A Tale of Three Churches

The 2018 JCRC Christian Clergy Israel Study Tour

This Friday, a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich.

Almost every Saturday, you can find me in synagogue, where I celebrate Shabbat with my community, joining in the sweet song of Jewish prayer and the joyful study of Torah. But on three recent Sundays, I found myself in other houses of worship, outside of the tradition in which I’ve spent my life. Given the starkly different surroundings and the unfamiliar observance, I might have expected to feel out of place or perhaps even uncomfortable. So, it was a bit confusing for this Jewish girl to feel so at home in Baptist, AME (African Methodist Episcopal) and Episcopal churches, where I was greeted warmly with hugs from friends, old and new. In each church, though the ritual and religious language were not mine, I felt deeply connected to friends and partners inspired by their own faith traditions to realize our collective dreams for our community.

Each of these connections was forged on our last JCRC Christian Clergy Israel Study Tour, at each other’s sacred sites; gazing over the Sea of Galilee, walking the streets of Nazareth and Bethlehem, marveling at the throngs of praying Jews at the Kotel, experiencing the wonder of this Holy Land through the lens of the other. We wept together at Yad Vashem and were buoyed by the hope embodied in the work of Israelis and Palestinians working together toward a better future for all. And throughout, our affection and admiration for each other grew, as did our shared commitment to build a society back in Boston reflecting the values of our disparate faith traditions: freedom, equality and justice.

So why all the church visits?

The first opportunity came late last summer when Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz called with an unusual request; could I recommend a minister who could address the Temple Emanuel community during the break in their Yom Kippur service?  They were hoping that an inspirational speaker might counteract their weariness and revive their flagging spirits during a long fast day. I connected them with Rev. Jeremy Battle, who had left an enduring impression on me during our trip. Reverend Battle did not disappoint. Not only did he deliver rousing remarks that day, but he developed a bond with the Temple Emanuel clergy and congregation in the process. That visit led to an immediate plan for a larger interfaith gathering in Cambridge, when the Temple Emanuel community was invited to join with Rev. Battle and his congregation (Western Avenue Baptist Church) along with another minister from our trip, Rev. Lorraine Thornhill, and her congregation, Kingdom Empowerment Center.

With the full participation of the three congregations, their clergy, and choirs, the gathering had to be held in a larger space – the MLK School in Cambridge. The ministers shared their reflections of their time in Israel, with Rev. Thornhill attesting to the enduring impact of her Shabbat experience in Jerusalem on her own Sabbath observance back home. This time, it was Rabbi Gardenswarz who stirred the crowd with his sermon, and the choirs joined in jubilant song. In a region and country too often marked by divisiveness and rancor, we were people of God— proudly celebrating the richness of our distinct traditions, and our common humanity. You can watch a video of the interfaith gathering here.

Speaking at the interfaith gathering in Cambridge

The next week I was invited by another Israel trip alum, Reverend Greg Groover, to join in the celebration of his and his wife Rev. Barbara Groover’s 25th anniversary celebration at their church, Charles St. AME. Rev. Groover, who serves as mentor to countless area clergy, will be co-chairing this summer’s JCRC trip to Israel. The celebration of their leadership was as moving as I knew it would be, with tributes from Mayor Walsh, Attorney General Healey, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and BPS Superintendent Brenda Casselius. Rev. Groover’s extraordinary accomplishments as Chair of the Boston School Committee resonated deeply with JCRC’s 20+ year commitment to the schools through our literacy program.

Reverend Greg Groover and Rev. Barbara Groover’s 25th anniversary celebration at their church, Charles St. AME

On the JCRC Israel Study Tour with Rev. Gretchen Grimshaw

And just this past Sunday, I was in yet another church, St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newton Highlands, for a farewell service and celebration of Rev. Gretchen Grimshaw. Though she too was on our trip, we actually met the previous year, at a meeting of faith communities called to address the crisis facing local immigrants. This visionary minister took an immediate leap of faith at that meeting, committing her church to be a sanctuary for people targeted for deportation. A cluster was formed to support the work, and I was privileged to participate through my own Newton congregation, doing regular overnight shifts. The sanctuary was sustained through Rev. Grimshaw’s leadership and a robust and tight-knit network of Jews and Christians who JCRC helped to organize. We turned out that day in full force, to honor our clergy leader, marveling at the magnificent liturgy she created and sharing our words of Torah in the celebration afterward.

The Talmud describes Shabbat as containing a foretaste of the world to come. On a different Sabbath – on three Sundays and in three churches, I got a glimpse of that world. Through foreign and unfamiliar ritual, I saw the expression of shared hopes and dreams – of interfaith understanding and connection, and a common commitment to equal opportunity, freedom, and dignity for all. Informed by our respective faith traditions, we came together to build a community where there is no “other”, where all are one as God’s creations.

Wishing you a Shabbat – whenever you celebrate it – of peace, inspiration and hope.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma