Covenant Mennonite Fellowship
Members of the congregation at Covenant Mennonite Fellowship began together to learn more about Islam in 2003 when they invited Muslim teacher and journalist Samar Jarrah to speak during worship and join in fellowship afterward. A number of people who attend Covenant Mennonite and participate in local peace and justice groups had gotten to know Jarrah and other Muslims when they spoke at peace rallies earlier in the year.
The Southwest Florida Peace & Justice Coalition has served as the primary forum for cooperation among Mennonites, members of the Muslim community and other groups. Pastor Randall Spaulding credits his involvement with peace groups with moving him out of his protective Mennonite community into a diverse and incredibly beautiful world.
Building on the common ground of their monotheistic heritage and faith, these Muslims, Jews, and Christians in Sarasota recognize that God is the same God for them all. Further impetus for collaboration for these groups arises from acknowledging their non-indigenous status in Florida and the Sarasota community. The fact that no one culture – Christian, Muslim, Jew – claims cultural rights to their community helps them realize their similarities and the necessity of working together for change that will bring peace.
Describing lessons learned, Spaulding brings out the common goals of daily life shared among people in the coalition – raising their children, chatting at soccer games, mowing their lawns, worshiping God and living a life of faith. He cites connections and lasting relationships as valuable both for their own merit as well as for combating stereotypes and whole-group condemnations.
Spaulding also notes that many Christians in Sarasota harbor ill will toward the Muslim and Jewish populations. Many churches have emphasized that Muslims and Jews are damned to hell unless they believe’ in Jesus. Drawing on biblical imagery, Spaulding advocates for the “search for common ground rather than seeing the ‘logs’ that are in each of our eyes.” He further calls on Mennonites to realize that marginalized peoples are our neighbors.
Noting that Muslims in Sarasota have been stymied by local government in their desire to build a mosque just down the road from his home, Spaulding declares, “Historic peace churches need to keep pressing on, keep speaking out on behalf of the powerless and marginalized, keep encouraging their church members to take risks for peace and justice.” While these things may make traditional Mennonites uncomfortable, he insists we must remain uncomfortable as long as our neighbors are not receiving justice and equal rights.