A Rabbi and a Pastor on Building Interfaith Relationships

By Kelsey Ogletree, June 28, 2016

A rabbi and a pastor walk into a bar… (Sounds like the makings of a funny joke, right?) Replace the bar with a Starbucks, and you have real life for a faithful pair of leaders from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Rev. Marc Nelesen (shown above right), pastor of congregational life at Georgetown Christian Reformed Church, first heard of Rabbi Albert Lewis (above left), rabbi emeritus at Temple Emanuel, through reading Lewis’ articles in a local newspaper. Nelesen reached out to Lewis about speaking at his church, and the two forged a nearly instant camaraderie. “It grew into coffee and lunches, and eventually a friendship with deep intimacy that I value a great deal,” says Nelesen.

This November, they’ll co-lead an Ed-Ventures Israel interfaith tour, which will visit religious sites significant to Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Connect Faith sat down with the chummy twosome to discuss the trip and how to bring different religions together.  

What led you to want to do this together?

AL: I have done this trip before; my last two were with a Catholic priest. It was a wonderful experience. Because of my relationship with Marc, I thought it would be an equally wonderful experience if we could give participants a Jewish and Christian protestant perspective.

MN: There’s an interest in my congregation and community in not only Israel, but also Judaism and Jewish roots. I’m in a suburb that is strongly conservative. Al and I have done [talks] in my congregation, and they love the dynamic we create when we’re sitting down in conversation. Where there’s mutual respect, there are musings that come from that, and that grows participants.

What are you each looking forward to most on the trip?

MN: I was wonderfully surprised when Al said he wanted us to stop at the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s planned it before where the group shares communion together there. That blew all of my mental models.

AL: I look forward to the pilgrimage into Jerusalem, and the shared stories and narrative in the Christian and Jewish communities about the significance of Jerusalem.

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