On Sunday I was invited to preach at Dorchester Abbey in Oxford (www.dorchester-abbey.org.uk – it is a truly beautiful Church and well worth a visit if you are in the area). This was the first time I had been invited to speak in a non-Jewish religious service, and I was deeply honoured; especially as this service was also honouring my dear friend David Gifford, the CEO of the Council of Christians and Jews (www.ccj.org.uk). The community was so very welcoming, and I look forward to visiting again in the future.
Here are three observations:
1. Taking a moment for a private blessing, amongst the clergy, before we began the service was a very powerful experience for me. The blessing allowed us to mark a break in time between the rushing around to make sure everything was ready, and the beginning of a religious service. I certainly entered the prayer space in a different frame of mind as a result of the moment the clergy shared together.
2. The music was magnificent. Dorchester Abbey has a wonderful choir, and having the opportunity to sit alongside them, served to really elevate my prayer experience. Having been back in England for the last 2 years I have not heard prayers/hymns/anthems sung in English during services, and I really do feel the experience of singing in one’s native language is very powerful. And perhaps we should consider singing more English prayers in the British Reform Movement – just a thought. My favourite piece of music was ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’ by John Rutter, (you can listen to a version of it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaMkj4_H8WM).
3. I know I am not the first Rabbi to preach in a Christian service, but it was a first for me. And it is a wonderful statement for how far Jewish-Christian relations have progressed in the last 50+ years that Rabbis may preach in a Church, and Reverends may preach in a Synagogue. We are two different religions, but we do both spring from the same root, and the opportunity to pray together, learn together and simply talk together is so very important. Signing the book at the Abbey which records all preachers who have given sermons there was especially meaningful, as I wrote Rabbi alongside my name, and wondered about what my great grandparents would have thought about this experience.
I guess the last thing to say is thank you to David, and the Clergy and community of Dorchester Abbey (and my mum for coming with me).
I will be posting the sermon I delivered tomorrow.