2015-11-25 / Voice at the Shore

Emeth Shalom pulpit exchange with church began with Thanksgiving—and a hurricane

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent

Thanksgiving is something that everyone can connect with, regardless of his or her faith, observed Reverend David Fleming of the Margate Community Church. “Every tradition is thankful,” noted Fleming.

That’s one reason why he and Rabbi Gordon Geller of Temple Emeth Shalom began speaking at each other’s houses of worship in a “pulpit exchange” at this time of year shortly after both arrived in the area almost 30 years ago, said Fleming. Although the pulpit exchange is no longer saved exclusively for Thanksgiving (this year’s was in late October), it is still an annual tradition that has harvested a long, rich history of fellowship.

In the beginning, it was the Margate Community Church that gave Emeth Shalom a huge reason to be thankful. Shortly after the 65-year-old synagogue opened at 8501 Ventnor Avenue in Margate, a hurricane flooded the building just before Yom Kippur. The Margate Community Church, located just a few blocks away at 8900 Ventnor Avenue, graciously invited Emeth Shalom to hold services at the church, which sat on higher ground than the synagogue. The church leaders even covered the crosses to make their Jewish guests feel more comfortable, recalled Geller, who has been told this story many times by older members of his congregation.

What began with a disaster has yielded a cornucopia of goodwill between the two congregations. “It’s a very, very nice relationship that we have,” said Rabbi Geller. “A lot of our members live around each other. There are also a number of interfaith families that have members in both congregations.”

Fleming wholeheartedly agreed. “It’s good for my congregants. It’s a nice interfaith experience. We [Christians] come out of Jewish roots, so we have a lot in common. It’s a nice reminder of the harmony we share.”

During this year’s pulpit exchange, Geller spoke at Margate Community Church about finding happiness, while Fleming spoke to TES congregants about how ego can get in the way of our service to each other, said the reverend. “In Jewish tradition, service to others is a major thrust, just like in Christianity—that is a common ground,” Fleming explained.

Not surprisingly, the two religious leaders’ speaking styles are markedly different. “We differ in terms of preaching method. He talks more about God; I talk more about people. We both have God as our target, we just approach the subject in different ways,” noted Geller.

“My orientation, a prevalent rabbinic approach, is that you meet God through interfacing with other people,” said Geller. In contrast, Reverend Fleming uses parables and scripture to illustrate “how God loves you and is with you.”

Over the years, deep friendships have developed between the two congregations and the two religious leaders, added Geller. “[Reverend Fleming and I] are personal friends and colleagues who do a lot in the community together. His congregants know my congregants. This pulpit exchange is over a generation old and has reaped rich dividends in that time.”

Both leaders are also part of Bridge of Faith, a larger local interfaith group of religious leaders that seeks to create fellowship. Earlier this week, the group held an Interfaith Thanksgiving service at Temple Beth El in Margate.

“The approach at our church is one of openness and realizing that every tradition has truth and that we should not be denying it from each other but sharing it with each other,” Fleming said. “There is more than one way to get to heaven.” .

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