A church in Australia was taken by surprise when the building it was renting for worship services for the past 14 years was sold with little notice. The building has become the first mosque in Toowoomba, Queensland.
"It was a complete surprise," John Solomon, pastor of Westside Christian Church, told the Sunshine Coast Daily on Friday. His church had been renting a building from Lifeworks Uniting Church for 14 years. Lifeworks Uniting Church then proceeded to sell the building to the Islamic Society of Toowoomba.
"We continued operating in the good faith that we would be advised if we needed to relocate," Solomon explained. "Then the April settlement date was brought right forward and we had to find a new place, quick smart."
The Westside pastor also criticized the Islamic Society for "turning up to look through the place without our permission," even during a wedding rehearsal.
Solomon reported getting angry phone calls to his private number, "blaming us for selling the church." People had mistaken Westside as the owners of the building, considering their sign on the fence.
He admitted that Westside had been operating without a lease for the past four years, but complained about the quick turnaround.
The building was sold to help Uniting Church fund a new ministry emphasis in Glenvale.
The mosque opened with the Islamic Society's Founding President Shahjahan Khan hosting the first prayer session last week, reported Australia's The Chronicle. "I thank Toowoomba Regional Council and congratulate the city of Toowoomba for its inclusiveness," Khan declared. "May God bless our wonderful city of Toowoomba and guide its people to peace and prosperity."
Khan told ABC's Australia division that they had initially tried to buy land to build a mosque but found it difficult to do so because of restrictions on houses of worship. "Then all of a sudden this old church became available … the community like it, so we went for it."
"It's facing to the Kaaba, so we didn't have to make any changes to the direction," Khan said, explaining why the church was "very simple" to convert into a mosque. "We just had to clean the carpet and prayed together."
Solomon of Westside told ABC that the foundation stone for the building was "laid by the original builders dedicated to preaching the gospel."
"So while God certainly isn't confined to four brick walls, we honestly believe God's presence is carried with the people," he commented. Despite the heritage of the building, Solomon laughed when asked if it resembled a mosque or a church more. "People often would say to me 'oh you're the church that looks like a pizza restaurant!'"
Solomon's church now meets at a different temporary space, Groom Park Hall.
Sixty-six percent of Toowoomba residents said a mosque would be welcome, according to a May survey by The Chronicle.