While the headlines tell us about very real instances of violence against faith communities (a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a mosque in New Zealand, a sikh temple in Wisconsin, a church in Charleston and another in Sutherland Springs, Texas, just to name a few) they often don’t tell us about the everyday stories of grace and hospitality. We know those stories are out there. In nearly every town that offers an interfaith presence there are stories of mutual support and cooperative outreach so ordinary they would never make the news. Some interfaith communities share the same building juggling space and others share a campus while retaining their own dedicated worship space. In truth, there are more stories of love than hate. We should tell the love stories.
To get us started, consider this story from Durham, NC, the place I currently call home. Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church sits just blocks away from Beth El Synagogue. Both faith communities are longtime residents of one of Durham’s oldest neighborhoods. With roots going back to 1887, Beth El has been at its current location since 1957. Trinity Avenue Presbyterian has been at its site since 1924 and its roots go back to the Pearl Cotton Mill that opened in 1892, once located only a few blocks away. Historically speaking, Beth El is the older faith community, but Trinity Avenue has been in the neighborhood longer.
This intersection of place and time took on a new life nearly two years ago when Trinity Avenue offered to house the Beth El congregation while their building underwent a massive renovation. No doubt, church and synagogue leaders imagined little more than schedule coordination—not difficult when primary worship days are completely different—and common courtesy as the necessary ingredients for a successful venture. In reality what they got was much richer, with congregation members learning from and sharing with one another their own faith tenets, community outreach efforts, and mutual striving to live into the Kingdom of God. Personal testimony abounds from lay and clergy alike about the rich relationship cultivated by being in such close proximity.
There’s a lesson here as we increasingly retreat into homogenous neighborhoods and regularly mingle only with people who share our own world view. A little programmed interaction can help all of us learn more about each other and perhaps, most importantly, understand more about ourselves. Without another’s honest inquiry into our habits and beliefs, they can turn into non-negotiable truth claims. Once examined through the eyes of another, we may find our truths originated as convenient practices solidified over time. Or we may find they are foundational to our faith-filled sense of identity. It’s important to know the difference.
While the people of Trinity Avenue and Beth El did not spend their months together locked in deep theological dialogue, they did move about one another’s faith claims and share one another’s habits. In so doing, they are the real headline. Two different faith communities willing to live and learn together while respecting and maintaining their own truths. Here we begin to see “God’s love perfected in us” (I John 4:12).
Learn more about the Trinity Avenue/Beth El story here.