The unveiling of a historical marker at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia on Sunday wasn’t just the commemoration of an historic building; it was an act of friendship between two different houses of worship that have called it home.
The church, which sits at 2701 Heyward St., was home to the Tree of Life Congregation until 1986, when the synagogue relocated to its current home on Trenholm Road.
“This occasion is an act of real friendship between our two congregations, each with distinct history and tradition but with so many principles and values in common, including a strong commitment to social action,” said the Rev. Jennie Barrington, interim pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
Tree of Life Congregation was founded in 1896, and its first synagogue on Lady Street was dedicated in 1905, according to Alan Brill, president of the congregation’s board. The growing congregation eventually found itself needing more room, and broke ground for a new synagogue on Heyward Street in 1951. Needing even more room 35 years later, the congregation moved to its current location in Forest Acres.
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“This place of worship was your sanctuary, and you made it possible for us to purchase it in 1985,” Barrington told the crowd gathered for Sunday’s unveiling. “And then our congregations shared this space for a time until you moved to your new home in Forest Acres.”
Sunday’s ceremony was presented by Historic Columbia and the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative. After the marker was unveiled, members of both congregations enjoyed a light meal and tours of the building.
Rabbi Eric Mollo said Sunday’s event wasn’t just about history.
“It’s even bigger than just a historic marker. It’s bigger than a trip down Nostalgia Lane,” he said. “Here’s this bridge between two communities; and the fact that the Tree of Life could set the foundation for another faith community to come in, and that this building is still being used by a faith community, is a beautiful thing. The poetry writes itself.”
Frank Baker, 61, had his Bar Mitzvah in the building, and said he and his twin brother would sit on the front porch of their rabbi’s home behind the church and practice their Hebrew. He went inside the church during a garage sale several years ago.
“It’s almost like opening up part of your brain and going back in history when you go back to some place you haven’t been in a long time,” he said. “... It makes me very proud, proud that we value history, that we value diversity.
“In this day and age, I don’t look at people as Christians or Catholics or Protestants; I look at them at people who contribute to our community.”