Last month, a rabbi, imam, and priest laid the cornerstone for the House of One, a multi-faith prayer space built on top of the ruins of the 13th century Petrikirche (St. Peter’s Church) in Berlin. The original church was damaged in WWII and torn down by the Communist regime in 1964. During the ceremony, a Jewish prayer book, a piece of cloth from the Kaaba in Mecca, a miniature of the Coventry Cross of Nails (symbol of peace and reconciliation), and a copy of the document naming the provost of what was then St. Peter’s Church as the first citizen of Berlin in 1237 were placed in a copper capsule and enclosed in the cornerstone.
An attempt to start a new religion or Isaiah’s vision?
Ten years of planning went into the project and it is estimated that construction will require €47 million and be completed in four years. The final building will include a mosque, synagogue, and a church linked to a central meeting space. The central hall will also be used for gatherings of other faiths and atheists.
“The idea is pretty simple,” said Roland Stolte, a Christian theologian who helped start the project. “We wanted to build a house of prayer and learning, where these three religions could co-exist while each retaining their own identity.”
The three religions will be represented by Imam Kadir Sanci, Rabbi Andreas Nachama, and Father Gregor Hohberg, a Protestant priest. Rabbi Nachama, a rabbi organizing the project, said that Christians, Muslims, and Jews would worship separately, but would visit each other for religious holidays, commemorations, and celebrations.
Roland Stolte, a Christian theologian who helped start the project, noted that there were concerns from the public.
“In the first few years there were some fears that we were mixing religions or trying to create a new religion, Stolte told the Guardian.”
Despite the fears, the concept of universal prayer has its roots in the Bible and is explicitly described by the Prophet Zechariah:
And Hashem shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Hashem with one name. Zechariah 14:9
This concept of multiple religions worshipping God together is further described in prophecy as the basis for the Third Temple in Jerusalem:
I will bring them to My sacred mount And let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices Shall be welcome on My mizbayach; For My House shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7
This vision is shared by Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, founder and director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. Rabbi Goshen-Gottstein is planning a similar project in Jerusalem named the Center for HOPE (an acronym for ‘House of Prayer and Education’). He approved of the project while noting that Jerusalem has a special role to play in this Biblical vision.
“Berlin may have some negative historical connotations for some people but as a city, it symbolizes reconciliation and becoming whole again,” the rabbi said.
“The Biblical prophecy of God’s name being one does not mean everyone converting to one religion,” the rabbi said. “It will be more like each religion going through an internal conversion that will bring us all together to serve God.”
Rabbi Goshen-Gottstein sees prayer as playing a vital role in this process.
“We want to change the image of religion from one of competition to one that brings us together with all people turning to one God,” Rabbi Goshen-Gottstein said. “It is a very simple thing. Each religion prays in the presence of the other in parallel prayer spaces, affirming the presence of the other, indicating a willingness to live together in peace.”