by Connie Schulz for

posted January 8, 2011

updated January 12, 2019

Churchgoing Christians are used to hearing their ministers quote from Matthew 25:35: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.

However, most Christians never get to hear Jesus' message delivered by a rabbi -- and one who quotes Islamic text, too: One should like for his neighbor what he loves for himself.

It's also not your typical religious service when Muslims join Unitarians in thunderous applause as a Baptist preacher invokes the names of Harriet Tubman and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschell in the same bellowing breath.

Nor is it common for hundreds of Jews to rise from their seats and sway to the soulful offerings of a black gospel choir.

I dare say most Americans have never listened to a woman whose title begins with "the very reverend" and ends with "dean of Trinity Church."

Lord, what a night.

More than 40 religious congregations showed up Monday evening for the founding meeting of a new coalition called Greater Cleveland Congregations.

Not one minute of the two-hour gathering was ordinary, but every last second of it felt deeply familiar to the 2,000 people of faith who filled up Cleveland Masonic Temple to reclaim their city.

And do be clear on this: This wildly diverse group was not asking for permission to intervene. They were extending an invitation to every citizen who has felt left behind.

"This is not a town hall meeting," Fairmount Temple's Rabbi Joshua Caruso said to uproarious applause, and then pointed to the crowd. "This is for us."

Ari Lipman, a longtime community organizer, has helped start similar groups around the country through his work with the Industrial Areas Foundation. His efforts in Cleveland began about a year ago, when he met with Caruso. Soon, dozens of other religious leaders had joined their effort.

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