Sunday, March 2, 2003

Rabbi, pastor see their friendship 'meant to be'

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

AMBERLEY VILLAGE - When Rabbi Mark Goldman and Pastor Rousseau O'Neal met two years ago, they had no idea they would develop a unique relationship.

Now, for the second year in a row, O'Neal of Rockdale Baptist Church in Avondale and Goldman of Rockdale Temple in Amberley Village are swapping pulpits and sharing messages of brotherhood.

"We are eternally linked," said O'Neal, who leads a predominantly African-American congregation.

"We came together for a prayer day for the peace in our city. Then we were assigned each other for a pulpit exchange. We met at a luncheon and immediately knew each other. We did not remember each other's names, but we remembered each other's spirits."

The pulpit exchange is a program of the National Conference of Community and Justice. The civil rights group was founded as the National Conference of Christians and Jews to promote inclusive communities. The name was changed in the 1990s to reflect the involvement of all religions.

For O'Neal and Goldman, the program is an opportunity for the meeting of kindred spirits who want to improve the relationship between their faith and race communities.

"Civil rights work has been my passion since my younger days as a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College (in Clifton)," Goldman said. "And I think we were not thrown together by accident. As my grandmother would say, it is b'shert - meant to be."

O'Neal spoke at Rockdale Temple's Shabbat service Friday night. In his sermon, he spoke of the Jewish community as blessed, and stressed the importance of not giving up the divine presence willed to them by God.

He found writing a sermon for a Jewish congregation was not a challenge.

"All of my religious forefathers are Jewish, so addressing a Jewish body is not difficult, it's a blessing," O'Neal said. "We both worship the one and only true God."

Goldman will speak at Rockdale Baptist Church on June 22 on the theme, "Can we dream dreams anymore?" He was originally scheduled to give his sermon Feb. 16, but the service was canceled because of bad weather.

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