Have any burning questions about the Unitarian/Universalist church? Don’t know who the Asatru are? Do you love food trucks and The Reba Russel Band?
The Memphis Friendship Foundation is hosting an event on October 5th for people of all religious communities to come together and increase their understanding of one another, as well as listen to live music and eat good food.
The event’s roots go all the way back to 2010 when Heartsong Church put out a welcome sign for the Memphis Islamic Center after they first purchased the property across from the church. This sign would go on to attract national attention as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approached.
The Huffington Post, NPR, CBS News, and MSNBC all covered the story, as well as many local news outlets. In 2016, the Starbuck’s series Upstanders featured their friendship in a video that would later win an award at the My Hero Film Festival.
“The vice president of Starbucks, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, called me and said, ‘You know, we’re gonna do the series called Upstanders,’” Dr. Stone, former pastor of Heartsong Church, said. “He said, ‘Please tell me you guys are still friends.’ And I said, ‘Well, actually, we broke up about three months ago.’”
In the years since the attention has died down, the relationship between the two communities has only deepened. Together, they have a dinner the week before Thanksgiving every year and a blood drive as close to 9/11 as possible (the two communities take turns hosting it).
Dr. Steve Stone eventually retired from his job as pastor of Heartsong Church and soon after started the Memphis Friendship Foundation with Dr. Bashar Shala, co-founder of the Memphis Islamic Center. The purpose of the foundation is mostly centered around the building of Friendship Park, which, according to their website, is meant to “serve as a world-wide monument to friendship, a platform for making and celebrating friendships, and a launching pad for outreach experiences that will make our communities safer and more joyful places.”
The organization has expanded in its mission a bit since it started. It now presents an annual Friendship Award and organizes a fundraising banquet for every spring. The Ask Me Anything event is one solely dedicated to fostering connections between religions communities in and around Memphis.
The event will include representatives from the Sikh, Wicca, Jewish, Buddhist, Universal/Unitarian, Christian, and Muslim communities.
“If people come to this and they enjoy the music and they enjoy the food trucks and they wander around, I think it’ll be fun,” Dr. Stone said. “I don’t know anything about the Asatru. So I’ll be asking them questions.”
For everyone interested, the event will be held from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Health Sciences Park. Memphis may have a history of division, especially in regards to issues of religion, but Dr. Stone has this to say:
“We believe that fear and ignorance combine to make hatred,” Dr. Stone said. “If you don’t understand someone else it can cause you to fear them and then to project hatred onto them. That’s dangerous and a lot of that’s going on in the world today. So, we think in our own little way we’re trying to make the world a safer and more joyful place.”