Transcripts

Congregations Open Doors To Neighbors Of Differing Faiths

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So we just visited a monastery run by Trappist monks. Now we're going to spend some time with Lutherans and Presbyterians and Jews and even an evangelical Ethiopian congregation. See, once upon a time the majority of churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship were one religion, one building operations. But here in the D.C. area that's increasingly changing as people of different faiths share the same space. Heather Taylor did some trekking around the region and brings this story on religious intermingling among local congregations.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

00:00:37
If you enter the elegant stone church at the leafy intersection of Gallatin and 16th Street, Northwest on a Sunday you might expect to hear traditional Protestant hymns streaming out of the main sanctuary. After all, the sign carved into stone announces your arrival at Christ Lutheran Church, a member of the denomination founded by Martin Luther in the 1500s.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

00:00:57
But actually the music played and the language spoken will depend entirely on the time of your visit. At 8:15 A.M. you're likely to hear something like this.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

00:01:09
At 10:30, it sounds like this.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

00:01:15
And by 5:00 in the afternoon, you might hear the expressive, up-tempo sound of a full band complete with a guitar strumming vocalist. Christ Lutheran Church is just one of many D.C. area churches renting space to other religious groups.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

00:01:31
In a period of belt-tightening and with mainline Protestant membership in decline renting space can provide income to cover the cost of a church's upkeep. A sudden trend brought on by the recent recession? Maybe not.

REVEREND RENATA EUSTIS

00:01:44
Since I've been here, we've always had one to two congregations sharing space with us.

TAYLOR

00:01:50
That's Reverend Renata Eustis who's been pastor at Christ Lutheran Church for 11 years.

EUSTIS

00:01:54
Throughout that time, there has been the Medhane Alem Orthodox Church which is from Ethiopia. They begin at 5:30 in the morning so they finish with the space around 9:00.

TAYLOR

00:02:08
The Christ Lutheran Church congregation occupies the space between 10:00 A.M. and noon. And by late afternoon another congregation is getting ready for worship.

EUSTIS

00:02:16
That's the Latino congregation called Vision de Fe, vision of faith. They worship in the space beginning at about 3:00 on Sunday and are there 'til 7:00.

TAYLOR

00:02:28
But is renting religious space solely a question of economics? Edward Taylor isn't so sure. He's pastor of Sixth Presbyterian Church of Washington, D.C.

PASTOR EDWARD TAYLOR

00:02:38
It's a question, let me say, of stewardship, which means how well do we use the things that we've been blessed with. And I think the founders, I think, had the idea of the church -- the building would be tool for ministry. It's just not the ministry only of Sixth Presbyterian Church.

TAYLOR

00:02:58
His church shares space with the Bethel Evangelical Ethiopian Fellowship. But while economics may not be the sole reason for sharing space it's certainly a great benefit says Craig Sparks, pastor of the Columbia United Christian Church. Sparks shares space with at least four other congregations at the Meeting House, an interfaith center in Columbia, Maryland.

PASTOR CRAIG SPARKS

00:03:20
We have 70 people, 75 people on a Sunday. Relatively small congregation. And we have access to a 32,000 square foot facility that we could never afford.

TAYLOR

00:03:29
In addition to economic benefits, some rental relationships can lead to defining moments in the lives of the congregations involved. That was the case for Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church and Bethesda Jewish Congregation in Bethesda, Md. In 1964, 35 Jewish families got together to rent space from Bradley Hills.

PASTOR DAVID GRAY

00:03:48
Well, that relationship on one level is a tenant relationship. They pay rent. It's much more than that.

TAYLOR

00:03:55
That's Pastor David Gray of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. His counterpart, Rabbi Elhanan "Sunny" Schnitzer at Bethesda Jewish Congregation agrees.

RABBI ELHANAN "SUNNY" SCHNITZER

00:04:05
Two congregations have a common philosophy of spiritual siblings sharing sacred space. It's just like a family. Sometimes there are issues that arise but because you're family you always work them out. And we always have.

TAYLOR

00:04:19
And over 40 plus years, the relationship has grown into a partnership. In 2003 the two congregations formalized that partnership by jointly signing a covenant to reflect their common purpose.

SCHNITZER

00:04:30
We've gotten very good at accommodation. Other church may be having a Good Friday service on a Friday night, which is the Jewish Sabbath and we'll move to the other end of the building, or they'll move to the other end of the building. It's not a question of who gets precedent. It's a question of just how we work out the parking.

TAYLOR

00:04:49
Like her colleagues, Pastor Renata Eustis of D.C.s Christ Lutheran Church considers these partnerships more than worth it.

EUSTIS

00:04:57
I really, really value that we use the space this way. We have a beautiful building. This is our greatest physical resource and the idea that God is being praised throughout the day on Sunday and then on Saturday evening as well is a huge thing for me. I really feel like we're being faithful when we're doing that.

TAYLOR

00:05:22
Being faithful, being neighborly, and perhaps developing new friendships across traditional religious boundaries. I'm Heather Taylor.

SHEIR

00:05:34
After the break, we'll meet the friends and neighbors who've dubbed themselves the First Ladies of their basketball league.

SHEIR

00:05:48
That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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