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  • 2009 Conference of Bishops

    More than half of the 66 bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the ELCA secretary, and five of the six bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), plus spouses and staff visited the Middle East, Jan. 6-13, 2009.

    ELCA, ELCIC Bishops Report on 2009 Bishops’ Academy

    Posted on January 23, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift
    ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson addresses a news conference in Amman, Jordan Jan. 5. At left is ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson.

    ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson addresses a news conference in Amman, Jordan Jan. 5. At left is ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson.

    CHICAGO (ELCA) — Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) released “Report and Reflections from the Bishops’ Academy Visit to the Holy Land,” an account of their recent visit to the Middle East. The Jan. 22 report was signed by the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, and the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop, on behalf of academy participants.

    Bishops from both churches visited Israel and the West Bank Jan. 6-13, and a few visited Jordan Jan. 3-6. The 44 bishops met with religious, political and community leaders in the region, and visited sacred sites. The visit focused on supporting the mission and ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), learning about what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians, and advocating for peace and justice for all people there.

    In their report, the Lutheran leaders noted that the war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel started shortly before the trip began, but the group decided to continue with their visit as planned.

    “Throughout our time in the Holy Land, the situation in Gaza was a dramatic backdrop to our travels and for our conversations with people from different faiths and viewpoints who endure fear and bear oppression in ways that we have never known,” Hanson and Johnson wrote.

    The report recounts much of what the bishops experienced during their Holy Land visit. They concluded the report by pledging to continue to “accompany” the ELCJHL, to learn more about the situation in the Middle East and how to change it, “and to advocate in every way possible for the justice that will lead to the security and shared homeland that is the only foundation for lasting peace.”

    “We will be faithful in ongoing visitation to our Palestinian brothers and sisters, determined in our call to be a public church, and communicate with our governments for their intervention in the Middle East,” the Lutheran bishops wrote. They added they will be “persistent in our efforts to build bridges with inter-religious partners, and courageous in telling the truth of the ‘facts on the ground’ in the Holy Land.”

    The complete text of the bishops’ “Report and Reflections” is at www.ELCA.org/bishopstatement.

    Christians Express Fear, Concern to North American Lutheran Bishops

    Posted on January 15, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift
    Jan. 13 meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayaad, right, and, from left, Bishop Margaret Payne, ELCA New England Synod; ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson; ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan; and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.

    Jan. 13 meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayaad, right, and, from left, Bishop Margaret Payne, ELCA New England Synod; ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson; ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan; and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.

    RAMALLAH, West Bank (ELCA) — Israel is targeting the small Palestinian Christian community here, threatening a key connection to the West and worrying Christian leaders, said Dr. Rafiq Husseini, chief of staff to the president, Palestinian National Authority. He made the comment Jan. 13 in a meeting here with seven North American Lutheran bishops.

    The bishops were part of a group of 44 bishops representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), who visited the West Bank and Israel Jan. 6-13. The bishops met with religious, political and community leaders, and visited sacred sites. Their visit focused on support and encouragement for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).

    More than 1,000 Palestinians have died and nearly 5,000 have been injured in the war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. Many of the dead and injured are women, children and elderly people. “Civilians are paying the price,” Husseini said. Thirteen Israelis have died.

    The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and president of the Lutheran World Federation, said the committee’s comments were disturbing and showed regression for Christians here. He said the war in Gaza fails to meet the test of Christian “just war” principles and the Israeli response to Hamas is disproportionate.

    “As leaders we are called to obstruct injustices and (to) open doors,” he said. Hanson pledged that Lutherans in the United States will engage the Obama administration, which he hopes will exercise power in ways different than the Bush administration has.

    “The war in Gaza has made it difficult for us as moderates. Extremists are winning the day,” Hanson said. He pledged to use his influence to help U.S. religious leaders speak with one voice on the Middle East.

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    videoblog 7 – Wailing Walls

    Posted on January 15, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift

    a reflection on the walls of Jerusalem and Bethlehem

    Wailing Walls - a reflection on the walls of Jerusalem and the West Bank(a revised version of videoblog 7)

    North American Lutheran Bishops Meet Key Muslim Leader, Discuss Peace

    Posted on January 15, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift
    ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson greets Sheikh Tayseer Rajab Al-Tamini, supreme judge, Islamic Shari'a Courts, Palestine, Jan. 13 in Ramallah.  To Hanson's right is ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson, and facing Al-Tamini is ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan.

    ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson greets Sheikh Tayseer Rajab Al-Tamini, supreme judge, Islamic Shari’a Courts, Palestine, Jan. 13 in Ramallah. To Hanson’s right is ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson, and facing Al-Tamini is ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan.

    RAMALLAH, West Bank (ELCA) — A key Muslim leader here told a group of seven North American Lutheran bishops Jan. 13 that Christians and Muslims must work together for peace and justice. Sheikh Tayseer Rajab Al-Tamini, supreme judge of the Islamic Shari’a Courts in Palestine, suggested that world Muslim and Christian leaders meet soon and deliver “a strong message to the world” for peace in the wake of failed political negotiations and escalating violence in Gaza.

    The bishops were part of a group of 44 bishops representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), who visited the West Bank and Israel Jan. 6-13. The bishops met with religious, political and community leaders, and visited religious sites. Their visit focused on support and encouragement for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).

    Al-Tamini is a member of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, consisting of Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders. He noted that half the world’s population is either Christian or Muslim. “It is our destiny to live together as Muslims and Christians with mutual respect,” he said. The sheikh said he hopes Israel will end its occupation of Palestinian land and end discriminatory policies toward Palestinians.

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    Lutherans Provide Funds to Support Humanitarian Aid in Gaza

    Posted on January 14, 2009 by

    CHICAGO (ELCA) — Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) provided $50,000 Jan. 8 to secure food aid, trauma counseling and medical care in Gaza.

    Violence in Gaza has compromised the services of medical clinics and limited people’s access to food, water and other basic necessities, according to Megan Bradfield, associate director for international development and disaster response, ELCA Global Mission.

    Since air raids in Gaza began in late December, more than 900 Palestinians have died, including nearly 400 women and children. Ten Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have died, according to news reports.

    ELCA International Disaster Response sent the funds to Action by Churches Together (ACT) for implementation by the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR).

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    Dash to the Finish

    Posted on January 13, 2009 by

    By Daniel J. Lehmann

    The final day of a trip to the Middle East by North American Lutheran bishops ended with a flurry of activity, with most clergy visiting West Bank schools while a smaller delegation made contact with political and government leaders.

    ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada held visits on Tuesday with the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, president and Jerusalem mayor’s offices, as well as the Islamic Supreme Court and the Russian Orthodox Church.

    Prime Minister Salam Fayad told the group the Palestinian people “are tortured by decades of occupation” and that he’d like to “see you do more” to help. He committed to keeping Jerusalem a shared city, open to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

    First, though, “justice must prevail. . . Violence must stop,” Fayad said.

    From there the ELCA and ELCIC leaders drove across the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with representatives of the office of the president. Rafiq Husseini, chief of staff, said he believed Palestinian Christians were being targeted by Israel to leave the West Bank.

    Once Christians, who at one time made up 22 percent of the population but now total no more 1.5 percent, are gone, Husseini said he fears the West will lose interest in the then-Muslim country.

    At the Islamic Supreme Court, Chief Judge Tayseer al-Tamimi lauded the Lutheran bishops for coming to the West Bank.

    “Rarely do we find an international person like you” promoting the welfare of Palestinians, al-Tamimi said of Hanson, who is also president of the Lutheran World Federation.

    The bishops were in the Middle East for a week in an effort to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.

    Later, they met with a deputy mayor of Jerusalem to promote a housing project at Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives that is being developed by the LWF.

    The delegation also met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III. They paid their respects for the Dec. 5, 2008, death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.

    And as the day ended, leaders laid a wreath at the grave of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was instrumental in the Oslo Accord that led to limited Palestinian rule in the West Bank and Israel. On Monday, the group had place a wreath at the tomb of the other signatory to the accord, Yasser Arafat.

    Lutheran Bishops Plant Olive Trees, Pray at Israeli Separation Barrier

    Posted on January 13, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift
    Bishop Peter Rogness, left, ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod, and Bishop Jon Anderson, ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, plant an olive tree at Beddo, West Bank, Jan. 12.

    Bishop Peter Rogness, left, ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod, and Bishop Jon Anderson, ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, plant an olive tree at Beddo, West Bank, Jan. 12.

    BEDDO, West Bank (ELCA) — North American Lutheran bishops visited this small Palestinian village in the West Bank, northwest of Jerusalem, an area where the Israeli separation barrier cuts through Palestinian agricultural lands, making way for Israeli settlements to be constructed. Many of the bishops helped plant olive trees near the barrier as signs of peace.

