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USA: Bible studies bring different faiths together

“We all learn from each other. If you comment on anything which anyone says, everyone welcomes that as a part of knowledge. No one goes against each other.”

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit: The Columbus Dispatch
By JoAnne Viviano | November 2, 2012

Weekly gathering has been taking place since 1960s

A bitter battle over a Worthington school-bond issue in the late 1960s has left a legacy of furthering understanding between members of various religious faiths.

In the aftermath of the failed ballot effort, a group of Jews and Christians gathered over the Bible, hoping to reunite the divided community. It quickly became a weekly event, and more than 40 years later, the group continues to gather for breakfast, Scripture reading and prayer.

Faces have changed over the years — the group recently welcomed a Muslim into the fold — but the goal of fostering good will remains the same.

On a recent Friday, about 15 members took turns reading verses from the 40th chapter of Exodus during a meeting at La Chatelaine restaurant in Worthington. The group, ranging in number from a few to a couple dozen participants, meets there at 7 a.m. most Fridays. Members aim to read one chapter of the Bible each week, then discuss how the messages can affect their lives in today’s world, said attorney Bonnie Michael, a Worthington City Council member who attends Temple Beth Shalom in New Albany. As a Jewish woman, she said, she wasn’t sure she’d fit in at Bible meetings.

“I had never read the Bible. I never had anything to do with Bible study. I was a little intimidated,” she said. “Now, it’s very comfortable, and I look forward to coming every Friday and growing.”

Mirza Ahmad, a Muslim, joined the group last year after meeting another member at the Columbus International Festival. Others have joined after attending Worthington Mayor Harvey Minton’s annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, which this year will be next Friday.

Minton, an attorney and a member of Worthington Presbyterian Church, often attends the weekly Bible breakfast with his wife, Jane; in turn, members of the Bible group sponsor his prayer breakfast.

Dr. Louis Goorey was one of the initial members of the Bible group. He is Jewish and attends Temple Israel on the East Side but says Jesus’ teachings are universal.

“It seemed the right time to get people together who might disagree about a lot of things, but they could get together about the Bible and share things,” said Goorey, a retired pediatrician who serves as Worthington City Council president.

Ahmad, a member of the Columbus-area chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Groveport, said it’s rare to find a place where he can freely discuss his religion. He brings a copy of the Islamic holy book, the Quran, and points out similarities between its verses and those found in the Bible. He also discusses differences if the group asks.

“We all learn from each other,” said Ahmad, an interpreter and retired missionary. “If you comment on anything which anyone says, everyone welcomes that as a part of knowledge. No one goes against each other.”

George Norris, a veterinarian who attends First Community Church in Worthington, said Ahmad’s participation has been enlightening. “It’s exciting to learn that there’s a group of Muslims (who aren’t) what I’d consider ‘radical,’ ” he said. “There are some awfully nice Muslims.”

Four decades ago, the open-arms sentiment was much the same, said Page Brightman, a member of Worthington Presbyterian Church who is a tax and business consultant and one of the Bible group’s initial members. “Back then, we didn’t care what you were,” he said. “We just wanted to get the community together.”

The mayor’s Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, featuring Episcopal Church deacon and former Worthington Libraries director Meribah Mansfield, will be held at 7:30 a.m. next Friday at the Holiday Inn in Worthington. Tickets are $25 per person. For reservations, call Barbara Madison at 614-798-9762.

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