Synagogues turned churches

Several months ago, my husband and I were driving through Cincinnati, and we passed a building identified by its sign as the Zion Temple First Pentecostal Church. However, from the Romanesque style and the stone menorah carved on the facade, I was guessing that it had originally been a synagogue or temple.

Zion Temple First Pentecostal Church – formerly the Isaac M. Wise Center

I poked around a little online, and if the information I have is correct, this building served at the beginning of the 20th century as the Isaac M. Wise Center. It was the regular worship space for the Reform Jewish congregation that had been meeting in the famous Plum Street Temple in downtown Cincinnati, the birthplace of Reform Judaism. Once the Wise Center was built, the Plum Street Temple was used only for special occasions (the high holidays and ordination services for Hebrew Union College). In the early 1970s, the congregation moved their regular services back to Plum Street Temple and sold the Wise Center to the Pentecostals, who have been there ever since. Judging from a remark on their website, the Pentecostals are proud of the “authentic smoked stained glass windows depicting the Feast of the Passover and special celebrations of the Hebrew Nation.”

According to Queen City Survey, a blog on Cincinnati architecture, there are two other buildings on the same street that also began life as Jewish houses of worship but then passed into Christian hands. The Reading Road Temple (Sh’erith Ahabeth Achim) became New Friendship Baptist Church, and Adath Israel became Southern Baptist.

New Friendship Baptist Church – formerly the Reading Road Temple

Southern Baptist Church – formerly Adath Israel

I don’t know what it is exactly, but there’s something about this “re-purposing” of sacred spaces across religious traditions that I find intriguing. As an example of the process moving in the opposite direction–and then kind of back again–in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I did my doctorate, there was a building south of campus that began as a Bible church but became a Reconstructionist kehillah when the Bible church built a larger building elsewhere; the Reconstructionists then rented the building on Sundays to a fledgling Episcopal mission.

Chapel Hill Kehillah – formerly the Chapel Hill Bible Church

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