I sing at our local Jewish temple, which is Temple Gates of Prayer in New Iberia, Louisiana. This is a small congregation, deep in the primarily Christian area of south Louisiana. The temple, over a hundred years old, is within walking distance of churches that are Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Church of Christ and Methodist Episcopal, with other denominations in the area (just not within walking distance). I have sung there for over 10 years, and feel very blessed to do so.
When people learn this, they want to know how this Christian musician wound up singing at a Jewish church. Just lucky, I say. I was in the right place at the right time when their previous vocalist retired, and I was willing (and excited) to tackle something new.
And so it was that I encountered a whole new world of music and of worship. I learned the Sh’ma and the Bar’chu. I learned that while vowels weren’t exactly an afterthought in Hebrew, they probably weren’t on the tablets that God gave Moses. I also learned that different rabbis write transliterations (phonetic spellings) of the same word in many different ways!
I write this in the middle of High Holy Days, which encompass Rosh Hashana (the new year), Yom Kippur (Day of Attonement) and Shabbat Shuvah, which is the Shabbat that falls in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. For Gates of Prayer, this time also marks the arrival of their new student rabbi. As a small congregation, they are served by rabbinical students. This year is extremely unusual as they have the same student as last year, Alex Kress. (Most of the time there is a new student rabbi every year.)
This personnel change is unusual; most churchgoers, regardless of denomination, are used to having a spiritual leader for longer than 9 months at a time. The rabbis may change, but the congregation must stand on its own as a community. They do so, and embrace each new rabbi with open arms and open hearts. (This being south Louisiana, I must add “open kitchens” as well!) The rabbis become a part of the community, and I think they leave a part of themselves here.
Over the years, I’ve been asked questions members of my “Jewish church family” and my “regular church family” (and other curious souls). I’ve often heard comments / questions about my level of participation in the service at Gates of Prayer.
“You read along with the prayers?” Yes, of course. Prayers all go to God, regardless of where I’m standing when I pray. The prayerbook I use doesn’t matter. Prayer comes from the heart.
Perhaps the biggest lesson of the many I’ve learned from my years with Congregation Gates of Prayer is simply this: There is much more that draws us together than that which separates us. We pray for peace, for compassion, for redemption and forgiveness. We pray for those we love, and we pray for help in loving those who may be hard to love. We pray that we may be better people.. Being Christlike is doing (following) mitzvah. Love God, do good, follow the commandments.
It’s all good. It’s all God.