During its peak as a thriving little manufacturing center filled with stately homes and mansions, Binghamton, New York, was nicknamed the “Parlor City.” Today many of those same mansions are funeral parlors. History appears to be repeating itself in modern day Binghamton. For some 130 years, the city was the home to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. But recently, the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York sold the pretty little church building on Conklin Avenue to the Islamic Awareness Center.
In selling Church of the Good Shepherd’s building to the Muslim group, the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York was killing two birds with one stone. First, they placed an enormous obstacle in the path of the now-Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd. Second, they offered a big inter-faith embrace to their Muslim brothers and sisters who needed a property from which to extend the Dawah (the invitation to Islam). That’s a good day’s work for a diocese that has been losing church members for the past ten years or more.
Unlike the diocese, the Church of the Good Shepherd has grown every year under the care of Episcopal priest team of husband and wife, the Reverends Matthew and Anne Kennedy. But in 2007, Good Shepherd made the difficult decision to join the dozens of congregations that were leaving the Episcopal Church while remaining in the wider Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church is a part . These parishes are referred to as departing churches, but they argue that it is the denomination that has departed -- from orthodox, biblical Christianity. The Kennedys were deposed (ceased to have authority as priests) in the Episcopal Church, and received as priests in the Anglican Church. And the Diocese of Central New York began an aggressive lawsuit against the church for all of the property.
Reverend Matt Kennedy wrote that, "In 2008, while the lawsuit raged, the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd grew and expanded significantly." The church was impacting the neighborhood through a soup kitchen that served the homeless and through block parties. Good Shepherd's "weekly bible studies were packed with new people" and an increasing number of students from Binghamton University were coming to the church, Kennedy recounted.
On January 8, 2009, the lawsuit was decided in the diocese's favor. The diocese was “entitled to immediate possession" of the church building and to the rectory, home to the Kennedys’ growing family since 2002. The Kennedys and all of the people of Good Shepherd hurriedly removed their property from the church building as they were warned that the diocese did indeed intend to take immediate possession. At the same time, the church was trying to find another place to worship and to host their soup kitchen for the homeless, the Shepherd's Bowl. The monsignor of the nearby St. John’s and Andrew’s Catholic Church opened his parish kitchen to the feeding program so that the meals for the homeless would not be interrupted. But for the first week, attendance was scant. Signs on the old building directing the homeless to the new soup kitchen had been taken down, apparently, by the Diocese when they were padlocking the church to keep out the Anglicans.
As it turned out, almost all of the wider church community in Binghamton reached out to Good Shepherd. Kennedy relates that the list of pastors and churches that helped or in some way encouraged them is “fairly exhaustive.” “Presbyterians, Baptists, Free Methodists, Methodists, Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostal, non-denominational…the outpouring was incredible,” says Kennedy. In particular, the pastor of the neighboring Conklin Avenue Baptist Church immediately offered the Anglicans temporary space for worship in his church's gymnasium. Then, thanks to a very generous offer from the Catholic monsignor, St. Andrew’s church and rectory, which were left vacant when the parish merged with St. John's, became the new home of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd.
It was not as if the people of Good Shepherd had been expecting to keep their church building at no cost. Before the legal proceedings began, Good Shepherd offered to purchase the church building and rectory from the diocese. The diocese refused to sell, and during litigation told the court that the parish was no longer using the property for the purposes for which it had been intended by the Episcopalians who built it in 1879 and who had spent money to maintain it over the years. The Episcopal Church has at various times declared that it will sue every congregation that departs from the denomination in order to preserve the "devotion and witness of Episcopalians of the past for Episcopalians of the future." That has not quite turned out to be the case in Binghamton, though, unless the "Episcopalians of the future" are part of the Ummah, the Muslim world. Which, come to think of it, does not seem all that far-fetched.
Although the Diocese of Central New York refused to sell the Church of the Good Shepherd to the Anglicans for whom it had been home, they were happy to sell it to a Muslim group for $50,000, a third of the amount that Good Shepherd had offered. According to the Rev. Tony Seel, the Diocese even added a legal caveat to the sale stating that the new owners of the property could never re-sell the building to the original congregation.
The property had been standing vacant and padlocked for many months, when on March 17, 2010,
Kennedy passed by his former church building. He saw a crane removing the cross from the bell tower. The former Good Shepherd Church had red doors, symbolizing the blood of Christ as well as the blood of the martyrs. Now the doors had been painted green, and the new owners had covered over the glass that had formed the horizontal arms of a cross-shaped window on the church door. Over the back door was a new sign that said “Islamic Awareness Center.”
The former Church of the Good Shepherd is now a “Dawah organization,” with representatives ready to meet with schools, parent-teacher associations, and other community organizations to introduce Islam and Muslims. The Islamic Awareness Center states that it will “explain Islam’s message of peace, share Qur’an and Hadith, and answer questions.” It also offers “programs suitable for children using a puppet show,” it adds.
Binghamton appears to be well into dhimmitude from the looks of the June 2008 commemoration of the birth of Mohammed, celebrated on the courthouse lawn at City Hall. At this inter-faith love fest Binghamton mayor Mathew Ryan gushed, “I applaud your efforts to create a dialog, a dialog that celebrates diversity, tolerance, and understanding and unity, and I applaud the efforts of The International Quranic Open University.” But even if the Dawah “invitational” approach to Islam should fail, just up the road about 40 miles there is another option.
In Hancock, New York, “Islamberg” is an Islamic military training facility and home to the aforementioned International Quranic Open University. Islamberg is also headquarters of Muslims of America, a group associated with the Pakistani terrorist group Jamaat ul Fuqra. Here, as the Christian Action Network has revealed, men and women are being trained in guerilla warfare, hand-to-hand combat, and the shooting of assault weapons. The leader of Muslims of America declares that “Muslims are the majority in America.” There is no known connection between the Islamic Awareness Center in Binghamton and Islamberg, but what is known is that Dawah, the invitation to Islam, traditionally precedes jihad.
The Diocese of Central New York preferred to enable the Dawah, the efforts of Muslims to transform the religious landscape of upstate New York, rather than to allow a church that is preaching the Gospel, teaching the Bible, and feeding the homeless to hold on to the building that had long been their home. Sadly, the Episcopal Church very probably doesn't even know what the Dawah is. Sadder still, even if they knew, they wouldn't care.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan, and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).