Temple Isaiah move considered Members would leave interfaith center

December 31, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

A consultant for Temple Isaiah says the congregation wants to leave its 21-year-old home at the Meeting House interfaith center in east Columbia's Oakland Mills village.

A monthlong survey of 180 congregants concluded there was a broad base of support to raise funds to build a new facility for the Reform congregation, which has about 450 families and roughly 1,100 members.

Leaders at Temple Isaiah refused to comment on the results of the survey on the new temple, saying only that they were still in the planning stages.

"The feasibility study has been completed and it will be presented to our congregation," said congregation President Donna Kaplan.

But in a recent letter to congregants obtained by The Sun, Temple Isaiah said it "could no longer fulfill its mission and purpose" in the interfaith center.

The letter went on to say that a building was needed to "insure a viable Jewish community and to strengthen the Jewish presence for current and future members."

It also said Temple Isaiah should solicit contributions to a capital and endowment fund before buying land. At least 60 percent of the pledges should be secured before the congregation buys land, and at least 80 percent of pledges should be redeemed in cash before construction begins, the letter said.

The survey findings will be presented to the congregation in a private meeting Jan. 7.

Although other congregations have left the interfaith centers since the 1980s, Columbia, with four centers, still has the largest collection of such facilities in the country.

Leaders of congregations that worship in the centers acknowledge the arrangement poses challenges along with benefits.

The biggest drawbacks to the interfaith centers, leaders say, are space problems and having to use only portable symbols for their services. A cross that one group rolls out must be stowed away for another.

"The biggest challenge of having to share your worship space with other congregations is maintaining the sense of church each week," said Rev. Douglas Hunter of the Columbia United Christian Church, which meets at the Meeting House. "It's very hard to bring children in for Sunday school classes and continuously expect them to feel comfortable when each week they're in a different room."

Hunter said 60 percent of the visitors who come to his services say they didn't come back to his congregation because it does not feel like a church.

Members at Temple Isaiah say their congregation's rapid growth also means that it needs more space for Hebrew classes and special services.

"When the interfaith centers first started almost 30 years ago, people were looking at a brand new community where small congregations didn't have the money or the people to put up new facilities, said Stephen Eisenberg, 45, a member of the congregation. "Columbia's been around for a while and there's a maturing community where instead of a handful of families, we have a congregation of a few hundred families. We need a place to call our own."

The Temple Isaiah congregation would not be the first to leave an interfaith center. Last year, Beth Shalom, a Jewish congregation, left the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in east Columbia and built a $1.6 million synagogue -- the county's first built from the ground up -- in Simpsonville.

If Temple Isaiah does leave the Oakland Mills interfaith center, several leaders said, the group's space likely would be used for the remaining congregations.

Pub Date: 12/31/96

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