My name is Jake Hofmeister. I’m a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor, hospital chaplain, and interfaith activist. I’ve recently moved to Michigan, where my wife is pastor of First Presbyterian, Jonesville. Jonesville is a small village of a couple thousand people, surrounded mostly by cornfields and lakes. It’s about an hour drive to any sizable metropolitan area. I was disappointed about moving to a small town because, stereotypically, rural areas in America lack diversity. While many are homogeneous in southern Michigan, I was surprised to find a diversity I was not expecting…religious diversity.
On the drive up to Michigan through Ohio, I passed a very large Islamic Community Center in Toledo with the minarets towering over the cornfields. In the Detroit Metro Airport, there is a multi faith prayer room complete with a Quran and directions pointing to Mecca. Dearborn Michigan, an hour away, has the highest percentage of Arab Muslims of any other area in America. Even in rural Coldwater, Michigan only 17 miles away from our small town, there is one of the largest Muslim communities outside of metro Detroit, complete with a Masjid. Muslims are my neighbors, they are my friends, and they are my community.
So as I begin my new life in Michigan with my Muslim neighbors and I begin my new call as hospital chaplain in Kalamazoo where colleagues, patients, and their families are Muslim, I have decided that I need to connect with them more deeply.
In Christianity, we are approaching a very special time in the life of the church–Advent. Advent is derivative of the Latin adventus, meaning “coming”. It is the time where we anticipate the incarnation of Jesus at Christmas. And for me, the incarnation of Jesus represents God’s radical love, openness, and compassion being made real in the world.
So during this Advent season, I aim to make real God’s radical love, openness, and compassion by reading the 114 Surah of the Quran, that’s about four “chapters” a day. But, I won’t stop there. I will visit the local Mosques, speak with my Muslim friends, and try to raise awareness of Islam and advocate for interfaith cooperation. I do this to stand in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers who have been suffering in a post 9/11 atmosphere of prejudice. I do this also to be better able to understand and minister to my Muslim patients as a hospital chaplain. I do this, too, as a personal journey in hopes to deepen my own spiritual life.
So starting this Sunday, I will be reading 4 Surah a day through Christmas. I will be blogging about my experience daily. I hope to travel to Coldwater, to Dearborn, and to other communities to connect with Muslims, talk about this project, and to stand in solidarity with them. I will also be attending my wife’s church and participating in the season of Advent from the Christian perspective. Hopefully, some deep insights will emerge from this juxtaposition.
My first blog post will be the first Sunday in Advent, Nov. 28. Until then, I will be in conversation with my friends and neighbors about the background and techniques to best read and understand the Quran, especially coming from a non-Muslim perspective. I’m counting on you Hamza and Zair!