Programs designed to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding earned the Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls and the Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury the 2010 Jersey Shore Humanitarian Award from the Jersey Shore chapter of the American Conference on Diversity.
The two houses of worship were chosen “for their contributions to advance human relations and improve the quality of life” for local citizens, according to the conference, which works with youth, community, corporate, faith, and governmental constituencies.
Rabbi Jonathan Roos and the Rev. David McKirachan accepted the award at the annual Dining for Diversity awards reception, held April 29 at the Sheraton Eatontown. Their long partnership, said Roos, promotes social justice and tikun olam — the Jewish commandment to “repair the world.”
Roos told NJJN that the award signifies MRT’s “deep commitment to building community, both within and beyond the walls of our temple. We are blessed to have such great partners in the members of the Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury and in Rev. McKirachan.”
Coming together in interfaith cooperation is a longstanding tradition between MRT and the church. Fifty years ago, before MRT had a building, the church offered its facilities for Shabbat services, holidays, and religious school. For seven years, temple members would transform the sanctuary by bringing in a portable ark containing the Torah scroll and taking down the cross and then return the church to its original state. With feelings of gratitude for that hospitality, Roos said, the temple began sharing a Thanksgiving eve interfaith service with the church, alternating venues and sermons by the religious leaders.
McKirachan, in a phone interview with NJJN, said the partnership began as part of his church’s tradition of “reaching out to people in need” from all faith communities — and as a way they “do hospitality.”
As the hospitality between the two congregations grew, said McKirachan, “I wanted to push it a little further, to open up conversations between the faiths.”
In that spirit, the two leaders launched “Open Doors/Open Hearts,” a discussion series. The first session, held Feb. 8 at the church, centered around biblical implications of the relationship between Jews and Christians; the second, on Feb. 22 at the temple, focused on cultural and religious perceptions, especially anti-Semitism and anti-Christian attitudes.
The program culminated March 7 in “Breaking Bread: A Passover/Easter Tea,” to celebrate the respective traditions of the congregations.
Participation in the program was, said McKirachan, “off the scale; 80-90 people from both congregations took part, talking about issues that unite us and those that make us different.” The aim, he said, was to “bridge the gaps that needed to be bridged and to continue and deepen our alliance.”
McKirachan — who said his may be the only Presbyterian church with a mezuza on the doorway — described the next joint project being planned: staging a drama based on a journal written by a woman interned in a death camp.
Continuing the relationship, he said, will ensure that the two congregations “will always be close — the best thing in the world.”
“Interfaith study, cooperation, and fellowship are fundamental pieces of the mitzva work we do at MRT,” said Roos. “We are honored that the American Council on Diversity has selected us as a model for the rest of the community.”