    Forty-four bishops representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) are participating in a weeklong series of meetings with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank, and visiting religious sites. Their visit, concluding Jan. 13, also focuses on support and encouragement for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), which is timely because of the war in Gaza.

    Some 500 trees are to be planted here eventually. Before they left, the bishops visited a local Palestinian man’s home, now surrounded on three sides by a tall metal barrier. Newly constructed Israeli settlements surround his home on the other side of the fence on land that was once his, he said. The bishops prayed at the barrier before leaving.

    In remarks here, Adnan Husseini, governor of Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority, said life in the area was difficult for residents because of the barrier. “We need permission to move in and out of the wall,” he said. “If we want to build a Palestinian state, we have to move in this state.”

    The bishops visited this area to do two things, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop. “We will cry out songs of lament for all people, and we will plant olive trees here as a sign of commitment for the generations to come . . . to see olive trees, not walls.”

    The bishops concluded their day with dinner at the International Center of Bethlehem.

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    North American Lutheran Bishops Learn about Bethlehem Ministry

    Posted on January 13, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift
    The Rev. Mitri Raheb, center, talks with John Payne, husband of ELCA New England Synod bishop Margaret Payne, Jan. 10 in Bethlehem.

    The Rev. Mitri Raheb, center, talks with John Payne, husband of ELCA New England Synod bishop Margaret Payne, Jan. 10 in Bethlehem.

    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (ELCA) — With the vision “that we might have life and have it abundantly,” a Lutheran congregation here has embarked on a ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, aimed at empowering the people who live in this conflicted area.

    The Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor, Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, presented his congregation’s vision to 44 North American Lutheran bishops who met here Jan. 10. The bishops, representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), are participating in a weeklong series of meetings with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank, and visiting sacred sites. Their visit, concluding Jan. 13, also focuses on support and encouragement for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).

    Christmas Lutheran Church formed DIYAR (meaning “homeland”), a consortium of Lutheran-based ecumenically oriented institutions serving the whole Palestinian community, Raheb said. DIYAR now has a staff of 100 people. He said the 200-member congregation is reaching out through DIYAR to about 60,000 people each year by means of its International Center of Bethlehem, a conference and media center, plus a health and wellness center. In 2006 the congregation started Dar al-Kalima College, the only Lutheran higher education institution in the Middle East, Raheb said.

    DIYAR focuses its programs on peacemaking, care for the city, investing in spirituality, empowering individuals and the community, building bridges for intercultural dialogue, creating room for hope, and the “mysteries of the risen Lord,” Raheb said.

    In a question and answer session with the bishops, Raheb said that he is concerned about the future for Palestinians, especially because of the current conflict between Israel and Gaza.

    “I think we are heading with full power to a fully developed apartheid system. This war on Gaza had many goals, but one important goal is to make the two-state solution not viable. A two-state solution made sense, but what is happening in Gaza makes this impossible,” he said. Raheb said he’s also concerned about the future safety and security of people living in the West Bank because of the war in Gaza.

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    videoblog 6 – Highlights from Jan. 11-12

    Posted on January 13, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift

    a montage from Jan. 11-12

    videoblog 6 - Highlights - Jan. 11-12

    Tree Power

    Posted on January 12, 2009 by

    By Daniel J. Lehmann

    Monday found Lutheran bishops from North America planting olive trees, praying for peace and understanding along a separation wall and listening to students at a West Bank school speak frankly about their future.

    Leaders of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada ventured to the village of Beddo, near the city of Ramallah and north of Jerusalem to plant the hardy trees in a wasteland of trash, construction debris and destroyed arbors.

    The ground sits below an Israeli settlement along a separation wall dividing Israelis from Palestinians. The Palestinian-owned hillside was strewn with debris reportedly dumped there by the settlers.

    Some 90 bishops, spouses and church staff planted the trees in an attempt to reclaim some of the devastated landscape.

    They then gathered at a nearby gate along the separation wall to pray for peace. They did so under the watchful eye of an Israeli police crew.

    The bishops are in the Middle East in an effort to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.

    Earlier in the day, they visited Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah. The school educates 482 Christian and Muslim students. High-school age students sat with bishops in question and answer sessions that focused primarily on the fighting in the Gaza Strip and the students’ future in the West Bank.

    In one group, five of eight students said they planned to emigrate when they’re finished with school. They spoke frankly of their anger with Israel for what they said was an overly violent assault on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

    “We are not animals, we have feelings, we are human beings,” said Majdi Habash.

    The bishops conclude their visit Tuesday with tours to three other schools on the West Bank.