Liberal North Dakota Church Sells Building to Muslim Community

A liberal North Dakota congregation that has dealt with membership and financial shortcomings announced that it sold its property to the Muslim community which was initially renting.

Grand Forks United Church of Christ's facility will soon become the "Islamic Center of Grand Forks" (ICGF), with an agreement being made that the UCC congregation of about 60 members can continue to meet periodically at the facility.

"We went from rentee to renter," said UCC Council Chairman Don Medal in an interview with local media, regarding the deal which had been finalized weeks earlier.

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"Budget-wise we could not afford the building and it was much more important to stay together as a congregation and keep the pastor than to keep a material thing like the building."

Dr. Nabil Suleiman, associate professor of Civil Engineering at the nearby University of North Dakota, is the faculty adviser for UND's Muslim Student Association, which made up a good portion of the Muslims who worshipped at Grand Forks UCC.

Suleiman told The Christian Post that for years the Muslim community at Grand Forks had been raising money and looking to acquire a building to be used as an Islamic Center.

"We started our fundraising efforts approximately 10 years ago to establish an Islamic Center," said Suleiman, adding that those who use the facility "includes students and non-students."

When asked by CP what would be changed about the church property once it became an Islamic Center, Suleiman explained that certain maintenance would be done on the old building and of course certain things would be changed to conform to Islamic spiritual regulations.

"Since Muslims are required to wash before prayers (Wudu or partial ablution), we need to expand the washroom facilities. The offices, library, nursery, kitchen, etc. will not change," said Suleiman.

"Since Islamic teachings prohibit the presence of pictures, sculptures, and symbols in the prayer area, any of those will be either removed or covered."

Grand Forks UCC belongs to the Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ. Like many UCC churches, Grand Forks is an "open and affirming" congregation, which means it supports full LGBTQ inclusion in the church.

The UCC was the first denomination in the United States to allow for the ordination of openly homosexual clergy and it also was one of the founding organizations of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Suleiman told CP that while the ICGF will be converting the facility into an Islamic Center, the UCC congregation will always be welcomed to worship there.

"The United Church of Christ congregation (UCCGF) can still use whatever they need (such as crosses) for their services on Sundays and stow them away when they conclude," said Suleiman.

"The UCCGF can also use the building on days other than Sundays, if needed, such as weddings and funerals. The ICGF will provide the UCCGF with office and storage space."

The United Church of Christ of Grand Forks did not return a request for comment by press time.

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