The Synagogue Building, 2010-2014

In January 1993 a non-denominational church founded in the 1970s called the Community of the Crucified One purchased the building of the Homestead Hebrew Congregation Rodef Shalom.  They have churches in eleven states, plus Kenya and Jamaica, but they are strongest in Vermont and Homestead.  I’m told their members did much of the work on the building themselves, even removing the stained glass windows, cleaning each piece of glass, and re-soldering the pieces back together.  To this day the building remains in great condition.  It even has air conditioning now!

I visited the church for the first time in April 2010 with my father and other Hepps cousins.  We were welcomed by one of their pastors, Bill Warner, who was genuinely interested in learning more about the Jewish community who had built the synagogue.  It turns out that part of the church’s doctrine, he explained to us, is a deep appreciation for the Jewish roots of their faith, which explained why much of the original Jewish decoration remained in tact and especially why they had added their own Judaica as well.  Naturally it was wonderful to see the building looking so close to how our ancestors built it; really the only significant change was the redesign of the front of the sanctuary to accommodate the rituals of their services.  I suppose if one’s ancestral synagogue must be turned into a church — not an infrequent occurrence — our experience was as good as it gets.

I made a trip back last month to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the building’s dedication.  The people I met — the current bishop, his father (who leads the Vermont congregation), one of the ministers, and a few parishioners — were as friendly and welcoming as Bill had been four years prior.  They were all interested in my research and wanted to help however they could.  One told me that from time to time Jewish groups have come by to visit the former synagogue as part of a what he believed to be larger tours of old Jewish sites in Steel Valley.

What had changed were aspects of the building’s decoration.  Though the church still affiliates with the Community of the Crucified One, the sign on the outside renamed the church from “Temple of the Crucified One” to “New Covenant Community Church.”  Their website explains why.  Along with the new sign, the stars of David and menorah were covered by crosses, and inside the Judaica they had installed was also gone, though the mezuzot remain.  I believe these changes relate to the “rebranding” as well as a recent round of repainting.

The remainder of this post are photographs of the church I took in 2010 and 2014, with a few comparison shots from 1992 where helpful.  The church’s beliefs blend of Protestant and Catholic traditions; to my eye I see aspects of both practices in their use of the space.  Please click on the first photograph to enter the slideshow.  My comments on each picture will appear below each photograph; you may need to scroll down to read them.  If you’re interested in how the building looked as a synagogue, especially how the bima used to look, please read this earlier post.

 

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