Art and Faith Bridging the Jewish and Black Communities: Stories of a Historic North Minneapolis House of Worship

Image of the exterior of the First Church of God in Christ
Event Date & Time
Event Location
The University of Minnesota's Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC)

2001 Plymouth Avenue, N
Minneapolis, MN 55455

The Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project (HOW) and its partners announce a two-day community oriented opportunity to learn about and engage with the intertwining histories of the Jewish and Black communities in North Minneapolis. Learn about these marginalized communities through stories related to a landmark building that has served as the spiritual home of two congregations: the Jewish Tifereth B’Nai Jacob congregation that built the building and worshiped there until 1957, and the Holiness/Pentecostal First Church of God in Christ congregation that has worshiped in the building since purchasing it in 1957.

All events are free and open to the public. Reservations are encouraged. 

Wednesday, May 10th (Registration)

4:00 - Photographic and Historical Exhibit formal opening

4:30 - Lecture by note synagogue historian Dr. Samuel Gruber

Between Two Worlds: The Synagogue Art of Eastern European Jews in Their New American Home

an illustrated talk by Dr. Samuel Gruber

For Jews in Europe and America, the synagogue has been the most recognizable physical manifestation of community. Communities needed synagogues for worship and gathering. Whenever possible, even poor communities strove to make their buildings special - through architecture and often with decoration. For centuries, the Jewish concept of Hiddur Mitzvah - "the glorification of the commandment" - has led to the creation of beautiful religious objects, and wall paintings and stained glass windows, and these decorations often carry important symbolic and cultural meaning. This talk looks at the surviving synagogue buildings - now active churches - in Minneapolis's North Side and places their architecture and decoration within the Jewish tradition, but also as relevant for Jews and Christians today.

5:30 - 7:00 - Reception



Thursday May 11th (Registration) 

9:00 - Symposium welcome and opening remarks

9:30 - Keynote lecture on Jewish life in North Minneapolis by Dr. Marilyn Chiat

10:30 - Break

10:45-11:45 - Keynote lecture on the Church of God in Christ and Black life in North Minneapolis, by Speaker Bishop Lemuel F. Thuston 

1:00 Community roundtable on Jewish and Black life in North Minneapolis 

3:00 - Tour of the First Church of God in Christ


A Remarkable and Historic Building

The large brick building atop the hill at 810 Elwood Avenue, N. was erected as a synagogue in 1926 by the immigrant Tifereth B’nai Jacob congregation. Just six years after its dedication, the building suffered a fire, by unknown causes, that significantly damaged the interior sanctuary. 

The small congregation repaired the damage and hired the Minneapolis decorating firm of (Gunnar) Dahlstrom and (Martin) Weinberger, noted for their work on theater interiors, to redecorate the sanctuary.  Just who did the actual painting and artwork is unknown, but the result, which remains largely extant today, was a remarkable example of Central European synagogue painting, with trompe l’oeil details on the walls and a rare set of zodiac medallions on the face of the balcony. The original painted decorations from this period have been carefully retained and curated by Holiness/Pentecostal First Church of God in Christ congregation that purchased the building in 1957 and owns it to this day, making this building one of the few remaining painted immigrant synagogues of the period in the country. 

