Clergy from both congregations see it as a match made in heaven.
Christ Church Cranbrook needed space for offices and educational programs during a major renovation project. Temple Beth El opened its doors. Clergy from both congregations see it as a match made in heaven.
Christ Church Cranbrook, a large Episcopalian congregation in Bloomfield Hills, embarked on a $10 million expansion and renovation project in 2019. The efforts focus on the church’s program center, which includes offices, classrooms and the early childhood center. The program center opened in 1938, 10 years after the adjacent majestic Gothic sanctuary.
By late last year, the renovation work got to the point where the people using the space would soon need to move. Temple Beth El, with a large building less than 5 miles from the church, seemed worth investigating.
The two institutions have cooperated on numerous programs in recent years, and their lead clergy are good friends.
“Although a church and a synagogue are very different organizations on the surface, the truth is that we share much more in common than people might expect,” said Temple Beth El’s senior rabbi, Mark Miller. He said he regards Christ Church Cranbrook’s rector, the Rev. William J. Danaher Jr., as “one of the most thoughtful and impactful religious leaders in our vicinity.”
Danaher suggested Temple Beth El to the church’s tenant advocate, Mark Bowman of Bowman Ecker, a real estate strategy firm. The renovation and moving plan went through an intricate review process at the church. After approval by the vestry (the church’s governing board), the proposal had to be approved by the parish as a whole and also by the Standing Committee for the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan.
“At every level, the vote was unanimous, which rarely happens,” Danaher said.
On the Beth El side, member Gary Goodman, who has worked in commercial leasing for more than 20 years, helped ensure that the arrangement was beneficial for the temple and handled professionally, Miller said.
It didn’t hurt that Danaher’s wife, Claire Danaher, works as the chief financial officer at Temple Beth El.
“Because we are married, Claire and I discussed this project as little as possible,” Danaher said. “However, she was kind enough to let me know that I could count on her support,”
The 22-member church staff — which includes four priests, administrative and support staff, a music director and assistant, and a director of children and family ministries — along with nine professional singers and 17 teachers in the Little Lambs early childhood program — began their move Feb.10. They hope to be settled at Temple Beth El by Feb. 15.
The two congregations have partnered in numerous programs in recent years, including service projects over the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The church has participated in the temple’s annual Glazer Institute for several years. Christ Church Cranbrook took an active role in a vigil held at Beth El after the 2018 shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last fall, the two congregations jointly sponsored a six-part class (presented via Zoom) by Vanderbilt University Professor Amy-Jill Levine that examined stories and parables in Genesis and the New Testament. Another series is planned for this spring.
Christ Church Cranbrook, at the corner of Lone Pine and Cranbrook roads, has about 900 member families. Temple Beth El, at 14 Mile and Telegraph roads in Bloomfield Township, has more than 1,000.
The remodeling plan does not involve the church’s sanctuary, and worship services will continue there. Services have been livestreamed since the beginning of the COVID shutdowns last spring and have been so popular that they have attracted regular participants from as far away as Arkansas and Colorado, Danaher said.
Miller said in addition to the leased offices and classroom space, Christ Church Cranbrook staff and parishioners will be welcome to use the temple’s communal spaces, including the board room, library and Handelman Hall.
Danaher says he hopes the partnership will help both congregations grow spiritually.
“I very much look forward to spending the next two years deepening my knowledge of Judaism, particularly the roots that my own Christian faith has in the unbroken promises of God to Israel,” he said. “This partnership is about so much more than space, but about ways our communities can grow together. My hope is that we will become more of ourselves as we learn to love each other better.”
Miller agreed. “One of the great joys of this growing partnership will be the opportunity for our clergy, staff and members to deepen our understanding not only of our neighbors but of our own commitment to living a meaningful Jewish life in the 21st century,” he said.