Southside Baptist welcomes Temple Emanu-Elcomment (0)
June 7, 2001
By Scott Bush
Birmingham saw history in the making over the Memorial Day weekend as Southside Baptist Church opened its doors to the members of the oldest Jewish congregation in the city, Temple Emanu-El. Rabbi Jonathan Miller’s congregation will share Southside’s facilities and use the sanctuary during the 14-month-long remodeling of their synagogue.
“We approached Southside Baptist Church because I had been inside the sanctuary some years ago,” Miller said. “I remembered it as being beautiful, elegant and conducive to Jewish worship, as well as Christian worship. So we scouted it out and were taken again by the beautiful sanctuary and the warm and enthusiastic welcome we received from Rev. Jones and the church members.
“Southside also has the benefit of being in the vicinity of our own Temple, so it will feel like home,” Miller said.
Southside Pastor Steven Jones said, “[The Temple members] are our neighbors and we take very seriously the command of Jesus to love our neighbor.
“Through this time of sharing we expect to get better acquainted with our respective faith traditions but more than that we hope to tear down some of the walls that exist between Christians and Jews and to dispel some of the fears,” Jones said.
Miller agreed with Jones. “We hope that the friendships made between our congregations will lead to a greater sense of understanding and knowledge by both traditions,” Miller said. “We plan to work together for social action and social justice in our community, and hold joint adult education programs to teach and broaden our perspectives on faith and religious life.”
On May 27, Temple members hosted the Southside congregation for a Shavout (Feast of Weeks) service observing God’s giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, followed by a processional from the Temple to the church. Participants from both congregations carried eight Torah scrolls along the three-block walk to Southside Baptist.
“One of the most meaningful images for me, ” Jones said, “was seeing Barbara Watts (a member at Southside and a chaplain at Brookwood Hospital) carrying one of the sacred scrolls.” The processional was met at Southside Baptist by greeters who symbolically opened the doors of the church to their guests and by a banner with the message, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” Jones said Temple Emanu-El members were visibly moved as they read the words of Scripture that is also engraved above the entrance to their synagogue.
Services continued inside the church with a choral presentation of Psalm 122 especially arranged by Southside minister of arts and Samford University Professor Timothy Banks. The Ten Commandments were then read in Hebrew from Temple scrolls and Jones delivered the evening message.
“We all feel that God is smiling on us,” Jones said.
“We feel the heartbeat of God in our own hearts as we worship here together,” he said.
The service concluded with the Southside choir singing “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” after which worshipers shared in a time of fellowship.
Jones said future joint worship services are planned as well as shared ministry projects within the community.
By all accounts, Jones said, “God’s presence at the Temple and at Southside was an overwhelming experience for both congregations.”