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Stories of faith come to life

An Evening of Sacred Storytelling features tales from Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

By JANE MADDEN WELCH, Times Correspondent
Published September 14, 2007


A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into, well, not a bar, but Panera Bread in Tarpon Springs.

It's not a joke, but a serious meeting to discuss a program they designed to share their different faiths through storytelling.

Emily Harris, 57, will tell the story of Miriam, the sister of Moses, from the Hebrew Bible.

Drew Willard, 53, will talk about Mary Magdalene, from the New Testament gospels of Luke and John.

Mamdouh Elsayed, 37, will speak on Khadija, the first wife of Mohammed, from the Koran.

"The goal is for folks to hear the sacred stories of each of our faiths and something that is shared, the love for God," Willard said.

The program is Saturday evening at the Holiday United Church of Christ, where Willard is the pastor.

On the face of it, these three people would not seem to have much in common.

Harris is a teaching artist, a single woman active in the local Jewish community, who grew up in Pittsburgh.

Willard, a West Point graduate with seven years in the U.S. Army, is married and has two stepchildren. A Christian pastor since 1996, he has been with Holiday United Church of Christ since 2000. His wife, Daphni, is Catholic and an associate pastor at the church.

Elsayed is a claims adjustor and a member of the Islamic Society of Dunedin. He is married, has a daughter, and lives in Trinity. Originally from Egypt, he moved to the United States in 1996.

Harris and Willard live in Tarpon Springs and belong to the Tampa Bay Storytellers Guild. Willard is also a member of the National Organization of Biblical Storytellers.

"Storytelling is an art form that you do from the heart," Harris said. "A good storyteller can create magic."

For the past few weeks, their meeting place has been at Panera Bread. Harris, Willard and Elsayed discuss how sharing a story from each of their holy books could promote understanding and tolerance.

"I think we all have misunderstandings about what other faiths believe," Harris said. "There are many more similarities than differences in these three religions."

It is coincidental that they each chose to talk about a woman. Willard said he selected Mary Magdalene to paint a portrait of a believer's journey.

Elsayed occasionally delivers sermons at the Islamic mosque in Dunedin he attends.

"For me it's important to speak about this woman, Khadija, who is called the mother of all Muslims," he said.

People of all faiths are welcome at An Evening of Sacred Storytelling. Each storyteller will speak for 15 minutes, with an open discussion afterward.

"There is so much we can learn from each other," Elsayed said.

"It is my hope that somewhere between the telling and the listening, we will find common ground, a place where hearts and souls connect," Harris said.

If you go

An Evening of Sacred Storytelling

When: From 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Holiday United Church of Christ, 4826 Bartelt Road, Holiday

Admission: Free; donations accepted

Information and directions: Call (727) 937-1520