Soturdovy June 21, 1975
THE MICHIGAN DAILY
GENESIS OF ANN ARBOR
Sharing mor than a roof
By BETH NISSEN
"For my house shall be called a
house of prayer for all peoples."
The Book of Isaiah
It is Friday evening; the sun is setting
bahind a small modern glass and brick
building. Inside, the shabbat candles are
lit, the Torah is read and a congregation
if Jews greet each other with a warm
Thirty-six hours later, the Sunday
morning sun is rising over the building;
inside, a congregation of Christians cele-
brates Holy Communion together.
Outside the building stands a steel cross
and a star of David of equal height; they
are reflected side by side in the win-
dows. Both St. Clare of Assissi Episcopal
Church and Temple Beth Emeth Re-
formed Congregation hold services in the
building at 2309 Packard. It is the only
building in the United States that serves
as a place of worship for both a Christ-
ian and a Jewish congregation.
church first suggested that we build an
addition onto their building and that we
begin talking about joint ownership. A
few months later, we agreed."
"Sharing facilities, we were able to
have a building much cheaper than it
would have been to start from scratch,"
snid Temtple member Sheldon Berry, who
helped draft the financial agreement be-
tween the two groups.
The merger was civic as well as prac-.
tial. "A goad section of land in Ann Ar-
bor is taken up by the University, and
isn't taxed," explained Berry. "By shar-
ing land, we avoided taking additional
lend off the tax rolls of the city."
St. Clare's held full ownership of the
building; in order to achieve 50 per cent
equity, Beth Emeth gave a cash down-
payment, assumed all existing mortgag-
es, and agreed to construct an addition
onto the present structure consisting of
11 classrooms, a library and an extend-
ed social hall.
Making the sharing of one building
holy and exclusively for Christians. Most
of or congregation was very comfort-
abl sharing the building.
But when the idea of a legal merger
came up, it was hard for some of them.
They had to give up ownership of their
own obuilding and an ultimate exclusive
clnim to the sanctuary."
"Members of the Temple congregation
had a different problem," continued
Evett. "Some had had personal direct
experiences with Nazi Germany and sim-
ply felt that the Christian community
Although the final vote by both con-
gregations was almost unanimously in
support of joint ownership, there was
some disagreement with the proposal on
both sides. The Temple lost no member-
ship as a result of the merger, but an
estimated 8-10 families left the Episcopal
congregation in protest.
Sheldon Berry, a Temple member de-
scribed the different situations of the
two congregations. "We had already
been tenants for three years," he ex-
plained. "And we had some people with
strong feelings about a church and a
synagogue being in the same building.
But we discussed this emotionally, fin-
ancially and in religious terms. The peo-
ple were already coming here to pray.
For us, the merger was a formaliza-
"But it was harder for the Christians,
I think. A lot of them couldn't help
thinking, 'They're not just renting any-
more; now they own it.'"
After the approval of the merger of
the two separate ecclesiastical corpora-
tions into one holding corporation, t h e
first problem the two congregations fac-
ed together was what they should be
As a title, 'St. Clare's Episcopal
Church/Temple Beth Emeth" was hard-
"We discussed 'Christians and Jews,
Inc.'," said Beth Emeth President
Young, "And then 'Jews and Christians,
Inc.' For a while, we were 'CJIVV' -
'Christians and Jews, Inc., and V i c e
Versa.' Then we serve the problem
to the priest and the rabbi and told them
that solutions were their job." T h e
combined ministerial and rabbinate re-
sources created "Genesis of Ann Ar-
While the two congregations are joint-
ly run by one corporation, they remain
"We're not trying to create a third
religion, or take the best of the two
and combine them," said Rev. Evett.
"Part of the purpose is for each con-
gregation to further define itself. We
"The church interior easily trans- the large cross is folded up and
forms into an acceptable synagogue. swung out of sight, rested atop a
To metamorphosize the sanctuary, black free-standing wall."
