The Lewes Rehoboth Association of Churches will remain a Christian-only organization following a May 8 vote at Lewes Presbyterian Church.
In an October letter, the Rev. Diane Fisher of Rehoboth’s Metropolitan Community Church suggested LRAC become an interfaith organization by welcoming Jewish, Unitarian and Unity congregations. But the idea was rejected when LRAC members voted 23-14 to remain a Christian organization.
“I raised the idea because it was the just and right thing to do,” Fisher said. “LRAC pools forces to support services such as the Community Resource Center, the food basket and New Life Thrift Shop. Anyone can use services and volunteer. We have Jewish and Unitarian volunteers, but only Christians can sit at the LRAC table, and for me that seemed odd.”
Established in 1983, LRAC comprises 14 member churches. The organization formed to collectively address community needs, promote understanding among member churches and reduce duplicate outreach contributions. While non-Christians volunteer in LRAC’s various outreach programs, they have no governing role within the association.
“LRAC has historically been a Christian-only organization, and the motion May 8 was to extend the bylaws to include other faith communities that are not Christian,” Fisher said.
Seaside Jewish Community congregation members volunteer at the thrift shop and Community Resource Center. Seaside Rabbi Beth Cohen, who serves as board member and treasurer of the nonprofit Community Resource Board member, says Seaside was not contacted about the LRAC discussion or vote.
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache, pastor of Rehoboth MCC when it joined LRAC, said years ago LRAC adopted World Council of Churches membership requirements that churches be Christian.
Rector of Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lewes the Rev. Jeffrey Ross said LRAC could include interfaith churches while maintaining common worship and interfaith dialogue.
“We see inclusion as an opportunity to affirm what in many ways has already been occurring in worship as well as the thrift store and Community Resource Center. This need not detract from our important and long-term commitment to work for deeper fellowship with Christians in the Lewes-Rehoboth area,” he said.
The Rev. Max Wolf, rector of the Episcopal Parish of All Saints’ Church and St. George’s Chapel, says voting to include non-Christian churches would have disbanded LRAC. The operational and governmental structure, known as church polity, of some LRAC member denominations does not permit members to join religious associations with non-Christian members, so these churches would have to leave LRAC.
“Most LRAC members are committed to creating a robust interfaith organization here in Sussex County, but not to disband a historic Christian organization to do that,” he said. “LRAC does a lot in our area and is a lifesaving station for people in need.”
By creating an interfaith association, leaders could create a new charter, bylaws and mission. Churches whose polity allows members to join interfaith associations would all have a governing role within the new group. However, the Rev. Michelle Collins of Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware in Lewes says a new association wouldn’t have the same community impact as LRAC.
While not permitted to join LRAC, her congregation refers members to LRAC’s Community Resource Center and supports Immanuel Shelter with monetary donations and volunteer work. The congregation welcomes members of all faiths, including Christians, Jews and Buddhists, with common values and vision rather than a core set of beliefs.
“I was indeed hoping for a different outcome and planning to join LRAC,” she said. “It’s less about wanting to be part of governance and more about interfaith connections and working on what we have in common rather than what divides us. We’ll just receive it with love but keeping working for change.”
Note: The last name of Seaside Jewish Community Rabbi Beth Cohen was incorrect in the Lewes Rehoboth Association of Churches story in the May 11 print edition. We regret the error.