Throughout the month of July, Johns Creek United Methodist Church encouraged its congregation to meet their neighbors, regardless of religion and race. The church welcomed Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu leaders to participate in Join Together July - a special Sunday School session where these religious communities sat with pastors and laity to share their beliefs and traditions.
The guest speakers included Tareef Saeb of the Al-Rahmah Islamic Community Center, Rabbi Michael Bernstein of the Congregation Gesher L’Torah, and Sreeram Palla Reddy of the North American Shirdi Sai Temple of Atlanta.
Each year, the church uses the month of July as a time to focus on theological and social issues. The goal this year was to encourage the congregation to welcome the changing demographics of Johns Creek and form relationships across different faith communities.
“Who is our neighbor,” asked Dr. Dave Brewer, chairperson on the Committee on Religion and Race, during the introductory session of the five week study. “Anyone that God puts on our path.”
Sitting Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu leaders next to Johns Creek UMC pastors allowed attendees to see a side by side comparison of their hopes and dreams; providing members with a new sense of commonality between The United Methodist Church and other religious communities.
“There is a tendency to be afraid and that’s often based on unfamiliarity. When we don’t seek relationships with people different from us, we cannot connect and that can cause fear,” Executive Pastor, Rev. Dr. Brandon Harris explains. “I wanted people to have an appreciation for the diversity in our community and see opportunities for connecting with our religious others.”
Harris ended the study with the same question that was asked in the beginning: “Who is our neighbor?” Participants were then encouraged to not only meet their neighbors, but to form relationships with them and to love them.
“Perfect love casts out fear,” he says, “and it's hard to fear someone you love.”
Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Sondra Jones believes forging these relationships will result in a stronger, healthier throughout the city Johns Creek.
She says, “our hope is that we can provide future opportunities to work and serve alongside our neighbors on issues that affect our communities, including hunger, immigration, refugees, mental health, human trafficking and substance abuse."
Those interested in this study can watch each session on Johns Creek United Methodist Church’s YouTube channel.