My mother and I were out for a stroll the other day, and we came across a building that, at first glance, appeared to be a church. A lovely old brick church with a tall steeple.
Churches here in England always fascinate me, particularly because, more often than not, they are not actually churches. Old church buildings have been converted into everything imaginable: schools, residences, nurseries and preschools, even pubs! Pubs named after churches are particularly fascinating to me.
Meanwhile, many churches, at least in the neighbourhood where I live, meet in run-down shops, in schools, in warehouses… anything that does not look like a church. To be fair, a few congregations do still meet in church buildings, but the ones I’ve visited have often been converted: rather than meet in the stained-windowed vaulted sanctuary, they meet in a less-elegant looking hall. Or, they have converted that gorgeous sanctuary into a practical meeting place with bright coloured walls, carpeting, modern chairs and lots of sound equipment.
Anyway, the sociological disjuncture of churches from “churches” here in England, is, to me, a constant source of entertainment.
So, back to my walk with my mother. We passed this beautiful old church building nestled into a residential area, but I soon noticed that it had brightly-painted signs in key locations. This made me suspect it was not a church at all – a preschool, perhaps? I looked closer, and, to be sure, it was not a church.
The brightly coloured signs were actually inscriptions of the Prophet and God, directions to the men’s section and to the women’s section, and a big sign making sure that passersby knew that it was a mosque. Written into the cross-shaped window at the top of the building was the word “Mosque”. The steeple was intact, minus the cross.
Now, there are two ways I might look at this. First, I might feel threatened that the Muslims are taking over my religion’s buildings. But, to be fair, there are still a lot more schools and pubs in church buildings, than there are mosques. And, maybe I should be, but honestly I am not even one iota threatened that education and drunkenness are taking over my religion’s building. So I choose not to feel threatened by a mosque-church. Instead, I choose to look at this as a beautiful celebration of diversity, inter-religious cooperation. I don’t know if I would want to attend church in a building that was formerly a mosque; I think it might, honestly, make a little bit nervous. So I have enormous respect for those faithful who pray in a mosque that used to be a church.