In the middle of the real-life neighborhood where Mr. Rogers lived sits Calvary Episcopal Church. On October 27th of last year, as the church was filled with parishioners taking part in its annual fundraiser for mission; a gunman around the corner entered into the Tree of Life synagogue, murdering eleven.
Struggling to make sense of the senseless and wanting to be a good neighbor, the people of Calvary and their Rector, The Rev. Jonathon Jensen decided to reach out.
From the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
“In my experience,” said Jensen, “I have found that often what happens is people will say, ‘Is there anything we can do to help you?’ and it puts the burden on the person who’s hurt,” he said. “I’ve found it is much more helpful to make specific offers of things people might actually need, so the burden is on you to do it rather than the person who is hurting to think of something for you to do.”
Calvary decided to make a specific offer to TOL*OLS. In a card signed by members of the church, they offered to “share space with you for anything you need because you won’t likely have yours for a while,” Jensen said. They sent the card along with money collected over the next two weeks to TOL*OLS.
Jensen didn’t anticipate hearing back right away, due to the sheer weight of the process of dealing with the aftermath, but several months later he received an email from their neighboring synagogue that said, “we’d like to talk to you about possibly using space for High Holidays.”
Several congregants from Tree of Life then came over to Calvary to meet with Jensen, look at the space, check dates, and discuss details and logistics.
Since the shooting, regular Shabbat services had been being held at another congregation, Rodef Shalom. But that space was expected to be too small for the 800 people expected for the High Holidays.
A committee had been looking for a place to hold services and had looked at several options, including a closed Macy’s, but none met all the needs of the congregation. Calvary, with seating for a 1000, sufficient parking, and ample facilities seemed like the best option, that Calvary was not asking any rental or use fee was also appreciated.
Calvary’s focus has been on ensuring a welcome space and deepening the relationship between the two congregations.
“It’s the right thing to do, to offer space to our neighbors,” Jensen said. “And people would do that for us, I am convinced.”
He will be meeting with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers soon to finalize details, such as where the congregation can store its prayer books between services.
Jensen is sensitive to the fact that there are Christian symbols throughout the church, and he is doing what he can to have them concealed for the High Holidays.
“There are some large stained-glass windows of Jesus, and there is no way around that,” he said. But he is planning on placing silk veils over two large Jesus on the cross sculptures that are installed in prominent places in the church.
“We want them to feel at home so it is theirs too,” said Jensen, who added that he plans to offer the church to TOL*OLS next year as well.
“I am going to offer to Rabbi Myers that next year the offer will stand for you to come back and have High Holy Days,” he said. “I don’t know what you are doing with your building yet, maybe you will be ready a year from now, but if you are not, please know that you are welcome to come back to Calvary and do the same thing. And by then, we will be good at it and have experience with it.”
The Tree of Life synagogue is also busy ensuring that the worship is safe by developing security plans, including requiring advance tickets for any non-members to attend. Sam Schachner, president of Tree of Life said; “Anybody that wishes to visit or join us will be asked to do so in advance for obvious security reasons. There are so many throughout the community who have been tremendously supportive that if somebody wants to join us we would feel honored if that occurs. And we are also OK if it is just us.”
The arrangement with Tree of Life is a gift to Calvary as well, said Jensen.
“Thoughts and prayer are powerful,” the rector said in his sermon the day after the massacre, he recalled. “Prayer and action from enough people who work for good can stop a bullet.”
“This event of sharing space is putting prayer into action,”
image: Calvary Episcopal provided by Calvary Episcopal Church
The original article in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle was reported by Toby Tabachnick