The Beth Emeth congregation has used
church facilities in the Episcopal Church
since 1971. They moved to St. Clare's
as tenants after their membership doub-
led and they outgrew the facilities they
were using at the First Unitarian Church
in Ann Arbor.
"In looking for a place to settle, our
primary criterion was that it not look like
a church for our services," recalled
Steven Young, President of the B e t h
Emeth -congregation. "Once we found
that place, we were concerned with the
receptivity of the con'regation. St.
Clare's was glad to help us out; they
didn't even want to accept rent from
us. From the start, they were j u s t
The church interior easily transforms
into an acceptable synagogue. To meta-
morphosize the sanctuary, the large
cross is folded up and swung out of
sight, rested atop a back free-standing
wall. A crucifix on the wall is discrget-
ly covered with a Chagall print. T h e
Christian flag is replaced with the flag
of Israel. The panelling behind the altar
is pulled aside to reveal the Torah.
For Christian services, the Torah is
concealed, the Chagall print removed,
the flag changed and the cross swung
to an upright position. The entire trans-
ition takes less than ten minutes.
The actual sharing of the building be-
gan when the Jewish congregation held
their first service there; the decision to
make the sharing legal and financially
equitable was made this year.
"We found that we needed still more
pace e.secially for educational func-
tions," said Young. "We were looking
for a few acres of land. I think the
official was more complicated for many
members of both congregations than a
tangle of mortgages, equity and who
would pay what bills.
"It's easy to say that it's more blessed
to give than to receive, but it's hard to
do," said Reverend Douglas Evett, Rec-
tor of St. Clare's. "When Jewish services
were first being held here, we had some
members who found it hard to allow
'non-believers' to use the sanctuary, a
place they considered to be uniquely
St. Clare/Beth Emeth: the only place
in the U.S. that serves as a place
of worship for both a Christian and a
expect the Christians to remain Christ-
ians, and the Jews to remain Jews -
not only that, but for the Christians to
remain Episcopalian and the Jews to re-
main Reformed. The separate identities
are carefully maintained, and there are
distinct differences. Jews are always de-
finad as a people, as an ethnic group.
Episcopalians aren't; even Christians
"This is not a constant Brotherhood
Week," emphasized Sheldon Berry. "We
are two separate groups who worship
apart in the same building."
There are jointly attended non-worship
functions, particularly adult education
classes team-taught by the priest and
rabbi for the purpose of better under-
standing the theology of their building-
During the Vietnam war, the tradition
of a peace seder was started; it is held
annually during Passover and before
Easter, and is attended by members of
both church and synagogue.
Both groups are now legally - a n d
emotionally - committed to a continua-
tion of their unique relationship.
When the Episcopal rector preceding
Evett left the congregation, church mem-
bers made one of the criteria for his suc-
cessor the acceptance of the Jewish con-
gregation using the church facilities. The
Temple also recently changed rabbis;
they too demanded acceptance of their
co-existence with a Christian congrega-
tion as a criterion for their new leader.
Most members of both congregations
are comfortable with the sharing ar-
rangements; some are enthusiastic.
"It bothered me at first to sing the
traditional Hebrew songs and see the
Torah when I knew there was a cross
just out of sight," said a young Jewish
woman at evening Shabbat services. "But
when I thought about it, I realized that
it was just a symbol. Now that I've been
to classes with some of the church mem-
bers, I know a little more about their
symbol, and while it doesn't mean as
mch to me as it does tolthem, it does
mean something to me, too. We share a
"I grew n with manv common prejud-
ices about Jews," admitted a St. Clare's
rarishioner after the Sunday folk mass.
"But I have learned a lot from simply
attending here. We are all one people
uaner God, I guess."
The joining of the Temple Beth Emeth
and St. lare's Episcopal Church is prac-
tical, efficient, sensible, economical,
ecological, educational and inspirational.
Two very different peoples in back-
ground, belief and custom have found
that they can share much more than
a common roof under which to wership.
"Part of the purpose is for
each congregation to further
define itself," said Rev. Evett.
"We expect the Christians
to remain Christians, and the
Jews to remain Jews."