, Derry, New Hampshire

June 6, 2013

Interfaith campus in Derry celebrates unity

Church, synagogue celebrate strong partnership

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — It’s a team effort and a partnership rooted in faith.

The congregations of the Church of the Transfiguration and Etz Hayim both have individual spaces adjacent to one another on Hood Road.

It’s a community effort that not only joins two faiths for religious events and social activities, but also honors each other’s beliefs.

A new sign along East Broadway was dedicated Sunday and members of both churches attending the ceremony. The new sign symbolizes the unity between the two on one granite structure leading up Hood Road to the two buildings.

Each building also has a new sign at the entrance to the parking lots.

The relationship between church and synagogue began in 1992 when Etz Hayim’s growing population started holding its worship services in Church of the Transfiguration space.

Church of the Transfiguration hosted its services on Sundays and Etz Hayim would hold its services on Saturdays. The schedule worked well for both sides.

The successful relationship continued until Etz Hayim was ready for its own building. Church of the Transfiguration offered an adjacent piece of its property and the new synagogue opened its doors in 2009.

The two are still joined.

Many parishioners refer to the two places of worship on Hood Road as “the churchagogue,” one of the few interfaith campuses in the United States, members say.

“It’s been a good collaboration for many, many years,” said Rick Cagle, Transfiguration’s senior warden. “We’re very proud of our interfaith campus and very excited to share the space.”

Rabbi Bryna Milkow is the first female rabbi at Etz Hayim Synagogue. She came on board in 2011 following the retirement of Rabbi Louis Rieser. She is only the third rabbi in Etz Hayim’s history.

Milkow said sharing both community activities and faith-based events makes the relationship unique.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s very exciting, very unique and special. I’m glad to be part of it.”

Members of each church are also embedded in each other’s lives, offering comfort, support and helping with whatever is needed, including babysitting, piano lessons and much more.

“We’re all intertwined,” said the Rev. Ray Bonin of the Church of the Transfiguration. “That’s what community is all about. It’s all about friendship.”

Church of the Transfiguration and Etz Hayim not only shared rooms and space for many years, but continue to this day to socialize and work together.

The two congregations maintain warm spiritual and working relationships. They host host regular free community meals, Elijah’s Table, and also host a youth faith-based summer program where children from both congregations study Old Testament lessons and learn about each other’s faith.

The two also host a joint Thanksgiving service and members attend each other’s fundraising events.

Cagle said it’s a relationship that continues to grow and be appreciated by both congregations.

“We have more in common than we have differences,” Cagle said.