building bridges can be challenging work. It require perseverance, vision, passion and desire but the outcome is two sides being connected by a common path. It is paved in love and as the Bible tells us ‘perfect love’ casts out fear.”
Part of the impetus for greater interfaith dialogue in our community grew out of the rising tensions within our neighborhoods and schools. Parents were sharing stories about how their children would be dismissed or bullied for being different at school despite the diversity that was present. We recognized that just because our students were together in the same school, they were not necessarily building relationships. The same could be said for many of our adults in their workplaces. Many of us just did not know how to make friends with persons of other faiths.
The Building Bridges effort was not limited to Sunday morning worship. With regard to the interfaith aspect, Todd worked with the Imam and other leaders of the Islamic Association of Allen to not only embody the message he was preaching, but to craft opportunities for both communities to meet and learn more about one another.
Rev. Harris personified this effort as he met with Imam Abdur Rahman Bashir on an ongoing basis, whether for a meal or to record an interview that could be shared online as well as with our congregation in worship to help our congregation and our community better understand our Muslim neighbors.
On January 21, the IAA offered an open house for our congregation. We were able to eat together, share stories, hear a portion of the Quran recited and translated, view artwork inspired their faith, hear from the Imam Bashir, and observe their evening prayers. Todd was gratified and pleasantly surprised that more than 50 of our Methodists seized the opportunity for bridge building.
As a part of Todd’s vision, we offered an open house at FUMC Allen on January 25 for members of the IAA. More than 90 people attended this event, which was an extension of our usual Wednesday night programming, so that they could observe Methodists in their ordinary course of study and worship. Todd helped ensure that we served food that was halal so that all of us could eat together. Our members were encouraged to spread out in our fellowship hall so that there was always space at the table for our neighbors. Great conversations happened around the tables.
Originally, Todd had planned to move directly from dinner into our worship time with a time for questions and answers to follow, but the Imam shared that following dinner, his congregation would need to observe their time of prayer. At Todd’s direction, we quickly adapted our chapel space to a quiet, comfortable place for prayer. Many of our guests were surprised that Christians would be willing to offer this accommodation within a church. For Rev. Harris, this was just a natural outpouring of grace and hospitality.
Following the prayers, our Muslim guests joined us in the sanctuary where we proceeded with our Wednesday night worship, which includes singing, scripture reading, prayer, a brief message and communion. We closed the worship service and transitioned right into a short “Methodism 101” lecture and time of questions and answers. Our guests asked deep, insightful questions that challenged our pastors to articulate difficult areas of theology while also affirming the faith of our members who were present. As we closed for the night, we took pictures standing on the bridge that had been built on the chancel and exchanged contact information to continue the relationships we had begun.
Three months later, we continue to partner with the IAA congregation. FUMC Allen is the leading force behind Change the World Allen, which offers a weekend of service to inspire, equip, and mobilize members of the Allen-Fairview-Lucas community to serve neighbors and change the world in positive ways. Last year, IAA members adopted a project over Change the World weekend, but this year we are intentionally creating combined teams to serve together.
FUMC Allen looks forward to continuing to share our stories as we work for the common good under the leadership of Rev. Todd Harris
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