By Daniel Meeter
One day last June, two Christian pastors, my wife and myself, sat down for dinner with about a dozen AVODAH Corps Members at their common residence in Flatbush. It was such a simple thing, just a bunch of us sitting around one table, eating some (very good) take out sushi, and introducing ourselves to each other. When the two of us left that night, we told each other that was one of the best evenings we’d had in a long, long time. We walked home uplifted, delighted, thrilled, and maybe even a little challenged.
I had only learned of AVODAH a few months earlier when I was told by my intimate friend, Rabbi Andy Bachman, that the organization was going to honor us together. What we would be honored for was not just that we happened to do things, from a religious basis, towards social justice and relief, but that we did so much of it together, Jew and Christian, synagogue and church.
I’m not going to go through the list of all that we collaborate on. We take it for granted, but apparently it’s not the norm. Some people consider it outstanding. For us it’s really a wonderful obligation. So on a perfect June evening, at an event space near the Gowanus, we stood together as Partners in Justice.
That evening was big for me, not only because I was honored to be honored, but also because how much I learned about AVODAH and its story and purpose. I also got to meet its leadership and staff. It was a high, but not the high point, and I mean no disrespect. The high point was the dinner with the Corps Members.
It was a few weeks later. We walked from our apartment on one side of Prospect Park to the other, and just two blocks down Flatbush Ave from where our daughter lives. A non-descript front door, and we were let in. We went upstairs and the introductions began. As Corps Members came home from their various gigs, we moved upstairs and squeezed into the dining room and sat around the table. Two trays of (very good) take-out sushi. Very simple.
And then, my wife, an expert in group dynamics, asked them to take turns telling their stories and answer a couple questions. Very simple. As the evening developed, so did the spirit and the energy and our excitement. We fell in love with these young people. Their brains, their sophistication, and their energy, yes, but also their passion, their commitment, and their heart. Their joy in what they were doing, and a little bit their anger at the injustices and suffering they were addressing. And their living in community.
When it was our turn we revealed, to their delight, that my wife and I had met each other forty years ago in an intentional urban Christian community. We shared daily meals, daily and weekly prayers, and social activism. After the second year, we married and so had to move out, but that intentional community had brought us together and launched us.
What added to the energy in the room was the dynamic of shared sympathy with remarkable religious diversity. Every stripe of Jewish belief and experience was present at their one table, from orthodoxy to agnosticism to even one Christian! We talked about the challenges of living in community and about the looming challenges of finding jobs after AVODAH. We couldn’t stay all night. We walked home through the park refreshed and rejoicing. Honest.
What’s special about AVODAH? What does AVODAH bring together? Youth, learning, work, and need. Real work and real need, with committed young people. With a deep religious foundation that is so deep and so strong that it can support such diversity in belief.
We want to get invited back.
The Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter has been the pastor and teacher at Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York since 2001. He was ordained to the Reformed Church ministry in 1980, and has served churches in New Jersey, Michigan, and Ontario. He earned a Ph.D. from Drew University in 1989, and has published two technical books in theology as well as many articles. In spring of 2015, Rev. Meeter was honored as one of AVODAH’s Partners in Justice. He is married to Rev. Melody Takken Meeter, director of pastoral care at the Lutheran Medical Center of Brooklyn. They have two grown children and two grandsons. Daniel is interested in everything, but his special loves are classical music, architecture, languages, geography, and the borough of Brooklyn.