Congregation Beth El Binah plants new roots …
at Northaven United Methodist Church
JAMES RUSSELL | Staff Writer
A Reform Jewish rabbi and Methodist minister walk into a church.
“The beginning of a beautiful friendship,” said The Rev. Eric Folkerth of Northaven United Methodist Church.
At least that’s what both members of his church and Congregation Beth El Binah, the Reform Jewish synagogue with a primary outreach to the LGBT community, hope when the synagogue begins holding Shabbat services in a second story room after celebrating the High Holidays in the main sanctuary.
Beth El Binah said goodbye to the Resource Center, its home of 23 years on Monday, Aug. 31. The synagogue needed more space for its expanding education and outreach programs.
Folkerth and Rabbi Stephen Fisch have no doubts the relationship will work out.
One good sign? It only took a few months to hash out a deal between the church and synagogue, a remarkable feat for anyone familiar with the bureaucracy and hierarchy often embedded in organized religion. The fact that a deal was reached between two different religions also indicates the signs of a fruitful partnership.
But shared bonds between the two leaders, as well as members of both congregations, made the partnership a lot easier.
“One of the great things [about this opportunity] is that we already had mutual connections through Black Tie Dinner,” Folkerth said. The church is often a beneficiary of the fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign and local LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations.
When Fisch met Folkerth for the first time, he said the bond was almost immediate.
“We had a mutual love for another,” Fisch said.
Fisch was attracted to the church because of its “spiritual symbiosis” of working with another place of faith. Both were attracted to their shared interest in social justice issues, including their LGBT advocacy, as well.
While the Union for Reform Judaism, of which Beth El Binah has been a member since 1992, has long affirmed the rights of LGBT members, that’s not the case with every United Methodist Church.
Under current Methodist doctrine, churches have been given “paradoxical statements” about the LGBT community, Folkerth said.
While doctrine states all churches must be welcome to everyone, the term “everyone” is used by both affirming and churches hostile to LGBT people.
But Northaven is not the typical Methodist church. For instance, from 1967 to 1972, the church doubled as a home to members of the newly formed Reform synagogue Temple Shalom, while building their own home.
When Northaven underwent renovations in the 1980s, Temple Shalom returned the favor, welcoming Northaven’s congregants to worship in their sanctuary. For the past 5 years, it has hosted an interfaith lecture and speaker series addressing common issues facing people of faith.
Will Beth El Binah fit into the church’s interfaith outreach?
Absolutely, Folkerth said, ticking off multiple ideas for collaboration between the two.
“We want to have joint classes. We want to join the rabbi and their board in worship. We want to them to join us in worship,” he said. “We’re excited to be with them.”
The partnership could fuel changes in Methodist doctrine too. The international governing body of the church meets next year, and hopefully local delegates can influence a change in polity.
For someone who was raised Christian, but converted to Judaism, Beth El Binah board president Josh Manes, who has been with the synagogue since July 2003, is excited about the collaboration too.
Though he left the Christian faith, he has no reservations about holding services in a church.
As a practicing Jew, what was important was holding services in a safe and welcoming space.
“When we were looking for a venue, we wanted a few things. We wanted it to be accessible, have the spiritual aesthetics and plenty of education and gathering spaces,” Manes said.
They were also looking for a space where faiths could mutually respect one another, much like the community Northaven has fostered with other synagogues and faiths.
Fisch said there is plenty of room to display their mezuzah and holy ark.
“It’s been nothing but respectful and mutual between us,” Fisch said. “They’ve been so welcoming.”
Going from the Resource Center will be different, Manes said, “but it’s a good different.”
Resource Center was a generous and gracious host, but the growing community required more space for other activities.
The group will gather for Friday evening worship in a second floor room.
“It’s a beautiful space,” Manes said.
The neutral room allows for both the church and synagogue to live symbiotically.
A Passover seder may seem different in a church, but that’s all right.
“Christians and Jews structure the seder differently [anyway],” Manes said.
On the High Holy Day services next weekend, Beth El Binah’s congregants will gather in the sanctuary for their first official service in their new home. Rosh Hoshanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, a time for reflection.
“We think about what we’ve done this past year and its impact on our morals,” Fisch said. It’s a day of remembrance.
After taking the time to reflect, 10 days later is Yom Kippur, a day of atonement, when “we ask forgiveness of the Lord for anyone we’ve hurt.”
But the serious time comes ahead of the anticipation of settling roots in a new home.
“I’m very excited about the change,” Manes said. “In my hometown [in Louisiana], there would be no place for me as a gay man of faith. We went from the Resource Center being the only place to offer us a home to now being welcomed by churches and other Jewish groups. It is an exciting place to be.”
Rosh Hashanah services
Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 at 10 a.m.
Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. along Turtle Creek across from the Dallas Theater Center
Kol Nidre Service
Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Yom Kippur Services
Sept. 23 at 10 a.m.
Study Session at 1 p.m.
Yizkor at 3 p.m.
Mincha and concluding service at 4:30 p.m.
Second and fourth Fridays of the month
at 7:30 p.m. beginning Oct. 9.
More information at BethElBinah.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 4, 2015.