One Street, Many Faiths: Brotherhood Way
Almost 60 years ago, the City of San Francisco named a unique street Brotherhood Way. On the south-side of Brotherhood Way, there’s a row of churches and faith-based institutions.
As you head east on the street, the sound of birds are replaced by the whiz of cars, and you can start to see why this road is called Brotherhood Way. People zip past what is practically an entire neighborhood of religious institutions. There’s a Masonic Temple, a bilingual Armenian school, a Jewish Day school, synagogue, Catholic and Christian Churches spread out on the mile-long road.
The largest building on the street is Holy Trinity where church-goer Maria Misthos has been going for fifty years—since she was nine.
"We're like a neighborhood. We know our fellow churches next door and we help one another," she says.
Before it was home to all these religious institutions, Brotherhood Way was an arroyo, draining into Lake Merced. The land was largely undeveloped until a Catholic Church called St. Thomas More bought a plot in 1951. At that time, the city sold parcels at a decreased rate to religious groups. Back then, this street was called Stanley Way. But that changed in the late 1950s.
Rabbi Gottlieb says his synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel Judea, is what sparked the idea to name the street Brotherhood Way. “Once it became a place of interfaith worship and gathering, the city fathers, or elders were persuaded to change the name to Brotherhood Way to reflect the ideals of our communities.”
Gottlieb is part of a Brotherhood Association made up of religious leaders and members of various congregations. “We meet maybe quarterly, a few times a year to share what’s going on in our communities and there are a number of food festivals and other kinds of communal events that take place during the year on Brotherhood Way.”
One of the bigger festivals that takes place on Brotherhood Way is the Annual Armenian Food Festival and Bazaar, hosted by the Calvary Armenian Congregational Church.
The pastor at that church, Nerses Balabanian, holds services that feel a little more modern than, say, Holy Trinity, the Greek Orthodox Church. When he preaches, he points to powerpoint slides with photos and words written in both English and Armenian. In one particular sermon, Balabanian talks about “ selfies” in a sermon about selfishness.
Balabanian says he prefers to really engage with his congregation, instead of just speaking at them. “Sisterhood, or brotherhood, means community, means togetherness. People who come together. And we need that.”
Rabbi Gottlieb agrees.
"The street was changed to Brotherhood Way to acknowledge the peaceful co-existence of the various faith communities and I think it stands as an example of how American society should be and could be."
When the city was first considering changing the street’s name to Brotherhood Way, Sanford A. Marcus — a member of Congregation Beth Israel — wrote a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“This unique situation where peoples of different faiths will worship, side by side, is indeed a tribute to this great city where brotherhood of men has been an established way of life.”
Since then, Brotherhood Way has heard many languages and ways of worship.
This story first aired in May of 2017.