The Rev. Thomas Yorty wrote his sermon as usual last week. But the members of Westminster Presbyterian Church, where he is pastor, didn’t hear it on Sunday.
Instead, Yorty delivered his talk Friday evening to the congregation of Temple Beth Zion, a synagogue across the street on Delaware Avenue.
Imam Nazim Mangera of Masjid An-Noor, a mosque in Amherst, gave the Sunday sermon at Westminster, and Temple Beth Zion’s Rabbi Gary Pokras spoke Friday at the mosque.
The unusual “pulpit exchange” was an effort to deepen an ongoing interfaith relationship among the Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations, which have joined together for the past several years in an annual effort called “Mitzvah Day” to do volunteer work in the community.
The congregations figured the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend was a fitting time to try the exchange.
King, a Baptist minister, often looked beyond Christianity in his preaching on humanity, freedom and civil rights.
“King, at the end of his ministry, his agenda was inclusive of all faith traditions,” said Yorty.
The three clergymen spoke on the same theme, “God’s Vision for Community,” while relying on their own religious texts, perspectives and backgrounds.
Yorty, for example, discussed the call of Abraham and God’s promise that Abraham’s family would be a blessing to all the Earth – beliefs shared by Christians and Jews.
But the minister didn’t shy from quoting from the New Testament Book of Revelation, a Christian text, and referring to the Trinity, a Christian concept of God, in his talk.
The congregations were seeking to expose themselves to their differences, as well as commonalities.
Exploring differences was a “natural evolution” of the friendship among the three congregations, said Yorty
Mangera said as many as 100 people stayed following Friday afternoon prayer in Masjid An-Noor to hear Pokras speak.
“Our community really enjoyed it,” said Mangera. “The banquet hall was full with our congregation.”
On Sunday, Mangera used verses from the Quran, as well as sayings from the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, in explaining how important it is in Islamic tradition to work on behalf of others.
The exchange, said Mangera, “strengthens our attachment with each other and our connection to each other.”