In the Diocese of Long Island, a lease agreement has grown into friendship between Muslim and Episcopal congregations.
The Muslims needed a place to pray until the dental office that they had bought in Deer Park was renovated.
No one, it seemed, wanted to rent to them, leaders of the group said. Then, after a year of searching for a temporary home, they found an Episcopal church not far from the dental office that was willing to let them use the basement once a week. The room was big and open, ideal for them to lay down their prayer rugs.
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church and its then rector, the Reverend William Mahoney, offering space began the relationship.
…the two communities have come together for picnics and luncheons and to celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with a feast in the basement.
When Mahoney was hospitalized in 2016, the center’s members visited him in the hospital, said Valerie Mahoney, his wife. The pastor retired a year ago, and the couple now are in Iowa.
“My husband would call me up at night and say, ‘I woke up and the Muslims were praying at my bedside,’” said Valerie Mahoney, who added that her husband is ill again and couldn’t comment.
For Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, who leads the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, the cooperation between the Islamic Center and St. Patrick’s is a model for interfaith understanding.
“I think it is a great relationship,” the bishop said. “I really think if people of faith could spend more time together, breaking down barriers, the world would be a better place.”
After the Muslim congregation moved into its new space, the Islamic Center of Deer Park, also welcoming to all faiths, the friendship has continued, sometimes in the face of opposition:
There were times when some neighbors screamed profanities at the Muslims as they were leaving the church, the pastor said in the video. And one person accused Mahoney over the phone of “turning the church into a mosque,” he recalled.
The Muslims didn’t give in to the taunts, Mahoney said.
“Even with the best of resolve, how long can you hear people hurling abuse at you and not have a negative feeling?” he said. “But they’ve never been negative and they sustain themselves.”
The congregations’ friendship has sustained itself as well.
“How they arrived at our rectory door, I don’t know, but I like to think it was the hand of God that brought us together,” the Rev. William Mahoney, who spearheaded the agreement, said in a 2017 video produced by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island [see below].
When St. Patrick’s opened its doors, the Muslim congregation was beyond touched, said Hesham Khafaga, one of the center’s leaders.
“The tears came out of our eyes,” Khafaga said. “It was a very emotional situation. It’s a wonderful feeling. You feel God is paving the road for you.”