Reb Zalman has commented in the past about how he has gone to services of other faiths to see "how they get it on with their G!d." I was propelled to do just that this past Sunday (not sure why I feel it necessary to tell you that I also went to shul this past Shabbas), to share in the worship service at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, which is the church that generously hosts my Renewal community, Minyan Oneg Shabbat. Here is what I experienced, here is what I learned, and in some cases, here is how is differed from shul on Shabbas.
* The church is within walking distance of my home. How nice is was to walk slowly on a quiet Sunday morning to a place of worship. A Jerusalem moment.
* Services began promptly at 10am and ended a little after 11. Everyone was present from beginning to end (Compare to Shul - 9-12:15, with the majority of people arriving during the Torah service, except of course for the family and non-Jewish friends of the bar mitzvah - is that your shul too? ) From 10 to 11 we experienced: 2 Bach cello pieces; a story told by one of the ministers to the children; a sermon by Reverend Molly Blythe Teichert; community singing; an invitation for people to greet each other; a shout out to me by name from Reverend Molly, where she joyously mentioned that my community met at their church; offerings of "good news"; offerings from people in need of prayers for either them or others; people greeting me as I entered and as I departed.
• The morning was sung and spoken in English. I was hoping for some Latin, but I knew that I would have needed to attend a different church for that. Not that I have experienced it more than once or twice, but Latin lends a sense of mystery to a church service. Does Hebrew have the same sense of mystery for Jews who don't understand the language? That's one thing I love about Renewal services - the use of recently written liturgy that combines traditional text with English text that invites entrée into worship. As for singing Mimkomo during Musaf for the 1000th time to the melody of Erev Shel Shoshanim...don't get me started.
* After worship I was greeted warmly by a woman whose last name was Cohen. She asked if I had a card. (I think to myself, "Hey it's not Shabbas, I have cards with me! They're in my wallet that I have with me, and I can give her one!) She wondered aloud if her Jewish husband might be interested in my community.
* Reverend Molly preached about worship and justice, and how to know when one or both are real and authentic. She reflected on her work in South Africa, her work in the anti-apartheid movement, and spoke about worship being true worship only when it inspires to correct injustice in the world. She quoted from Isaiah, "What need have I of all your sacrifices?" says the Lord...learn to do good, devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged, uphold the rights of the orphan, defend the cause of the widow...be your sins like crimson, they can turn snow-white." Her sermon closely tracked the theme of the Haftarah on Yom Kippur, "Is this the fast that I desire?...let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry." I wondered if she chose the theme because of Elul and the approaching Jewish Holy Days. No - she chose the theme because of her passion.
* I appreciated looking up at the hymnal board to read the song number that we would be singing. I easily navigated my way through the book to find each hymn and joined in. I have to admit that it reminded of elementary school, where, leading up to Christmas in the early 1960's, we sang lots of songs with Jesus' name in it. If you're Jewish and if you're around my age and went to public school, you also stopped singing when the J or C word appeared.
I skipped over them this time as well.* Several times during worship I was moved to tears. Outside of when I davven with my Renewal chevra, that never happens for me in synagogue. One exception. When we read V'zot Ha'bracha, Devarim, Chapter 34:1-12.
But that's just me.
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and