A recently closed church property belonging to the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut will soon be leased to a local Muslim group as part of an interfaith partnership.
The Diocese recently announced the creation of the partnership that provides the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center with facilities used by the former Christ Episcopal Church of Avon.
Dr. Khamis Abu-Hasaballah, president of the FVAMC, told The Christian Post that they are "thrilled" by the interfaith partnership and plan to move into the Avon property soon.
"We hope to move in in the coming weeks. Since we're leasing the facility, we're keeping the modifications to the bare minimum needed to accommodate our activities," said Abu-Hasaballah. "The facility has been de-consecrated by the bishop and the altar removed. We are also relocating some pews to free up enough space for Muslim congregational prayers."
Prior to the agreement over the building, FVAMC members had used various the church's facilities for events and prayer, Abu-Hasaballah told CP.
"Our members used to travel to other places as far as 30-45 minutes away for religious services and education. We also met in our homes," said Abu-Hasaballah. "For larger events, such as the community breaking of the fast dinners during Ramadan (Muslim holy month of fasting) and Eid Holiday, we rented venues from community and civic groups."
Founded in 1845, Christ Episcopal Church of Avon announced last December that it would be closing down permanently.
The decision came via a vote in November, as the congregation dwindled to fewer than forty members by that point. Its final service was held December 30.
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Earlier this year, the Connecticut Diocese looked into how to use the property while it was still in their control. Eventually, it was decided to lease the building to FVAMC as part of an interfaith partnership with the Connecticut Diocese.
In addition to the leasing of the Avon property there will also be interfaith educational events coordinated between the Diocese and FVAMC.
The Right Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Connecticut Diocese Bishop, told CP that this partnership had its roots in earlier dialogues.
"Our diocese in a variety of ways have been partnering with, having conversations in interfaith initiatives both with Muslims and with Jews so that's not a new direction for us," said Douglas. "So we had an opportunity to build on the partnerships that had begun in interfaith initiatives in our diocese and say here is another opportunity for us to do programming together."
Douglas also told CP that with the partnership with FVAMC he saw the dialogues as "part of our Christian witness" and a relationship that would be spiritually beneficial.
"For me, in particular as a Christian, I believe that as we come into partnership with dialogue with those of other faith traditions it invites us to be ever more clear and articulate about our own faith in the Triune God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," said Douglas. "So, far from watering down our commitment, these interfaith efforts actually give us an opportunity to practice our Christian apologetic in new ways."
Douglas stressed to CP that fundamentally this is not "about a real estate deal" but rather "how can these two faith communities better come to understand one another."