NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the 1940s, the men at the banquet tables were Jews and Protestants — and, in the segregated South, white.
But as six decades of history reshaped Nashville and the nation, the yearly dinner for the men's groups at Vine Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and The Temple, Nashville's oldest and largest Jewish house of worship, evolved into a mirror of the social change around it.
In this year's 61st gathering, the dinner — now called the Brotherhood–Sisterhood Banquet — includes five Nashville religious communities. With guests in recent years including Methodists, Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Muslims, the February event has ventured across new confessional lines as well as those of gender and race.
The 2006 banquet was hosted last week by Belmont United Methodist Church, where about 225 guests gathered for dinner and an address by Nashville journalist and publisher John Seigenthaler. A 43-year veteran of The Tennessean newspaper, Seigenthaler was founding managing editor of USA Today and during the 1960s served as administrative assistant to then U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Banquet founders Vine Street Christian and The Temple were once close neighbors in downtown Nashville; only one building separated their places of worship. The two congregations share a prominent place in Nashville's religious landscape, with the roots of both the Disciples' congregation and The Temple, Reform Congregation Ohabai Sholom extending back before the Civil War.
Both groups eventually moved. The congregations are now a couple of miles from each other on the same street in an area southwest of their original downtown sites.
Changes throughout the dinner's history parallel key developments in American society, with the Civil Rights movement, the struggle for gender equality, even the violence of Sept. 11 and its aftermath reflected in the banquet's own transformation.
For Vine Street's current minister, Thomas Kleinert, the dinner continues to be relevant, reflecting an abiding concern in his own congregation for reaching out to the greater Nashville community.
"It's still worthwhile doing," Kleinert said. "Realizing our shared humanity, that's worthwhile," he added.