This Christmas Eve, members of the First Baptist Church of Columbia were to have been greeted by smiling faces and large tables adorned with festive Christmas tablecloths and filled with homemade cookies, fudge and pastries. Hot apple cider was to have warmed them before they stepped out into cold December air.
This wasn’t the ladies’ Sunday school class or a youth ministry bake sale at work. This dessert reception after the 11 p.m. service was planned by Congregation Beth Shalom Synagogue in Columbia.
This is the fifth year that Beth Shalom has provided First Baptist its Christmas Eve refreshments. It is one of the ways it thanks First Baptist for opening its doors when it needed a place to worship.
Beth Shalom is working on plans to build a new synagogue. In the interim, it is meeting in a farmhouse that holds only 50 people. Occasionally it rents out the Hillel Center on the MU campus, which holds 200 people. When Beth Shalom celebrates one of the Jewish faith’s High Holy Days, Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, there are as many as 400 people who come to worship.
When Beth Shalom realized it had more people than it could accommodate, it searched Columbia for other options. It approached First Baptist about renting its sanctuary for these two High Holy Days. First Baptist welcomed Beth Shalom to use it but would not charge it a fee.
First Baptist stresses that its generosity is not an effort to convert or in any way distort the importance of the Jewish holy days.
“We just want to give them the green light to worship as fully and freely as they can, knowing that we do the same,” said the Rev. John Baker, senior pastor.
Judy Feintuch, wife of Rabbi Yossi Feintuch, suggested that the congregation of Beth Shalom hold the dessert reception as a thank-you to the First Baptist congregation.
“It’s a labor of love for us because we’re so grateful to our friends at First Baptist, and this is a small way to express our appreciation and our love and friendship towards them,” Feintuch said. “Our aim is to increase their joy in the celebration of Christmas.”
The two congregations’ relationship extends beyond these holy days. At Yom Kippur, the two congregations also share an interfaith meal and join efforts for the Project Isaiah food drive, which benefits Mid-Missouri food bank.