Pulpit exchange brings SF Jews and Baptists together for 37 years

Two congregations, one Jewish and one Baptist, are continuing an annual tradition that has brought the two faith communities in San Francisco together for nearly four decades.

On Friday night, hundreds of people showed up at Congregation Emanu-el in San Francisco's Richmond District for a very special gathering. They call it a pulpit exchange, joining in song and prayer during the Martin Luther King Junior holiday weekend, to promote understanding and unity.

"To hang together for 37 years. It is a miracle," said Rev. Dr. Amos Brown, the pastor at Third Baptist Church and President of the NAACP's San Francisco Chapter.

Rev. Brown co-founded the pulpit exchange with a former rabbi at Congregation Emanu-el in response to a 1987 KKK rally in Georgia.

"There's a bird called a Sankofa bird. A bird that looks back in order to go forward," said Rev. Brown.

"This is what the world needs to see. There's too much division, too much hate too much war," Rev. Brown said. "This dichotomous thinking of them against us and us against them has to stop. And we need to master that little pronoun "We". This is a "we" thing tonight."

The service came with a shared meal, as members met and talked, breaking bread together.

"The specialness of people with different song and different prayer but all of it connecting, heals my heart," said Rachel Fleischman, a Congregation Emanu-el member.

"I've never been in a synagogue in my life," Solomon Sandrock, an 11-year-old Third Baptist member said. "It's cool. It's beautiful."

"We have to be able to teach our kids to live with someone who doesn't look like them, doesn't come from the same faith, doesn't come from the same background, to promote love," said Awet Gebremariam, Soloman's mother and a Third Baptist Church member.

"Getting to know your community and making strong bonds with people you don't exactly know," said Joshua Peterson, a 10th Grade student who says he's been attending the pulpit exchange events with his mother and grandmother since he was a small child.

One of the programs founded with the pulpit exchange is a tutoring program for children called "Back on Track." Both communities work to provide aid to students and help guide them.

"Back on Track is a tutoring program. one-on-one tutoring and mentoring program after school for students K-12th grades," said Jonathan Butler, Executive Director of Back on Track. "It's about unity to coming together to be in fellowship with each other. To learn we have so much more similar than we have that's different."  

Congregation Emanu-el's senior rabbi, Rabbi Beth Singer will be delivering the pulpit exchange sermon at Third Baptist on Sunday.  

"Every minority community in America is facing hatred and bigotry. And one is not more than the other," said Rabbi Singer.

"We need to show that people of faith can work together," said Rabbi Jonathan Singer of Congregation Emanu-el, "People with diversity who believe in the same values can stand together to make a better world."

The service at Third Baptist Church is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday.