Stone and Shala to receive Roosevelt Institute's 'Freedom of Worship Medal' on Oct. 10 in NY City


From left, Dr. Bashar Shala of the Memphis Islamic Center, and Dr. Steve Stone, retired former lead pastor of Heartsong United Methodist Church in Cordova, Tennessee, welcomed Christians and Muslims for a Thanksgiving meal at Heartsong in 2010. (File photo by Lane Gardner Camp)

Dr. Steve Stone, retired former lead pastor of Heartsong United Methodist Church (UMC) in Cordova, Tennessee, near Memphis, and now executive director of the Memphis Friendship Foundation, and Dr. Bashar Shala, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Memphis Islamic Center, will be jointly presented with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom of Worship Medal from the Roosevelt Institute on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

The ceremony will take place at St. James’ Church in New York City, where the Roosevelt Institute is based.

Awarding its first recipient in 1982, the Roosevelt Institute stands on the foundation and principles of the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in his 1941 State of the Union Address proposed the four essential human freedoms as:

  • freedom of speech and expression
  • freedom of every person to worship God
  • freedom from want
  • freedom from fear

“There was some opposition to our gracious welcome of the Memphis Islamic Center people, but whatever the criticism, our answer continued to be that we are Jesus followers, and his teaching to love our neighbors comes with no qualifiers,” said Stone.

Heartsong United Methodist Church is located in the Metro District of the Memphis Conference (West Tennessee and Western Kentucky) of The United Methodist Church. 

“To be awarded this great honor, which is often won at great cost, and in the company of so many of our own personal heroes, who loved at great cost personally, is deeply humbling,” said Stone.

Heartsong United Methodoist Church welcomed the Memphis Islamic Center to Cordova as neighbors in a city where residents may not have been prepared for a cultural shift, according to a media release from the Memphis Friendship Foundation.

Stone and Shala made it a priority to foster friendship and solidarity among their congregations that today manifests in the planning of Friendship Park of Memphis, an eight-acre concept imagined by the two faith communities under the collaborative nonprofit Memphis Friendship Foundation.

With the intention to build friendships among people of all races, cultures, and faiths, Friendship Park is yet another testament to the deserving achievement of the Freedom of Worship Medal, states the media release.

“To say that we are grateful for the support and gestures of love from Steve and the Heartsong congregation is an understatement,” said Shala.

“As American-Muslims, acceptance, warmth and trusting partnership isn’t something that is experienced without secret undertones or reservations, but Heartsong exposed us to the possibility for a shift in that thinking. As a co-recipient of the Freedom of Worship Medal, it is evident that the friendship we have built is recognized and with faith it will be replicated around the world.”

Joining an esteemed list of 2017 laureates, Stone and Shala will be honored alongside Harry Belafonte, Ai-jen Poo, Cristina Jimenez Moreta and Dan Rather. Past honorees include Presidents Truman, Carter and Clinton, as well as Nelson Mandela and Coretta Scott King.

“At a time when individuals in positions of influence seek to divide America's religious communities by sowing distrust, Pastor Stone and Dr. Shala are leading by example,” said Felicia Wong, president & CEO of the Roosevelt Institute.

“They understand that faith is not a wedge but a force that can bring meaning to our lives and bring communities together. Their efforts in Memphis are an inspiration and reminder of what freedom of worship can achieve when it deliberately works to build a better society and a better America.”