ATLANTA – Mercer University, in partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia (CBF/GA), dedicated its new interfaith prayer garden today on the Cecil B. Day Graduate and Professional Campus in Atlanta.
The site, which is located on an island in the West Parking Lot on campus, also includes a labyrinth and outdoor classroom and is intended to be "a garden, a spiritual oasis, a place where friendship that crosses every ethnicity, culture and faith tradition can grow," said Charlotte Connah, co-chair of the Baptist-Muslim Committee of the CBF/GA Interfaith Task Force. The task force is a partner organization of the University's McAfee School of Theology.
"This campus is wondrously rich in diversity, and this committee fully believes that our young people are our future's best shot at building a better world, one of bridges rather than walls, one of dialogue rather than reaction, one of friendship and not division," Connah said during Thursday's ceremony.
Connah had the vision for an interfaith prayer garden on Mercer's campus three years ago and shared her idea with Mercer President William D. Underwood, Senior Vice President for the Atlanta Campus Richard V. Swindle and McAfee Dean R. Alan Culpepper. A fundraising campaign was initiated through CBF/GA and received contributions from approximately 40 donors representing multiple religious faiths and walks of life.
The lead gift was made by Aziz Dhanani, CEO of Premier Petroleum Inc., who has significantly contributed to the Atlanta area through his involvement with the local Muslim community and his philanthropic endeavors. The garden was dedicated in memory of his parents, Zehrakhanu and Allauddin Dhanani.
"Aziz, you and fellow Muslims have taken a big step by investing in this historically Baptist institution, and we hope you will find this to be only the beginning of a relationship that will cross religious and cultural boundaries and make all of us better and more tolerant people," Underwood said.
Landscaper Andrew Powell designed and planted the garden, and Dr. John Rhodes, past president of the Labyrinth Society, provided step-by-step guidance for construction of the labyrinth, a path intended to invite walking prayer and spiritual reflection. Students, faculty, staff and community members all participated in the placement of stones and slate chips in the days leading up to the dedication ceremony.
Additional participants in the dedication ceremony included Dr. Loyd Allen, Sylvan Hills Baptist Church Professor of Church History and Spiritual Formation at Mercer; Imam Plemon El-Amin, Imam Emeritus of the Atlanta Masjid of Al Islam; Dr. Joe LaGuardia, Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers; the Rev. Wayne Martin, chair of the Baptist-Jewish Committee of the CBF/GA Interfaith Task Force; and Rabbi Scott Colbert, Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Atlanta.