Today’s New York Times contains a story about the Community Synagogue in NYC (east 6th Street), and its hiring of a Lubavitcher rabbi, Simon Jacobson, to attract the spiritually curious, and thus help save an aging congregation. Part of the theological provocation of the story is that what many would consider a theologically conservative rabbi is being brought in to minister to a spiritually diverse, and particularly liberal, secular, and/or religiously indifferent, neighborhood. This is the kind of experiment in ministry and theology that should be of particular interest for those of us raised in the climates of post-Vatican II Catholicism.
In my work with more “conservative” (these terms are always problematic) and especially younger Catholic theologians and ministers, as well as with more traditionalist (again, especially younger) evangelical clergy, I have learned that the intellectual and emotional vibrancy that comes with their seriousness can be at home with more “progressive” ministerial goals.
The Times article indicates that it is an intellectual and emotional spaciousness that comes with a learned reverence for Judaism as a way of life that might be at work in allowing Chabad to help revitalize the Orthodox Community Synagogue. Rabbi Jacobson speaks of creating a “spiritual Starbucks,” and therein lies a challenge for Catholicisms, in the West anyway, as well.
Now, when Catholic churches not only become known for such dynamic experiments, but invite rabbis to assist in that revitalization—then we will know that something is being made truly new, on the path to all things being made new.