By The Reverend William A. Evertsberg
For six weeks this summer Kenilworth Union will be homeless. Well, not quite. Just our worship service, unsheltered while we refurbish the pews and floors in the sanctuary, and replace the floors in the Culbertson and Centennial Rooms.
Heaven forfend! What will we do! I’m glad you asked. From July 30 through September 3 (one service at 10 a.m.), we will be worshiping at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, where Rabbi Samuel N. Gordon has become my fast interfaith friend. I am grateful to Kenilworth Union member Ron Schutz for introducing me to Sam.
Sam founded Congregation Sukkat Shalom (rough translation “Shelter of Peace”) in 1995 with 15 Jewish-Christian families. As you might expect, there are many such families on the North Shore, so by the fall of 1995, 100 people, many but not all from interfaith families, were worshiping with Rabbi Gordon.
For the first 16 years, until 2012, Sukkat Shalom was a peripatetic congregation, worshiping on Shabbat and high holy days in park district buildings, private homes, and Christian Churches. Several local churches and institutions welcomed the Congregation into their various spaces as guests.
Then in 2011, the First Church of Christ Scientist was seeking a buyer for its elegant building on Central Avenue. The Christian Science congregation had grown too small to support such a large facility.
Congregation Sukkat Shalom purchased the building and made some modest renovations which adapted the building to the Congregation’s needs. I want to thank Rabbi Gordon and his generous congregation for welcoming us so warmly this summer as their guests for six weeks.
Homelessness changes you. Sometimes for the better. This is true of both individuals and institutions.
Twelve years ago at my Connecticut church, we tore down our drab, outdated building to start over with something more attractive and fitting to our ministry. So for 14 months during construction my congregation was homeless. On Sundays we worshiped in a middle school auditorium. During the week, we rented space for the staff in a Stamford office park. Many committees met in the homes of chairpersons.
That all worked out fine, but every time I needed a more sacred space for a wedding or a funeral, I had to fall back on the good graces of my clergy colleagues in town. With one or two indifferent exceptions, my colleagues welcomed us without hesitation into their beautiful churches.
That experience of temporary homelessness and neighborly hospitality changed my former congregation. When we moved back home into our ample, beautiful, new building, we decided that from now and until Jesus comes again, we would gladly host any group with similar values who needed space to worship or meet.
To this day, First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich hosts all kinds of community groups, including, on Shabbat evenings and occasional holy days, a small synagogue which is otherwise intentionally facility-less.
Sukkat Shalom was homeless—or, to put it more positively, moving from one temporary transitional home to the next—for 16 years. That experience helped make them who they are. We are the recipients of their magnanimity.
One of the many things Jews and Christians share is a common memory of homelessness. A central Jewish creed goes like this: “A wandering Aramean was my father; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien.”
Likewise, Jesus famously said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
So we understand each other. When Kenilworth Union staff tried to negotiate with Sukkat Shalom staff for a fair rent rate for the six weeks, they said, “Not a dime. You will be our guests.” We were so touched.