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A Baptist and a rabbi walk into a roomful of Presbyterians

It’s no joke. NEXT Church national gathering attendees are blessed by ecumenical testimony

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

CINCINNATI — Presbyterians attending the national NEXT Church gathering were blessed Tuesday by the perspectives of a Baptist minister and a rabbi.

Pastor Damon Lynch, III, has for 28 years been pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Cincinnati. Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp is spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Cincinnati and the founder of JustLOVE, a multifaith movement for activists.

The Rev. Damon Lynch, III

Lynch talked about Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. For decades, the neighborhood was home to “every social service agency known to humankind,” he said. But “clearly servicing people does not make them whole.” Gradually the neighborhood changed to include sushi bars and microbreweries. “People are walking around. It’s a total transformation,” he said. “But guess who’s not there now? The indigenous people and those social service providers.” It was as if someone said, “Alright everybody — out of the pool,” he said. “As churches, we cannot service people to make them whole.”

But pastors, including pastors of color, must continue to press local governments and other agencies to increase investment in their neighborhood, he said. One change he’d like to make is to change the name of the city’s community and economic development by removing the word “and.”

“We get the community part, the services,” he said. “It creates a nice safety net, but it doesn’t build wealth.” A “community economic development” orientation would include and attract developers — people who construct stadiums and hotels and factories. “We are being left out because we are stuck in the ‘community’ side,” Lynch said. “We are saying, ‘No more.’”

Black people “still struggle to find our place in this country” 401 years after the first black people were brought to the New World enslaved. “We know we are still challenged.” While white Americans might embrace and support neighborhoods called “Chinatown” or “Koreatown,” a neighborhood called “African Americatown” is unheard of, he said. “After 400 years, we are over it,” Lynch said.

Terlinchamp had kind words for Lynch’s church, “where you will see both chickens and children. I asked him, ‘Who locks up at night?’ and he said, ‘It doesn’t get locked up.’”

Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp

The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Terlinchamp came to her current congregation with the agreement it would sell its building, one “where raccoons were coming in through the roof. I was friendly with them. I’d named them.” The only way to fix the building would have been “on the backs of the people,” she said. “But to sell it and use the capital to invest in a vision — that’s something.”

About 2 percent of the congregation left when the building was sold, but 22 percent left when “we got political,” she said. Many of those who left were top donors.

But “all of a sudden we became young and gay, which is so fun,” she said with a smile. The congregation has grown 30 percent each year, and the budget has quadrupled.

“I keep looking out and saying, ‘Finally the promised land!’” she said, “and then it’s, ‘No, it’s still wilderness.’”

The rabbi took listeners through three stories in the Hebrew Bible where God’s people cross a body of water over to dry land — the Exodus, Joshua and Elijah. The dry land to which we cross over can look like desolation, trauma, pain or waste, she said.

“Our inheritance is the river,” she said, and our mission, like the 12 men appointed by Joshua in Joshua 4:1-9, is to “deliver the stones on the other side.”

Presbyterians gave the two presenters a sustained standing ovation at the end of their talks, which NEXT Church labels “Testimony.”

NEXT Church concludes Wednesday with a third testimony, a keynote and worship.

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