Jeff vonKaenel

Just before Easter, I received a call from my daughter, Natasha, who was home on spring break from college. She invited me to attend church services with her at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Park. She wanted her friend, who was visiting from Denmark, to experience Easter services in an African-American church.

I was delighted to go. It brought back memories of 2002. Shortly after 9/11, I had decided that SN&R should hold an interfaith music and spoken-word event on its first anniversary. I impulsively rented out Memorial Auditorium and, the next day, realized that not only did I not know how I would pay for this, I also had no performers. So, I needed to find some music. I heard that St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church had a good choir, so I decided to visit. Somehow, my fourth-grade daughter agreed to come along.

The choir and the preaching lived up to expectations. The services rocked. And both Natasha and I were stunned at how welcome everybody made us feel. At least 20 people came up to us to welcome us. After the services ended, the large woman sitting next to us gave my 9-year-old daughter a big hug. Natasha disappeared into her arms for a moment, then came out beaming.

These types of warm welcomes encouraged me to continue to drop in on services. Since 2002, I have attended more than 100 different religious services in Sacramento. I’ve dropped in on all different kinds of Christian services, from conservative megachurches to superliberal gay-friendly churches. I’ve visited mosques, synagogues and Buddhist temples. These experiences have introduced me to the region’s amazing diversity.

Getting to know the Sacramento religious community has been one of the most rewarding and life-changing events of my life. I am so lucky and honored to have so many religious friends, including priests, rabbis, ministers and imams. And through my interfaith work, my daughter and I were invited to go to India with the Brahma Kumaris, and to Turkey with the Pacifica Institute.

But, back to present day. My daughter’s Danish friend sat wide-eyed, listening to the joyous St. Paul Missionary Baptist choir that really was rocking on Easter. When I asked how he felt, he said, “Happy.”

Having attended so many different types of services, I am struck not by the differences but by the similarities. The emotion of being involved in something bigger than yourself, the sense that life has been going on before you came and will go on after you depart, a respect for elders, a love for children, and the understanding that we need to help each other: These are all great beliefs. We are lucky in Sacramento to have so many wonderful faith organizations. And all you have to do is show up.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.