Photo: Jonathan Groves and Calvin “Sonny” Clarke enjoy a stroll through Adams Morgan. Photo by Brian A. Taylor Photography
By summer’s end, Jonathan Groves will be a full-fledged Jew.
It seems like a leap for the son of a Southern Baptist minister, but Jonathan points to his father’s “liberal-minded views of Jesus” as the foundation for his faith and his conversion to Judaism this year.
“My father focused more on the teachings of Jesus and how to get along in this world,” Jonathan said. He recalls Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, being a scholarly community that didn’t read the Bible literally but took Jesus’ teachings seriously. Care for the poor, including those with disabilities, and welcoming gays and lesbians were among the top (though not always popular) priorities.
Jonathan vividly remembers the moment he realized his religious views differed from other mainstream Christian youth. He was sitting in a full auditorium at a summer camp, watching an overly dramatic actor portray Jesus carrying the cross.
“I felt estranged from traditional Christian views,” he said. “I needed a community that understood my identity.”
He tried following his father’s footsteps by attending seminary, feeling that his father’s work should be carried on and that he, too, had a message to share. But after the first year he chose not to go back.
Then the idea to convert to Judaism began to stir in his mind and heart. In 2005, he spent two months in Israel, studying Christian-Muslim relationships and exploring the Holy Land. A few months before coming to be an assistant at L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. in 2010, he decided for sure.
Conversion classes have delighted him. He enjoys attending Friday night Shabbat services at Temple Sinai in D.C., and has found a welcoming community there.
“I love the Hebrew language, I love the stories of how people got along—or didn’t—recorded in the Torah,” Jonathan said.
L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. is an interdenominational Christian community, but the international charter states “each community member is encouraged to discover and deepen his or her spiritual life and live it according to his or her particular faith and tradition.”
Jonathan has found L’Arche community members to be incredibly supportive of his decision. He’s had the opportunity to share Hebrew prayers with his household, and others have freed up vehicles so he can go to Temple regularly. On the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah Jonathan’s housemate EunSung Kim prepared traditional dishes like pomegranate seeds and apples dipped in honey—and everyone had a good laugh that EunSung had also prepared shrimp, which is not kosher.
In both his new faith tradition and in L’Arche Jonathan sees a community focused on love, compassion, prayer, lighting candles, and saying thank you.
“The core members have not been tainted by religious intolerance,” he said. “They are so kind and gentle, they would never not like me because of my faith.”
Jonathan hopes his grounding in Judaism can help his Christian friends understand their own faith a bit more as he shares the traditions and culture in which Jesus grew up. He continues to accompany his L’Arche housemates to Catholic mass to support them in their spiritual journeys, and learns from the “piety and prayers” of the Catholic Church.
“The Temple and L’Arche are two different communities. However, understanding that we both serve God makes us one,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan dreams of one day living together with Christians, Jews, and Muslims who have varying abilities. His vision for “Abraham’s House” is rooted in the common denominator of helping the poor.
In the meantime, Jonathan hopes to live by values that contribute to the spiritual development of all those living in his community. And, sometime this summer, he’ll invite his L’Arche community to join him at Temple Sinai where he’ll be immersed in water and complete his conversion.
Jonathan Groves has been an assistant at Euclid house since 2010. If there is peace in the region, he and his brother hope to travel to Israel for a Succoth (festival in the fall) bar mitzvah.