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Pastor and his 'worship team' to visit Temple Emeth

It’s almost a tradition.

In two weeks, Teaneck’s Temple Emeth Reform congregation will host the nearby Covenant House of Faith International church for Friday night services.

Pastor Keni Ashby will speak from the pulpit, and his “worship team” – a band in which Ashby plays drums – will lead the congregation in singing.

This will be the third pulpit exchange between the two congregations.

“Last year, this was the most exciting, energetic service of the summer,” said Temple Emeth’s Rabbi Steven Sirbu of the first such exchange. In December, Sirbu addressed Ashby’s congregation on “everything we wish you knew about us Jews.”

Pastor Keni Ashby, left, and Rabbi Steven Sirbu in front of Temple Emeth’s ark. courtesy rabbi steven sirbu

The collaboration reflects a friendship between the two spiritual leaders that is the fruit of a two-year-old dialogue between Jews and evangelical Christians organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Explains Sirbu: “I like the fact that he brings so much passion to everything he says. I like the fact that I can disagree with him but still feel it doesn’t affect our friendship. I like the fact that I feel we can teach and learn from each other equally.”

This time, at the request of Sirbu, Ashby will speak about change.

“His church and our congregation are both changing in different ways, and his insights into the nature of change and how people respond to change will be really interesting,” said Sirbu.

“We’re experimenting with liturgy. His appearance along with his worship team is part of that liturgical experimentation,” he said.

The topic came from a conversation between the two about their different services.

“He was telling me about some of the changes he wanted to make,” said Ashby. “He noticed that we have a big video screen. Now people don’t have to hold a book. It’s more easy to read and sing along. He liked that idea, but said his people may not.”

Ashby said that when he preaches, “there’s a lot of improv,” but that he has begun “praying and meditating and looking in the Scriptures where change came about.

“I can show from the Scripture, look what happened when change came, look at the people who embraced change, look at the people who rejected it,” Ashby said.

“The first time we came to Temple Emeth, we said we have a couple of songs that sound really really upbeat, it’s like an Israeli tempo, a clap your hands type thing. Then we submitted the words” to make sure they would be appropriate in the Jewish setting.

What: Pastor Keni Ashby preaching and leading musical worship service

Where: Cong. Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road, Teaneck

When: Friday, Aug. 12, 8 p.m.

“Most of the songs we do we write ourselves. They’re nice worship songs, singing to God,” he said.

“There is a lot we can learn from people of other faiths,” said Sirbu. “Interfaith partnership is a key to being a vibrant part of this community.”

Ashby, 46, moved to Teaneck when he was 12 years old. For the past seven years, he has coached girls softball at the Teaneck Baseball Organization, “which is basically 95 percent Orthodox. They just know me as Coach Ken,” he said.

So when he was scheduled to speak at Temple Emeth last year, it seemed only natural to invite the parents of his team.

“I didn’t know how they feel about going to a Reform synagogue. I was kind of heartbroken that the Orthodox community doesn’t want to have anything to do with Temple Emeth. I just don’t understand it.”

“That’s another thing he should preach on, one of the things I never knew, that synagogues don’t do things together. I thought Jewish people stick together. Now it makes sense to me the reason why the Church has all these different denominations, because it’s also in Judaism.”

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