Denver Church Hires Imam

Is it outreach, or abandoning the gospel?

During the 11:15 a.m. Eucharist on Sunday, the newest staff member at central Denver’s historic St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral will be formally installed.

He will walk to the steps before the altar. His qualifications will be discussed. The canon steward will recite the Prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace.”

Then, presuming everything goes as planned, a new chapter in interfaith relations will be written: A Muslim imam will join the staff of a Christian church, a first in Denver and perhaps nationally.

Ibrahim Kazerooni, a Shiite cleric, will direct the church’s fledgling Abrahamic Initiative, a bridge-building effort among Christians, Jews and Muslims. He will continue to head the Islamic Center of Ahl Al-Beit in west Denver.

“I really don’t feel out of place here,” said Kazerooni, an Iraq native who has proved to be an articulate voice for his faith since coming to Denver four years ago. “Whether it is a church, a synagogue or a mosque, it’s just the medium. The message is the work we do.”

Kazerooni won’t be paid a salary for serving as interim director of the Abrahamic Initiative, a program founded in the spring of 2001 and named for the biblical figure linking the three faiths. Instead, the church will cover a year’s tuition at Iliff School of Theology, where Kazerooni is pursuing a master’s in theology.

The initiative seeks to find the common ground of the three monotheistic faiths through public lectures and dialogues in private homes where people from each faith break bread and share stories.

“Our society is polarized,” said Greg Movesian, the cathedral canon and chairman of the initiative’s steering committee. “We want to get beyond that polarization. We hope this appeals to people who don’t look upon people of other religions as a target for conversion but rather potential partners in maintaining a civil society.”

“It’s a breakthrough,” he said of hiring Kazerooni, who previously took part in the program. “I don’t know if there is any other church in the country that has an imam on its staff.”

I don’t know either, but I’d bet there’s not a mosque with a Christian pastor on staff.

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