Driving down 9th Ave in Owen Sound last week, I saw a sign that grabbed my attention. In the place where the Baptist Church was, there was a new sign. It said "Owen Sound Muslim Association".
No, I grinned. Nothing could delight me more for our community.
I drove by the sign later in the afternoon. There were a number of cars in the parking lot. Friday prayers were being held.
Our community has long been known as a bastion of Christians. Settled by Scots Presbyterians and English Methodists as well as by a seasoning of escaped slaves of the British Methodist Episcopal Church, the life of faith has always been a part of the community.
I recall back in the 1970's the United Church Observer did a feature on the churches of Hanover; there being far more churches per capita than anyone could imagine.
At one time Owen Sound had five United Churches. In Grey County alone there have been sixty five United Churches, from small and rural to large and urban.
But the world is changing. And if we think for one second we can avoid that change, we are simply delusional.
One of the other things which is changing dramatically is the number of young people who are travelling abroad to have some kind of exposure to life in other countries. They can be year long Rotary Club student exchanges or brief trips to help build schools and houses and help communities.
Churches are often organizing groups of their members to do construction work or to help in medical clinics.
I recently interviewed a woman from our community who is home from Liberia after spending time helping teachers learn to teach English. The outbreak of Ebola virus is keeping here from returning in the near future.
People in our community are travelling to the far corners of the world and helping communities bring change.
It makes sense that our community is, in turn, changing.
Last weekend I listened to the Right Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson, Moderator of the United Church of Canada speak about the future of the denomination.
Frankly, it’s not looking good. The traditional Christian church is aging itself out of existence. What we knew will be no more. It is becoming a time for experimentation and outreach, like the Highland Grounds coffee shop in Flesherton or the long distance internet televised and interactive worship services in Thunder Bay.
Owen Sound now has three days of "Sabbath". There is the traditional Christian Sunday or Sabbath, the Jewish shabbat or day of rest from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and now a Muslim Friday day for prayer.
I also believe the faith communities can work together to improve relationships between each other and within the larger community. It is a sign of hope that the Muslim community can re-purpose a Christian worship space and use it for their own worship. It is a sign of trust that they can erect a sign saying that they are a part of the community.
To the Owen Sound Muslim Association may I offer the traditional "As-salamu alaykum" or "Peace be upon you". May you be blessed in your worship and find peace here.
Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County