Saturday, June 8, 2013

Interfaith Worship

It is no secret we tend to visit a lot of different houses of worship during the year.Christmas time alone it is not uncommon for us to attend worship in four different churches. Often when we go on vacation we'll attend a local worship service. Sometimes these lead to anecdotal stories (such as the time we stopped by the Crystal Cathedral and their way of trying to lure us to worship with them was by telling us they seat visitors in the area most likely to appear on TV; we did not return for worship).

We have attended numerous services at St. Ann's Church, and will continue to at least until Ashley's graduation.

Of course we do lean towards Presbyterian services. We are members at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church, but tend to worship Sunday evenings at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville's 5 PM service called WiNK: Worship in a New Key. I could write much about this service, perhaps this deserves its own blog post. The "key" for me is that while each service focuses on the same scriptures I have heard preached on many times (especially around Christmas and Easter), worship leaders always manage to put a new perspective on it so it feels fresh. That is hard to do. I'm the lay person on the committee for this service. One of the unspoken goals is to have different people preach. One of my personal goals is to spread word about this service to worship leaders who need a chance to sit down and worship in order to feel rejuvenated. They also do an amazing job with finding area musicians to lead the worship, often drawing from members of the congregation. They even alternate between three different hymnals to really shake up the experience. Often the pastor will ask the congregation a question invoking the feel of a bible study to worship.

Unfortunately WiNK is on hiatus from June through September. They will start up again in October with fresh ideas.

With WiNK on break, this was the perfect weekend to try a different worship experience. As luck would have it, this was also the weekend that Temple Micah meets for the month. Temple Micah? That doesn't sound very Presbyterian? Well, it isn't.

According to their website, Temple Micah is:
 an unaffiliated, egalitarian congregation in Lawrenceville, New Jersey serving the Jewish community of Central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania since 1969. Temple Micah’s mission is to provide a warm and comfortable atmosphere where all individuals and their families and friends are welcome and can realize their own connection to Judaism, without financial burden.
We met their rabbi last November when Temple Micah hosted Lawrenceville's Interfaith Thanksgiving service. Rabbi Vicki is warm and inviting. When I asked about attending one of their worship services she was most encouraging. In fact, she said she likes to attend worship services of different faiths, so I invited her to WiNK, which she has yet to attend.

Temple Micah meets once a month in the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville. Okay, that helps with the comfort zone right there -- we already know our way around that building. It still took a while before their meeting schedule meshed with our complicated schedule. Yesterday they highlighted a Klezmer band. This was a huge draw as they moved their service from the chapel to the sanctuary to accommodate everyone.

When we walked in were handed a prayer book. Don's version of the book was in the Hebrew style -- from what us Westerners would say from back to front. Ashley and I came in later and were handed Western version of the same book (from from to back). Same page numbers, but on opposite pages. The books had words in Hebrew letters, Hebrew pronunciations, and English translations. 

Rabbi Vicki was great at explaining things to the congregation (is that the right term?) at each transition. The music was their normal prayers set to Klezmer-style music. Not nearly as much standing and sitting as in a Presbyterian service, but this had the added twists of facing the door to welcome the Sabbath bride and facing East (I don't remember why). 

In many ways, this service reminded me of a regular WiNK service -- the traditional words of scripture were made fresh, the non-traditional worship music added a spark of life, the building was the same and the congregation was very warm and inviting. There were some notable differences -- people actually danced in the aisle (though i suspect that only happened because the Klezmer band was that good), the lack of Jesus (of course), and (again, of course) the addition of Hebrew. 

The language barrier was a bit of a challenge. If we focused on the pronunciation of the words, we lost the meaning. If we read the meaning to ourselves, we lost speaking our faith with other believers. I thought about how the Catholic church only had services in Latin. A former co-worker loved this tradition because it meant she (who understood Latin) could worship anywhere in the world and always understand the priest. In the 1960s that changed to preaching in the language of the people, which might mean Polish in the Polish-section of Trenton, or Italian, or English. There are some who still offer mass in Latin. 

Back to Temple Micah. I wonder if there is a movement to change from worshipping in Hebrew to worshipping in the local language. What would be the pros and cons of such a move? Yes, it would be more inclusive, but it would further sever ties with Israel. Are there any Jewish services doing this now? 

I would feel comfortable enough discussing this with Rabbi Vicki, but last night was not the night. After worship we gathered for snacks. When we finally tore ourselves away (did I mention how friendly everyone was -- we were surprised how many people we knew from other parts of our lives) I was shocked to see over 2 hours had passed. Nothing felt long, but it was 9:30.

Speaking of the congregation, the trickiest question I had to answer was "do you worship here?" The technical answer is "yes" because we worship there on Sunday nights with WiNK, but the implied answer was "no" because we are not Jewish and do not worship with Temple Micah. People were still welcoming even after explaining we were not Jewish. Reminded me of times we have visited churches out of state and people come up to greet us, though in those case they fade away once we say we are not planning on moving close enough to worship there on a regular basis.

Summer is here. Time to explore new places and ways to worship and glorify God.

A modern translation 
of Psalm 150:
Praise God in God's sanctuary;
Praise God in the world around us.
Praise our Source of Life for mighty acts;
Praise the Divine presence 
for being a part of our life's greatness.
Praise with blasts of horn;
Praise with harp and lyre.
Praise with timbrel and dance;
Praise with lute and pipe.
Praise with resounding cymbals;
Praise with loud-clashing cymbals.
Let all that breathes 
praise that which is divine in our lives.

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