It’s hard to remember the last time the doors of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church were locked.
“There was one point when we had a robbery of some silver from the church and they wanted to start locking it, but my dad said ‘no, the doors are open and should be open,’ ” said Judie Peterson, daughter of the Rev. Charles S. Aldrich, the presiding pastor at Hurlbut from 1955 to 1962.
Beginning with Aldrich’s tenure, this open-door policy took on an entirely new meaning.
At 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Webb’s Captain’s Table Restaurant, the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua, as part of its end-of-the-season celebration dinner, will honor Hurlbut as a thank-you for nearly six decades of open doors that has given the congregation a place to hold its worship services.
“We’ve had a relaxed, very comfortable relationship,” said Arthur Salz, a longtime member of the Hebrew Congregation. “But we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to acknowledge what was done 58 years ago and has continued as a hospitality?’ ”
In 1959, two 13-year-old Jewish girls from Buffalo, Betty Shine (now Batya Ben-Zeev) and Barbara Wolfson, were spending their summer at Chautauqua learning the violin as part of a young musicians club.
During the first few weeks of the season, they were asked to attend church services on Sundays, Salz said. After a few weeks, though, they talked with their house mother about the fact that because of their faith, they didn’t worship on Sundays, but rather on Saturdays.
Salz said that the girls’ house mother suggested they start a Jewish service on the grounds. She then took the initiative to contact Rabbi Julius Kerman, the rabbi at the time of Temple Hesed Abraham in Jamestown. Kerman made arrangements to come to the grounds that next Saturday to hold a service.
“The girls made up signs and biked all over the grounds and put up posters” to spread the word of the Jewish service, Salz said. “On Saturday morning, about 35 adults showed up and they were so thankful to these girls.”
Though that first service, held in the Hall of Missions, was the beginning of the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua, Kerman was aware they would be better served by having a more permanent home on the grounds. With that in mind, Kerman approached his good friend at Hurlbut — Aldrich.
“My father was a very peace-loving man,” Peterson said. “I think he was very open-minded for his day and accepting of all peoples. It was, I think, out of his personality … that this was able to happen and then encouraged.”
After taking Kerman’s request to the board of Hurlbut, Aldrich gave word a few weeks later that Hurlbut had decided to open its doors to the beginnings of the Hebrew Congregation. So it came to pass that every Saturday during the season since 1959 has seen the Hebrew Congregation hold its weekly service at Hurlbut.
The congregation, under the leadership of President Renee Andrews, felt that this summer was a good time to use their season-ending get-together to honor Hurlbut’s continued generosity over the years.
“We try to have something that will have some meaning to our members,” Andrews said, “and we thought who better than the church that has been so welcoming to us for all these years.”
The Hebrew Congregation has invited Peterson and her husband, Lewis, to the celebration, as well as current Hurlbut pastor, the Rev. Carmen Perry and her husband, the Rev. Nick Perry, and former Hurlbut pastor the Rev. Paul Womack and his wife, the Rev. Natalie Hanson. Also invited to attend are Hurlbut Administrative Assistant Debbie Caruso and her husband, Tom, Associate Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno and her husband, Jim, Rabbi Sam Stahl and his wife, Lynn, and Director of Religion the Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr. and his wife, Cheryl.
To show their gratitude for Hurlbut’s continued hospitality, the congregation will make a contribution to Hurlbut’s food ministry, which aims to feed the hungry in the greater Chautauqua area throughout the year.