Religion News: June 2019

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Members and friends join Muslims from the Rumi Forum to break the fast at a traditional Ramadan Iftar at sundown at Tabor Presbyterian. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Tabor Members Learn about Ramadan, Share Iftar Meal with Rumi Forum

Chickpeas and rice were on the menu, along with beef and vegetables, lentil soup, blueberries, strawberries and cake. Served exactly at 8:10 on a May evening, the dinner was timed for sunset, and shared by Presbyterians from Crozet and Muslims from the Rumi Forum in Charlottesville. The dinner, prepared by Forum members, was at Tabor Presbyterian Church. Other community members joined the sponsors to learn about Ramadan, the season of fasting, good works and prayerfulness observed by followers of Islam all over the globe. The evening meal, or Iftar, broke the daylong fast for the Muslim diners. 

Tabor Pastor Liz Hulme Adam used the time between the start of the evening and the start of the Iftar to make people more comfortable with those they were meeting for the first time. She asked her audience to seek out tables where they didn’t know anyone, to uncover miscellaneous facts about each other, and to find traits in common. One thing was for sure, reported one table: “We’re all hungry.”

Ozman and Cansu from Charlottesville’s Rumi Forum enjoy games with children, Ihsan (4) and Nihal (1) as they wait for sundown for the Iftar. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Fasting is not so hard for her, said Betul, who attended the forum with her husband, Hasan Halit Toprak. She said she tries to limit her meals to two a day throughout the year. Summers are harder than winters, she said, because there are more daylight hours––meaning a longer stretch of fasting––and thirst is more of a problem in the summer heat. She gave an illustrated presentation about Ramadan, which begins in the ninth month of the Muslim year, based on the lunar year and moving slowly around the solar year depending on the first sighting of the crescent moon. 

Ozman, a Rumi Forum member from Turkey, said the menu at Tabor drew from Turkish cuisine. Wherever Islamic people live, they’ll serve what’s traditional in their culture, he said. There are no prescribed dishes mandated for Iftar, although he noted that the Prophet Mohammed broke the daylong fast with dates and water before moving on to more substantial food and drink, and many Muslims throughout the world do the same. He said when the hours between sunset and the beginning of the predawn meal are not sufficient for adequate sleep, many businesses encourage a mid-day rest period. He said he usually has traditional breakfast food in the mornings and doesn’t try to eat more heavily than usual.

Pastor Liz Hulme Adam of Tabor Presbyterian with Imam Bilal Ankaya and his wife, Fatma.

Imam Bilal Ankaya, of the Institute for Muslim and Turkish Studies, said children, pregnant or nursing mothers, and the old or sick are exempt from fasting. That doesn’t mean they don’t observe Ramadan: there are other practices beside fasting that distinguish the season, including forgiveness, compassion, charity to the poor, increased prayer, study of the Quran, and focus on community. 

The non-Muslim audience was curious: what about people who live in Iceland or Sweden, where in certain months there is no darkening of the sky? The Imam explained that Muslims in those climates observe the sunrise and sunset times in Mecca, their sacred city. 

Bilal sang the haunting call to evening prayer, using prayers specific to the holy season. Followers of Islam are encouraged to join others for prayers and the evening meal rather than observing them in solitude. In Charlottesville, the Islamic Society of Central Virginia serves an Iftar to the entire congregation every night of Ramadan, with families taking turns either supplying the food or supporting catering from the Kabob Palace and Milan Indian Cuisine. The mosque sponsors children’s activities that are fun as well as instructional, emphasizing that the season is one of joy, charity and community as well as physical discipline and devotion. 

Hasan Halit Toprak quoted the beloved 13th-Century poet for whom the Forum is named: “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.” 

On Tuesday, June 4, Ramadan ended with the Eid al-Fitr, a joyful celebration observed all over the world with gifts, family gatherings, games and food.

Methodists Feed Thousands with Meal Pouches

In late April, Crozet United Methodist Church members, in cooperation with RISE Against Hunger, assembled and packed thousands of meals for hungry people all over the world. During a three-hour, massive volunteer effort, church members working at multiple stations put together pouches of rice, soy, and dehydrated vegetables with 23 vitamins and minerals. Once rehydrated with water, the pouches provide a nourishing meal for a family in need. Volunteers also weighed, sealed, and boxed the meals–each with a two-year shelf life–to be shipped out on palettes. Since its founding in 1998, RISE Against Hunger has shipped over 467 million meals for people in 74 countries.

Volunteers Connie Herring and Amy Blackman assemble meal pouches at Crozet UMW. Submitted photo.

The people of Crozet UMC raised $10,000 during Lent to buy the meal ingredients. 

In May, Crozet UMC Senior Pastor Sarah Wastella welcomed the pets of the congregation and their owners to the blessing of the animals, observing a Christian tradition of more than 800 years. 

New Rector for Emmanuel

New Emmanuel Rector Rev. John Thomas with his family: Sam, Janice and Amanda.

Reverend John Taliaferro Thomas will be the next rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Greenwood. Rev. Thomas currently serves as interim rector at Grace Church in Kilmarnock, where he and his wife, Janice, a registered nurse, now live. He has also led churches in Florida and Georgia. The family includes two grown children, Emily and Sam. Rev. Thomas will assume his position Aug. 1.

Theology on Tap Invites Religious Discussion

There was no preaching with the pepperoni when the new “Theology on Tap” group assembled in May at Crozet Pizza, but there was a lot of honest discussion of issues raised by Christian thinkers. Stuart Revercomb, former pastor of Peace Presbyterian in Roanoke County, said he’d borrowed the name from a Catholic movement to connect religious seekers with each other in an informal way. Revercomb moved to Crozet after marrying Caroline Watkins, a local realtor. 

Revercomb, who publishes the Roanoke Star, an online news outlet, said he’d given the future of religion a great deal of thought after the Pew Research Institute found institutional religion in steep decline. What the Pew study calls “Mainline” Protestant Churches (like Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans) have been affected to the point where the majority of young people raised in the church simply walk away once they’re grown. For the purposes of the study, the Pew group distinguished “Mainline” from “Evangelical” Protestants.

Theology’s on tap at the informal book discussion group meeting on Wednesdays. Submitted photo.

In contrast, Revercomb learned, small exploratory groups interested in the meaning of religion in daily life are flourishing. The local group is a variety of ages and backgrounds and also includes a mix of people seeking spiritual understanding and people who are already devout believers. The Crozet Theology on Tap bunch has been meeting since early in May and includes 25 or so in total, and eight or 10 who show up for any single meeting, Revercomb said. 

Basing the discussion on religious literature elevates the conversation and also makes sure there is something everyone can talk about. Currently, the group is discussing The Screwtape Letters, an imagined correspondence between a seasoned evil spirit and an aspiring one. Written by the beloved author, C.S. Lewis, and dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, the correspondence examines the nature of real evil through the advice that the veteran demon, Screwtape, gives his nephew in destroying the soul of his victim, called “the patient.”

Revercomb said he’s found that short chapters work best in this busy world, and those who haven’t quite kept up with the reading are invited to attend anyway. In June, the meetings will be at Restoration in the Old Trail Golf Club. Anyone interested is welcome to show up there Wednesdays at 7 p.m. To confirm locations chosen for future months, go to the “Theology on Tap Crozet” Facebook page or call Revercomb in advance at 540-330-7335.  

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