Yet this important artwork is far from the whole story this landmark building tells.  The social histories of the two congregations that owned the church over time illustrate the intertwining of Jews and Blacks in North Minneapolis in the 20th century.  Both groups, residing in the neighborhood since the early 20th century, marginalized by the dominant white society, redlined to the North Minneapolis neighborhood, and disproportionately affected by urban renewal and highway projects, shared a number of parallel experiences that tell a crucial story about the history of Minneapolis. The Tifereth B’nai Jacob synagogue, home of Bessarabian Jews from the southern region of Romania who were looked down upon by their more northerly co-religionists, used the building to make a strong statement of their presence and wherewithal.  Under their care, the building hosted politically progressive rallies and meetings that set them even further apart from much of the broader Minneapolis Jewish community. Similarly, the Holiness/Pentecostal identity of the new owners in the late 1950s set them apart for their Christian co-religionists suspicious of their worship practices, yet their New Year’s Eve gospel concerts brought in members from several neighboring Black churches. Now in its 65th year as the FCOGIC’s church home, the building stands as a testament to the congregation’s determination, strength, and spiritual commitment. It also is a reminder of the presence of the nationally prominent COGIC denomination, whose early representatives left their homes in Oklahoma and arrived in Minneapolis in 1923, exactly 100 years ago.  Thus, this two-day event marks the 100th anniversary of the Church of God in Christ’s spiritual witness in Minnesota and the Twin Cities. 

The building and its interior artwork thus form a bridge between the congregations and the communities they represent, two communities that were both marginalized in the city but that helped build a vibrant neighborhood despite many challenges. This landmark building stands as a witness to these communities, and the goal of this exhibit and symposium is to share this important history and presence with the broader Twin Cities community.



Samuel D. Gruber is an internationally recognized expert on Jewish art, architecture, and the historic preservation of Jewish sites and monuments. Dr. Gruber directs Gruber Heritage Global, a cultural resource consulting firm, and is president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments. He is author of American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community (2003) and Synagogues (1999) and scores of published reports, articles, and book chapters. Dr. Gruber is a Fellow of the American academy in Rome. He was founding director of the Jewish Heritage Program of World Monuments Fund, has consulted on cultural heritage projects for numerous organizations and institutions around the world. He blogs at Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art and Monuments


Marilyn J. ChiatPh.D. is an art and architectural historian and co-director of the Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project. Her focus is on the role religious architecture plays in communities, providing insight into the history of congregants and the larger cultural context in which they exist. She is the author of North American Churches: From Chapels to Cathedrals (2004), The Spiritual Traveler: Chicago and Illinois, A Guide to Sacred Sites and Peaceful Places  (2004), Handbook of Synagogue Architecture (1982, 2020). She has appeared in several public television documentaries, including Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis and the Emmy Award winning Iron Range: Minnesota Building America.

Bishop Lemuel F. Thuston, Chairman of the General Assembly of the Church of God in Christ, Inc. 


Sponsoring Organizations

The Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project, the First Church of God in Christ, the School of Architecture (UMN), the African American and African Studies Department (UMN), the Center for Jewish Studies (UMN), the Art History Department (UMN), the University of Minnesota's Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UMN), the Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, Institute for Advanced Study (UMN). 

Project Team

Dr. Jeanne H. Kilde, Director of the Religious Studies Program, University of Minnesota, and co-director of the Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project. Author of When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America (2002), Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture (2008), Editor of The Oxford Handbook of Religious Space (2022).  

Dr. Marilyn Chiat, art and architectural historian and co-director of the Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project. (See bio above)

Pastor Tierre Webster, First Church of God in Christ. Executive Director, Damascus Way. 

Bishop Fred Washington, Minnesota Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, Church of God in Christ.

Board Chairman John Lewis, First Church of God in Christ. 

Dr. Greg Donofrio, Associate Professor of Architecture and Director of the Heritage Studies and Public History Program, University of Minnesota.

Dr. Yuichiro Onishi, Associate Professor and Chair of the African American & African Studies Department, University of Minnesota.

Ms. Vanessa Steele, Outreach and Campus Immersion Coordinator, African American & African Studies Department, University of Minnesota. 

Dr. Natan Paradise, Director, Center for Jewish Studies 

Kate Dietrick, Archivist, Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives 

Mr. Rolf Anderson, historic preservationist, Minneapolis

Cheryll Fong, Interim Curator, Northwest Architectural Archives

This activity is supported by an Imagine Fund Special Events Grant, an initiative of the University of Minnesota Executive Vice President and Provost, established through a generous gift from the McKnight Foundation, and facilitated by the Institute for Advanced Study

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