Two Christian Reformed churches in Guelph, Ont., were honored last month by the Muslim Society of Guelph (MSOG) for their efforts in building understanding between faith groups in the Guelph region.

Representatives from First CRC and New Life CRC accepted awards for dedication to multifaith dialogue at the second annual awards banquet hosted by MSOG as a celebration of civic life. About 25 awards were given to individuals and community groups such as the hospital board, public and Catholic school boards, local police force, and a number of politicians, for their contribution to the life of the city and to building community among different faith groups.

Members of both churches belong to the Bridging Group, which includes members of various faith groups including Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. They meet regularly to share meals, stories, and perspectives. “We are trying to deepen friendships and relationships,” said Gary VanArragon of New Life CRC.

Ed Den Haan, a member of First CRC, helped begin the group when he was a chaplain at the University of Guelph. “When I served in campus ministry, I shared ministry with Muslim leaders and members. . . . Those years have formed a positive basis for current religious activity on campus and between our church and the mosque.”

“The banquet was a wonderful event,” said VanArragon. Tables were assigned to seat people from different faith communities and walks of life together. “The emphasis was on building bridges by sharing events like this one and on promoting multifaith dialogue.”

Just weeks after the dinner, the goodwill created was clear in Guelph’s response to a shooting during evening prayers in a Quebec mosque. Around 1,000 people gathered at the MSOG mosque to show solidarity with the Muslim community in Guelph.

Rev. David Tigchelaar, speaking to the gathering, confessed, “I don’t know if I would have been here had it not been for something I experienced two weeks ago. I was invited to a banquet hosted by the Muslim Society of Guelph for those in the community that had shown themselves to be bridge builders.” He praised their hospitality, and continued, “They demonstrated how they want to be good citizens of Canada. They taught us through their evening prayer, which was a part of that evening, that they wanted to live their life entirely before the Creator.”

“Today, I want to stand with you as a friend,” said Tigchelaar. “I have been taught by my faith that true community laughs with those who laugh. We did that a few weeks ago at the banquet. True community also mourns with those who mourn. We do that tonight with you . . . in community.”

About the Author

Anita Brinkman is the Banner's regional news correspondent for classes Chatham and Huron.