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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
    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.

    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.

    North American Lutheran Bishops Preach at Middle East Worship

    Posted on January 12, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift
    The congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem, Jan. 11 included students and faculty from four ELCA seminaries: The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C., and Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio.

    The congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem, Jan. 11 included students and faculty from four ELCA seminaries: The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C., and Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio.

    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (ELCA) — Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) attended and preached at worship services Jan. 11 at five Lutheran congregations in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank.

    Forty-four bishops representing both churches are participating in a series of meetings Jan. 6-13 with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank, and visiting religious sites. Their visit also focuses on support and encouragement for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).

    ELCJHL congregations and bishops who preached were:
    + Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Sahour, Beit Sahour: The Rev. Bruce H. Burnside, ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin (based in Madison)
    + Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem: The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop (Chicago)
    + Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope, Ramallah: The Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
    + Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Reformation, Beit Jala: The Rev. Margaret G. Payne, ELCA New England Synod (Worcester, Mass.)
    + Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, Bethlehem: The Rev. Floyd M. Schoenhals, ELCA Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod (Tulsa, Okla.)

    The Jerusalem congregation celebrated worship in Arabic and English, led by the Rev. Ibrahim Azar, pastor of the Arabic-speaking congregation, and the Rev. Mark Holman, pastor of the English-speaking congregation. The worship theme was Jesus’ Baptism.

    Some of the visitors for worship at the Church of the Redeemer represented four ELCA seminaries: the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago; the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia; the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.; and Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio.

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    On the 7th Day They Rested

    Posted on January 11, 2009 by

    By Daniel J. Lehmann

    Sunday morning took North American bishops to worship at Lutheran congregations across Jerusalem and West Bank and then into the homes or favorite restaurants of members of those congregations.

    The slower pace of Sunday was welcomed by clerical leaders of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. They’ve been in region since Jan. 6 to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.

    The official portion of the trip ends Jan. 13, although some bishops and their spouses will remain for two additional days to see the Israeli area of Galilee.

    At the end of Sunday, the bishops gathered at the Shepherd Hotel in Bethlehem for a reception hosted by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism.

    According to Palestinian officials, the Israeli-occupied West Bank accounts for 70 percent of the religious pilgrimage sites yet visitors to the region spend 95 percent of their tourism money in Israel. More information is available at www.travelpalestine.ps.

    “Many come to the Church of the Nativity” in Bethlehem to see the church and then get back on the bus to leave and “don’t buy even a bottle of water,” one official said.

    On Monday the group heads for Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank.

    Tough Streets of the City

    Posted on January 10, 2009 by

    By Daniel J. Lehmann

    Lutheran bishops walked the crowded, littered and graffiti-strewn streets of the West Bank city of Hebron Saturday, seeing firsthand the impact of an Israeli settlement in the heart of a Palestinian city.

    The modern, sleek mid-rise building in the heart of the old city of Hebron stands ringed by Israeli Defense Forces personnel and lookout posts. In the ancient streets below, shops become sparse the closer they are to the settlement of some 500 people.

    Camped in the middle of 170,000 Palestinians, the complex highlights one of the biggest problems confronting the two sides: the expanding presence of Israelis in the occupied territory of the West Bank.

    The trip by bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.

    On Saturday, shoppers jammed the streets just a few blocks for the heart of the old city. In the older section, the few shopkeepers open for business leaped from their chairs to offer scarves, jewelry, Palestinian memorabilia and handicrafts to the conspicuous out-of-towners, some of the few pedestrians on the narrow streets.

    The visit to Hebron was arranged by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. A unit of the World Council of Churches, the group keeps track of how Israel deals with Palestinians in territories it controls.

    Just past the shops the bishops toured the Abraham Mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It houses the purported remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and other Old Testament figures.

    On Sunday, the group was to split up to attend worship in the various churches of the ELCJHL and spend time with members afterward.

    Rocket Casualty

    Posted on January 9, 2009 by

    By Daniel J. Lehmann

    Rockets fired into northern Israel Thursday wrecked plans by ELCA bishops and others to meet with some Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

    Still, bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada pressed on with their visit, laying a wreath at the Israeli memorial to Holocaust victims and conferring with the Jewish state’s two chief rabbis.

    The rocket attack in the early hours of Thursday threw the day off course. Several high-ranking Israeli leaders, including the president and foreign minister, canceled their time with the bishop. As events settled down, private consultations with the ministers of the Interior and Tourism were held as planned.

    After being given a special tour of the Yad Vashem memorial, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA, National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the ELCIC and Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Holy Land placed the flowers at the memorial for the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II.

    From there they held an abbreviated meeting with Israel’s top rabbis, Yona Metzger of the Ashkenazi and Shlomo Amar of the Sephardi branches of Judaism. Both rabbis devoted much of their address to explaining Israel’s incursion into the Gaza strip as necessary to stop rocket attacks on civilians in the southern portion of the country. They mourned civilian deaths in Gaza, but said military leaders showed them evidence Hamas fighters were positioned in schools and other public institutions.

    Hanson stressed the two North American church’s “rejection of violence.” He said the current conduct of the campaign by Israel raised just war theory questions, especially “proportionality and killing of innocents.”

    “If we can’t have this kind of exchange,” Hanson said, “. . . then fanatics will win.”

    Johnson urged the rabbis to “stay at the table” in discussions with other faiths over moral and ethical issues arising from the violence. She promised “our prayers for you at this very difficult time and our pledge of accompaniment.”

    Neither rabbi responded. They left immediately for another meeting.

    The trip is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.