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Old First to Hold Easter Sunday at Congregation Beth Elohim

One of Brooklyn’s oldest Protestant congregations will hold its Easter services in a synagogue on Eighth Avenue.

It's the story of the fall of and . But it's also the story of the rise of a rabbi and a pastor to help each other when in need. 

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah in 2011, and on to the pews below as Congregation Beth Elohim's members were getting ready to fill the pews of Old First’s main sanctuary on Seventh Avenue. 

The congregation of Jews was worshipping in the Protestant church because Congregation Beth Elohim's ceiling in their sanctuary on Eighth Avenue and Garfield Place fell in 2009. Pastor Daniel Meeter of Old First told Rabbi Andy Bachman that he should bring his worshippers over to his holy place. 

And now, with Old First's ceiling still in disrepair in its main sanctuary at Carroll Street, Bachman told Meeter, his long-time friend, that Old First’s members could worship Easter Sunday (and next Christmas) in their main synagogue.

Some may think this is a story of two faiths whose main beliefs (Old First believes that Jesus Christ is the savior and CBE believes that he is not) are inherently at odds and they are coming together despite their differences. But the rabbi and the pastor don’t see it that way. They think their tit-for-tat hospitality is just another chapter in their book of friendship.

“We help each other, that’s what friends do—we reach out to friends in need," Rabbi Bachman said. “It sounds simple, but people are so moved by this story between friends. It’s wonderful, but to us it’s a normal course of events between people who care for one another.”

Old First is one of three churches that were founded on the same day in 1654, making it one of the oldest congregations in Brooklyn. Its original site was in Downtown Brooklyn, near Macy’s. The current location in Park Slope was built in 1891.

CBE used Old First for its Yom Kippur service in 2009, all high holidays in 2010, and its last holiday at Old First, when the ceiling collapsed, was the eve of Rosh Hashanah in 2011—the last service celebrated there to date.

The cast ribbed plaster, which is now on display in the pulpit in the main sanctuary, is heavy and old and fell right in the center of the sanctuary from above the massive chandelier 15 minutes before Rabbi Bachman started his Rosh Hashanah eve service in the Protestant church.

The service was delayed for 30 minutes while they moved the plaster pieces, inspected the ceiling and moved the center pews.

"Those suckers were heavy!” Pastor Meeter exclaimed as he looked up to the ceiling in his sanctuary on Thursday. “Thank God no one got hurt." 

Meeter said that construction has not yet begun, for they just found an engineer who was capable to repair the ceiling. He said that the repairs will cost any where from a half a million dollars to $800,000 and will be completed by Easter 2013 or Easter 2014. Until then, they will celebrate their high holidays at CBE.

The disasters have actually made two unlikely congregations (in most instances) join as friends and fellow human beings under God.

"It's not like Andy and I planned this to force further collaboration, we aren't perverse enough to have planned this,” Meeter said with a smile. “But it all comes down to how you react to disaster."

Meeter is expecting about 300 people to gather for Easter Sunday at CBE, but he did admit that he has no idea what the move to a synagogue will mean to his members.

“People may not feel as joyful while celebrating in a synagogue as we do,” Pastor Meeter said. “But I am not going to judge anyone on Easter.” 

Meeter said this Easter Sunday at CBE is going to be extra special.

“We realized that it is bringing us new gifts in our worship service. It’ll have special features, hearing Psalms and prophets the way Jesus heard them,” Meeter said. “It occurred to us that for the first time Jesus will feel more at home than we do.”

He explained that Jesus was a Jew, so it is in fact appropriate to hold a service celebrating the day He rose from the dead, after being crucified on Good Friday.

"It's ironic, we are having our most sacred service in their most sacred space," Meeter added, explaining that a cantor from CBE will be singing Isaiah during the service. “They will be putting us more in touch with Jesus.”

Regardless of the irony, the two disasters and the friendship between a neighborhood rabbi and a pastor, Meeter is more grateful to have a place to worship than anything.

“We have always felt that Beth Elohim has a special gift for hospitality. But they have gone the extra mile,” Meeter said. “We are not in their school, or gym, they are letting us worship our way in their sanctuary. I call this a transcendence step of hospitality.”

Elaine Beery April 07, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Paster Daniel Meeter of Old First Reformed Church and Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to help one another in times of need. They have worked tirelessly to keep the dialog open and active between two historically opposed religious groups under the most extraordinary circumstances. Remarkable!
Jenny April 07, 2012 at 05:27 PM
this is just a great story on every level. thanks so much for sharing it.

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