In case you missed it, Westminster Presbyterian Church met in our building from June until just a couple of weeks ago. Our neighbors on Cameron Mills Road underwent a major building renovation. Just as we moved in with them (and Trinity United Methodist) a dozen years ago, they were co-located with us for the past nine months.
Of course, we had to do a little tzimtzum (contraction) to accommodate their presence. Sunday mornings were a jumble of activities, some of them occurring in places we never intended to be meeting rooms. Thursday nights filled the building with voices, bells and adult education – no matter which corner you turned, someone was there doing something. And at any given moment, you might find a discussion on values, texts, and beliefs being led by a Christian, a Jew...or both.
Tzimtzum is not just about physical contraction. It is about arrogance as well. Neither congregation comes from a proud legacy of tolerance. Our local members have always been appreciative of each other, but neither Jewish tradition nor Christian tradition has ever had much nice to say about the other. Praise has been grudging, and always tinged with pity: "How can they believe that stuff? How can they not see the truth of what we believe?"
For the members of Westminster to be good partners, they had to keep kosher. No big deal to us, kashrut can be terrifying to the uninitiated. For the members of Agudas Achim to be good partners, we had to accept that Christian worship would be conducted in our sanctuary on its own terms. No big deal to them, the praise of Jesus resonates a different way to Jews. In fact, what we did would be unthinkable in more traditional settings – and maybe even to me before our own homelessness.
I am no expert on the origins of mutual antipathy, but I suspect that insecurity plays a large role. For the better part of two thousand years each of our traditions affirmed that the other was somehow less than genuine, a message as much directed at our own curious folk as at the others. Only by puffing ourselves up to fill all the possible space in relationship to God could we trust the power of our individual traditions to hold our adherents.
Our relationship with Westminster is not a rejection of that notion, but a correction. The Psalmist said, "The Lord is near to all who call upon God, to all who call upon God in truth." Only when we make room for other possibilities can we be secure in the ones we choose. God meant for us to love each other, and I am grateful to Larry Hayward and his flock for giving both congregations the opportunity to realize it, even when we are no longer roommates.
We all know that there is no place like home, so 1 am happy for our friends to return to theirs. But truth be told, I will miss them every week.