By Natan Levy
“It’s highly unusual for a synagogue to hold a celebration to honour a local Christian minister. But Rev’d Colin Smith is no usual minister.” Thus began the vote of thanks from Board President Jonathan Arkush as Barnet Synagogue and the Board of Deputies paid tribute to Rev’d Smith who is leaving London to take up the new challenge of superintendent minister for the Cambridge Circuit, after having spent several years as Minister at Brookside Methodist Church in New Barnet.
The relationship between the Methodist Church and the Jewish community on the national level has had its share of challenges in the past five years. And it would be understandable for Methodist Churches and Synagogues in the UK to react to the political statements of the Methodist conference as an unbridgeable chasm. Rev’d Smith simply refused to be divided from his friends in the Jewish community. With his wry humour, his deep dedication to honest dialogue, and his brave commitment to reaching out to the Jewish community in friendship, he became the bridge that could not be broken. This is especially true of Barnet Synagogue, where he worked with the Chairman, Jeremy Apfel, to bring about an innovative interfaith relations partnership along with the local Catholic and Church of England communities.
In his speech, the Rabbi of Barnet Synagogue, Rabbi Barry Lerer, referred to Rev’d Colin as a true friend and a brave shepherd for the entire Barnet community. Baroness Kathleen Richardson, a senior member of the Methodist Church, compared Colin’s constant commitment to meaningful interfaith work with a story of her youth. Between the boy’s and girl’s sections of her school there had once stood a high wall. On both sides, the students would chip away at the mortar between the stones, slipping notes of friendship and budding love. Bit by bit, year after year, the mortar crumbled before the slight but steady work of small fingers carving out cracks of connection. “One day,” Baroness Richardson concluded, “without the slightest shove or rough wind, that wall simply fell down, and has never been replaced.”
Past Methodist conferences may have unwittingly erected certain walls between Jews and Methodists, but when a synagogue can turn to a minister, and say thank you for being there for us, such small acts tear away the mortar between the stones of misunderstanding and prejudice. Unique events such as this one create glimmers of hope that one day the walls between us would fall down of themselves, never to be built up again.
Rabbi Natan Levy is the Board’s Interfaith and Social Action Project Officer