I wish it had been longer. It seemed that as soon as we arrived, it was already time to leave. But perhaps that’s one of the draws of InterSem, an interfaith retreat for becoming clergy across the Jewish & Christian denominations, hosted by the religious advocacy group AJC.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like for a someone to become a Catholic Priest? How do Christian denominations of today view Jews? Are there ritual similarities between Protestants and Jewish tradition? Nearly 40 Seminarians (ones in religious seminaries) came together this last weekend at a beautiful retreat center in sunny Malibu, California for a full 24 hours of life-changing awareness, discussion, worship and interfaith unity.
Dividing up into smaller groups, our interfaith discussions centered around the theme “What are the limits of our Beliefs?” – laying the foundation in our first breakout session, each person had the chance to define BELIEF. My group had three gentlemen studying in the Priesthood, a variety of Protestant leaders (Methodist, Assemblies of God, Christian Mission), a reform Rabbi-to-be and myself, a quasi-mystic conservative ‘becoming rabbi’.
For me, engaging in spiritual/religious dialogue comes easy as I have always been open about my beliefs and curious about others’. However, for a few, simply being in a program like this pushed the boundaries of everything they know – and what, in even some cases, their community even allows. One friend came to the program in secret, trying to learn how to help her community grow out of its strict guidelines and methods.
A highlight of the retreat features three worship services. Catholic mass in the afternoon, a Protestant service in the evening, and a Jewish morning service with Torah reading. After each service, time was allotted for Q&A’s.
I had no idea that Catholics have 5 (or more) prayer services a day! Bread and wine are a feature in each denominational service. One of the priesthood brothers mentioned to me that the Catholics kept the sacrifice element (body of Christ) in their service, a reflection of the Jewish customs during the 1st and 2nd temple.
As the discussion groups deepened in essence, each of us felt comforted by the safe space, as were able to discuss the challenges of our beliefs and the challenges presented in becoming clergy. As different as our philosophies and paths are, I came to find more similarities than differences. That wasn’t completely shocking to me, but honestly a beautiful surprise.
Through this program, I had a vision into the future of my rabbinate and a reaffirmed desire for interfaith work; building bridges amongst denominations and empowering communities with the tools of acceptance.
I am so grateful for the work of AJC and all the people that helped contributed in making such a successful event! See you next year!