For Andrew Brown, this Christmas Eve was a first.
“Are you guys teasing me?” the teenager said as he walked through the door of First Baptist Church with his grandparents Saturday evening. He had never been to a church service where snacks were served beforehand.
The treats were part of an oneg, a Hebrew word that means “delight.” It is a Christmas Eve tradition for the church — courtesy of Congregation Beth Shalom.
The members of Beth Shalom repaid the church for kindness extended to them during the Jewish High Holy Days, when the number of people attending services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is larger than the synagogue can accommodate. The church allows Beth Shalom to use its building to conduct services.
“We’re returning the spirit of their generosity they express when they offer us their sacred space.” said Judy Feintuch, whose husband, Yossi, is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom.
This Christmas Eve, nine volunteers from Beth Shalom set up tables with cookies, brownies, chocolate coins, fudge, cupcakes and spiced cider. They offered them to churchgoers before and after their 10:30 p.m. service.
“It runs smoothly now,” said Feintuch, who has organized the oneg for the past eight years. “Church members anticipate it. We know what they like.”
The congregations have what Ed Rollins, associate pastor at First Baptist, calls a “neat relationship.”
“Over the years, they’ve invited us to their worship services, led us in Seder services and they’ve told us the significance in their services,” Rollins said.
The congregations have also shared dinners and participated in Project Isaiah, a mission project that collects food.
Pastor John Baker said the oneg gives his congregation a chance to mix and mingle with the members of Congregation Beth Shalom.
This year marked a unique year for both First Baptist Church and Congregation Beth Shalom, because Christmas and the start of Hanukkah, were on the same day. This happens four times in a century, Baker said.
“Every year is memorable. They bend over backwards,” said Baker. “Coming out the night before their big holiday was a kind and thoughtful act.”
This year, after the service ended and the members were leaving, Philip Dale, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom, approached Baker.
“This is now a tradition for me,” Dale said as he smiled and shook hands.