Whats Pastor Ted doing at a Gilroy synagogue

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Ted Pecot isn't your average synagogue member.

When he's not participating in services and events at Gilroy's Congregation Emeth, he answers to the title of "Pastor Ted" at the neighboring Methodist church.

"My wife is Jewish, and I have actually been working with the Jewish community for years and years," explains Pecot, the spiritual leader of the United Methodist Church in Morgan Hill and a congregant at the Reform synagogue for more than six years.

A firm believer in the notion of interfaith cooperation, Pecot strums the guitar at "Rockin Shabbos" services, organizes get-togethers with other South Valley religious groups, and attends Friday night Shabbat services whenever his weekend schedule permits.

His wife, Harriet, is active in the 58-family synagogue, and the couple's two daughters, 8-year-old Jennifer and 5-year-old Olivia, attend Emeth's religious school.

A local force in a Sept. 11-driven "faith-bridging" movement that schedules events designed to unite people of different religions, Pecot demonstrates that same embracing attitude in his own spiritual dealings.

"My path is Christian from top to toe, but I don't think it is the be-all, end-all of religions," says the 49-year-old Pecot, a bearded sixth-generation Californian.

"I don't think people need to be a Christian to have a full and complete faith."

At his 240-member church, Pecot launched a weekly program last year called Spirit Song that tries to help participants grow spiritually by teaching practices from various religions.

He and longtime friend Burt Jacobson, the founding rabbi at Berkeley's Kehilla Community Synagogue, led a workshop two years ago comparing the lives and teachings of Chassidism founder Ba'al Shem Tov and Jesus.

Jacobson says Pecot served as his spiritual director in the early 1980s, and credits his friend with helping him explore his Jewish spirituality. "I owe a great deal to Ted in terms of opening that whole world to me," Jacobson adds.

Pecot says his services, which he describes as lively and informal, often include Jewish invocations such as the Sh'ma. "If you look at our faiths, they're interwoven and built upon one another."

So is the Pecots' relationship. The couple, who met at a line dance in Point Arena, wrote a ketubah that includes a promise to "honor one another's spiritual journeys."

Harriet Pecot observes that "even though we're of different faiths, we have more in common than people of the same faiths."

Pecot ran a spiritual retreat center in Berkeley from 1979 to 1985, and then worked in churches in Hayward, Boulder Creek and Fort Bragg before taking the helm in Morgan Hill in 1996.

At his Morgan Hill congregation, "there's been some curiosity" about his Jewish involvement. "But I've never, ever had anyone question me about it. In fact, I sense some kind of pride about it," says Pecot, whose congregation aims to be inclusive, with a special outreach to gay and lesbian members.

Pecot says he feels "very included" at Emeth these days, but he didn't always feel so welcome.

"It took a long time, I think, for Emeth to get used to me," says Pecot. "I'm pretty sure it had to do with being a minister. I think that there were people who didn't know what on earth to do with that."

These days, Pecot's membership at Emeth is "actually kind of a point of pride for the congregation about how welcoming we are," says Yitzhak Miller, a student rabbi who came to the synagogue in May 2000 and will be ordained this spring. "But that has a lot to do with who Ted is, too."

Miller says he was unaware of any other Jewish congregations that counted a minister as a member. He also acknowledged that some Reform Jews would be uncomfortable with such an arrangement.

"The Reform movement's recommendation is that families who are sending their children to Christian religious schools not be permitted to enroll in Jewish religious school," he said. "Should I be telling this family whose father is a minister that they should not be going to their father's church if they want to be part of our community?"

To the contrary, Miller views Pecot's involvement as "a good opportunity for people in the Jewish community to reflect on how truly welcoming they could be."

Noting that roughly 40 percent of his congregation are in interfaith families, Miller says, "It is my goal to make the arms of Judaism as welcoming as possible to anyone who would want to explore" it.

Last year, Miller and Pecot organized an interfaith Passover seder that brought together 40 congregants from their respective houses of worship.

Miller also credits Pecot with helping to coordinate last April's Walk for Tolerance through Gilroy. That event, which drew 150 participants from more than a dozen religious groups, culminated with the unveiling of a memorial gravestone on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"The congregation has always done a lot of stuff" with other religious groups, Miller says. "But Ted has really inspired me to see the possibilities."

Among those possibilities is ongoing talk between the two religious leaders about teaming up to offer interfaith marriage counseling to couples struggling with their religious direction.

"When both are fairly strong in their involvement in their communities, it can be quite a problem," says Pecot. "The advice is usually choose one and not look at both."

Miller says he and Pecot might start offering sessions later this year for couples "stuck in a decision between Christianity and Judaism find a comfortable path for their family."

In his personal life, Pecot is pleased so far by the direction he and his wife have taken. The couple's daughters divide their Sundays between Emeth's twice-monthly religious school and activities at Pecot's church.

Pecot thinks his children will have the tools to choose their own spiritual course "if we give them a strong sense of both."

Though a staunch Christian, Pecot says, "I have found within the Jewish tradition a beauty in the way that the faith is practiced," particularly with its emphasis on talmudic dialogue.

Miller describes his Methodist congregant as "incredibly supportive" of his family's Judaism.

"We really wish that all our families in our congregation were as supportive of Judaism and knowledgeable about Judaism as Ted is."

That support and knowledge were illustrated when Pecot once suggested that an interfaith couple check out Friday night services at Emeth. When the couple hesitated and said they were unfamiliar with the format of those services, Pecot "taught them a bit of what to expect," says Miller.

"He could actually educate a couple who had never been to a Jewish service enough so they could be somewhat comfortable at the Jewish service when they went there."