Plymouth Spiritualist Church
Today Chris and I woke up early in order to meet our guide Liz at the Plymouth Spiritualist Church. Some of you reading this may be surprised as to where this Church is, and some may have driven by it without even knowing it. The Plymouth Spiritualist Church is actually in a former house that is now zoned as a church on the street Vic Park A, between East and Park Avenues. It is a cute little structure that we were surprised to learn typically has an audience of approximately 50 people on any given week, and also holds different workshops covering assorted topics of spiritualism throughout the week.
Spiritualism is a religion which believes that the spirits of the dead residing in the spirit world have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. Anyone may receive spirit messages, but formal communication sessions (séances) are held by “mediums,” who can then provide information about the afterlife. Spiritualism developed and reached its peak growth in membership from the 1840s to the 1920s, especially in English-language countries. By 1897, it was said to have more than eight million followers in the United States and Europe, and flourished for a half century without canonical texts or formal organization. Many prominent Spiritualists were women, and like most Spiritualists, supported causes such as the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. By the late 1880s the credibility of the movement had weakened due to accusations of fraud being perpetrated by mediums, and formal Spiritualist organizations began to appear. Spiritualism is currently practiced primarily through various denominational Spiritualist Churches in the United States and United Kingdom.
Temple B’rith Kodesh was founded here in Rochester in 1848 by 12 immigrants (ironically, this is the same year of the founding of the Oneida Community that we visited last week), and was the first Jewish congregation in the area. At its inception, it was an Orthodox group that met in a home. Following a split in Judaism that began in Europe in the early 1800′s, the group here in Rochester made the progression to a Reformed congregation just before purchasing their first building downtown in 1909. As more and more families joined, they quickly outgrew that spot, and later purchased the current plot of land on Elmwood Ave in Brighton where the congregation has called home since the early 1960′s.
Temple B'rith Kodesh (as seen from Elmwood Ave)
When we contacted the temple about visiting, we were invited to join a group that was already touring that day. New members from the East Bloomfield United Methodist Church were visiting to explore some of the roots of their belief system, and we tagged along with them. We’d like to thank the group, and their pastor Jeri Kober for having us along, and including us on their journey. The group was just as friendly and hospitable as the folks from the Temple were. We got there just a few minutes before the service, and joined the others on the tour. Luke and I adorned our yamakas (or yarmulke) and chose a seat far in the back. We had the opportunity to be present for a Bat Mitzvah, which I had never had the opportunity to see before, so the entire process was brand new.
One of the questions that we had going into the visit, was what the difference was between an Orthodox, Conservative, and a Reform temple. I’m not sure we got a final answer, but many of the differences were obvious just while sitting in the service itself. Men and women all sat together, side by side, and worshiped with one another while being led by two Rabbis, a male and a female. It’s obvious that a Reform temple is incredibly more liberal about their views on gender equality, and the roles that both genders play in the congregation. It was later provided, that another noteworthy aspect of a Reform temple is their dedication to social activism. The man giving us the tour didn’t note a particular area of social activism that was important, but mentioned that reaching out to other faith communities and being open to all was something that was important to them at B’rith Kodesh.