Heartsong Church and the Memphis Islamic Center are reaching across the aisle (or, um, street) to share their friendship with the greater Memphis region.
The two neighboring Cordova congregations are planning an eight-acre Friendship Park on their two parcels of land located directly across the street from one another. The two four-acre parcels would be connected with a tunnel running underneath Humphreys Road.
"We're hoping it will be world-class. We're talking about waterfalls and play areas and all kinds of interactive things," said Steve Stone, pastor of the United Methodist congregation at Heartsong. "Our goal is for this to be a worldwide monument to friendship."
The project is spearheaded by the Memphis Friendship Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by members of Heartsong and the Memphis Islamic Center.
"The purpose of the foundation is to create opportunities for building friendships among people of all races, cultures, and faiths," Stone said. "If we can do that with this park, we will end up making the world and our communities safer and more joyful."
The foundation must raise $5 million before the park becomes reality, but they've already raised enough money to purchase some land to complete the eight-acre goal.
The park will include several children's splash lagoons, a ropes course, a few putting greens, playgrounds, adult exercise equipment, a water garden, and an amphitheater. Stone said he'd like to see the park's construction within two years.
On Saturday, May 5th, the Memphis Friendship Foundation will host an open-to-the-public Friendship Park picnic on the park's future site with food, a petting zoo, and tours of park land. Although the event is free, attendees are required to register at MemphisFriendshipFoundation.org.
The two congregations became friendly in 2010 when Heartsong Church allowed Memphis Islamic Center members to observe the holy month of Ramadan in their church while the Islamic Center was under construction.
It was around that same time that Florida pastor Terry Jones made headlines when his church burned copies of the Koran. When the national media heard of the friendship between Heartsong and the Islamic Center, they made national news.
"We just thought that was what Christianity was all about. We didn't think it was a leap of faith, but with the general atmosphere in the country, the story got a little more attention," said Bashar Shala, Memphis Islamic Center chairman. "We weren't trying to break barriers. We just didn't see those barriers."