In Jacksonville, Florida, one interfaith leader explains, religion is like the sugar in sweet tea: “It permeates every aspect of life. … I can’t think of much that isn’t touched by religion in one way or another.” The city is predominantly, often presumptively, Christian. Jacksonville is home to the headquarters of the Southern BaptistThe Baptist tradition includes a variety of Christian churches which trace their beginnings to the Anabaptist reform movement that rejected infant baptism insisting on the importance of baptizing only those who are able to profess the faith as believers. Convention; First Baptist ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... occupies eleven blocks of the city’s downtown, right next to City Hall. Until 2010, the City Council’s chaplainA chaplain is a member of the clergy who serves in a prison, a hospital, a college, or some other institution outside the context of the normal congregational life of a religious community. offered Christian prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. to open each meeting.
The Jewish community has a small but historic presence in the city, dating back to the late 1800s. Today, the two largest synagoguesSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ... are the 2,000-member Congregation Ahavath ChesedHesed is generally translated as meaning “loving-kindness” in Hebrew. In the Jewish mystical tradition, the “Kabbalah”, it refers to one of the ten creative forces that intervene between the infinite, unknowable God, and our created world., a Reform community known as “The TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref...,” and the similarly-sized Conservative Jacksonville Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ...; in addition, four Chabad-LubavitchLubavitchers are members of a branch of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic movement. They take their name from a Russian town called Lubavitch and follow a line of spiritual masters or rebbes, the last of whom was Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), w... centers are located across the sprawling metro area. The Temple’s Senior RabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... JoshuaJoshua was the leader Moses appointed to succeed him after his death, laying his hands upon Joshua and committing to him the leadership of the people of Israel. According to biblical history, Joshua led the Israelites, who had been tested for forty years ... Lief, notes: “I think there is an assumption that everyone in town is a Christian. The reality is, 98 percent of the time, that’s a good guess.” Yet RabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. Lief is quick to note that there is a high level of acceptance in the larger community.
While Jacksonville is the biggest city by area in the United States, it retains a friendly Southern, small town feel. Locals jokingly refer to the area as “South Georgia,” perhaps because it shares more with the BibleThe Greek term biblia means the “books.” Bible is used in both the Jewish and Christian traditions to refer to the book which gathers together their sacred writings. The Hebrew Bible includes the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings—a collection re... Belt than Boca Raton. A port city on the northern coast of Florida, Jacksonville boasts a stunning array of bridges and waterways, pristine beaches and marshlands. The port brings industry as well as a significant military presence. For many in the sprawling city of Jacksonville, “diversity” continues to be understood primarily in terms of race. The city—which according to the 2010 census was 60.9 percent White, 29.5 percent African American, and 4.1 percent Asian—has long struggled with issues of inclusion and discrimination. Jacksonville was known to be a stronghold for the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and integration was slow, with divisions along race lines persisting in clubs and schools well into the 1970s.
Broader religious diversity is relatively new to Jacksonville, with the Bahá’í Center established in the late 1980s, the Hindu Temple in the early 1990s, and the SikhSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob... GurdwaraThe gurdwara, “the gateway of the Guru,” is the place for community gathering and worship in the Sikh tradition. The Guru is the Adi Granth, the sacred scripture of the Sikh tradition. Each center will include a chamber where the Adi Granth is kept, a... in 2011. The Buddhist presence includes two ornate Cambodian TemplesA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref..., two Tibetan Buddhist Centers, a Vietnamese Buddhist TempleBuddhist temples differ considerably from one another depending upon culture and particular school, but most are associated with the residence of the sangha of monks. Theravada temples focus on one or more images of Sakyamuni Buddha. In Mahayana and Vajra..., and a Zen Center. The two main sites for Muslim prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. and gathering in Jacksonville are the Islamic CenterAn Islamic center will typically include a mosque, school, and area for social and cultural activities. When a new Islamic center is being organized in the United States, attention is paid to community needs, including a weekend or full-time school, indic... of Northeast Florida, a landmark mosqueMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... with a dome and minaretThe minaret is a tower often built to adorn a mosque, from which the call to prayer may be sounded., and the predominantly African-American Jacksonville MasjidMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... of Al-IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to....
The Muslim community in Jacksonville has faced unique challenges: in 2002, Rev. Jerry Vines of First Baptist Church infamously referred to the ProphetA prophet is one who communicates a divine message or vision, sometimes calling people to repentance or awakening, sometimes predicting future events. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to Hebrew prophets, including Abraham and Moses. Muslims believe ... Mohammed as “a demon-possessed pedophile”; in 2008, a local pastorA pastor (from the Latin word for shepherd) is a member of the clergy with responsibility for a particular congregation. For Lutherans, it is a formal title for a parish minister. posted messages such as “GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. Loves You, AllahAllah is the word for God in Arabic, used by Arabic-speaking Christians, Jews, and Muslims. According to Islam, Allah is the creator and ruler of the entire universe, the ultimate judge of all human beings, characterized by mercy and compassion. By means ... Hates” on the sign in front of his church. In 2010, the nomination of a Muslim college professor to a city committee led to acrimonious opposition, as well as steadfast support from interfaith and civic leaders. Although Dr. Parvez Ahmed was appointed, days later the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida was targeted in a pipe-bomb attack.
Within hours of the attack on the Islamic Center, clergyClergy are the body of ordained men (and in some cases women) who are authorized to perform the priestly, pastoral, or rabbinical duties of the community—as distinct from the laity whom they serve. from across the city issued a statement condemning the act. Many of these efforts were led by Jacksonville’s largest interfaith organization, OneJax. In addition to formal interfaith activities, the city’s interfaith fabric is also strengthened by relational activities at the community level. After the nomination controversy, the Pastor from Riverside PresbyterianPresbyterian is the general name for churches governed by elected presbyters or elders and refers especially to Reformed churches in Scotland and England that shaped Presbyterian churches worldwide. The church is distinguished both from those in which aut... Church invited Dr. Ahmed to co-teach an adult Sunday School course on Islam. An annual pulpit swap forges new connections between communities, such as the African American congregation at Hendricks Baptist Church and the Reform Jewish community of Ahavath Chesed. While Jacksonville has faced considerable challenges related to racial and religious diversity, interfaith leaders are optimistic for the future: in an historic election in 2011, the city elected its first African American mayor, and an innovative partnership between OneJax and the University of North Florida is expected to enhance and expand interfaith efforts in the years to come.