Faiths come together at Kennewick church to share seder

Ron Kathren picked up items from the seder table and held them high for all to see.

Matzah bread. A roasted shank bone. A roasted egg. Bitter herbs.

"These are the symbols of Passover," he said, sitting in a back room at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Kennewick.

The people at the table with him watched closely. Some had never been to a seder before.

Kathren, who is Jewish, led the special meal at the Christian church Thursday night as a way to illuminate similarities between the two faiths.

"It's important for us to understand our common roots and to better understand our neighbors," Kathren said.

Seder meals include several courses and are important parts of the Passover celebration. The Jewish holiday commemorates the deliverance of Hebrew slaves from Egypt.

Passover typically is in March or April. This year, it begins at sundown April 19.

Seder meals follow a program called the haggadah, which mixes readings, stories and songs.

The food eaten is full of meaning. Matzah, or unleavened bread, symbolizes that the slaves had to flee from Egypt quickly and that their only bread in the desert was unleavened cake. Bitter herb - in this case horseradish - represents the bitterness of slavery.

People from St. Paul's brought different dishes to the meal.

Church members followed along with Kathren as he read from the haggadah. Some read individual parts aloud. There were times the whole group read passages together. They prayed and raised their wine glasses in the air.

Kathren said some of the prayers in Hebrew.

People felt their way through what was unfamiliar to them. When they didn't understand something, they asked Kathren for an explanation.

He made sure to provide background. At the start of the seder, he talked a little about the history of Judaism. He touched on the religion's branches and explained the meaning and importance of Passover.

Kathren is a professor emeritus at Washington State University Tri-Cities and attends Congregation Beth Sholom in Richland.

St. Paul's invited him to lead the seder because, "we were very interested in looking at the similarities between Christianity and Judaism," said the Rev. Anne Barton, rector of the church.

The two faiths have so much common history and share so many symbols and metaphors, she said.

Think of the flat wafers used in the Christian practice of communion, she said.

"If we take the time to talk about those (things), we'll see so many commonalties we share," Barton said.

About 30 people were at the seder. Barton said the church wants to hold a larger one next year.

"It's very interesting," said Harvey Keene of Kennewick, a longtime member of St. Paul's. "I think it's great to learn what other people do, what other religions believe. It doesn't hurt one bit. To have somebody come in here and help us is wonderful."

- On the Net: richland.uscjhost.net/ seder.asp