Berkeley church parishioners whose house of worship burned last month during a devastating three-alarm fire will be praying at a nearby synagogue for the foreseeable future.
Beginning Sunday, members of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley will be praising God and holding Sunday School at Congregation Beth El on Oxford Street. While followers of different faiths, but the church and temple describe themselves as followers of a liberal, progressive tradition. Church services are held on Sunday, while the Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday. That's a big reason, Senior Minister Molly Baskette said the invitation worked out so well.
In an email to the congregation, Rabbi Yoel Kahn and Board President Jill Siegel said it was an important “mitzvah,” or good deed, to allow the church to use its space – including its limited parking space. And the two called up a Deuteronomy quote, “You must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” to explain the welcoming decision.
Kahn said in a phone interview on Friday that he's received about 50 emails from congregants saying how wonderful the idea is. The synagogue will not be charging the church any rent.
The church suffered a major fire on Sept. 30, and it will likely take months for parishioners to return to their sanctuary on Channing Way first built in 1925.
For its part, Baskette thanked the synagogue, whom she approached on the eve of the Jewish New Year about the possibility of shared space, in a message to her parishioners: "They have been at every turn eager, kind and faithful to their core values of welcoming the stranger. We look forward to worshipping in their beautiful space, and seeing what fruit our relationship may bear in the form of shared programming.”