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    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.

    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)

    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

    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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    Lutherans Worship at Church of the Holy Sepulchre for First Time, Visit AVH

    Posted on January 12, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift
    Leading worship Jan. 9 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were, from left, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan and Scott Weidler, ELCA worship and liturgical resources team.

    Leading worship Jan. 9 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were, from left, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan and Scott Weidler, ELCA worship and liturgical resources team.

    JERUSALEM (ELCA) — For the first time North American Lutheran bishops, spouses and staff worshipped Jan. 9 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a historic religious site built on the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.

    Forty-four bishops representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) 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 ELCJHL.

    Following worship, the group traveled to East Jerusalem, visited Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), a medical facility of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) on the Mount of Olives, and learned about the LWF’s Middle East programs.

    AVH has been serving the needs of Palestinian refugees since 1948, said the Rev. Mark B. Brown, an ELCA pastor and the LWF’s regional representative.

    The LWF is planning at least two construction projects in the near future, Brown said. In response to a lack of recreational facilities for Palestinians, the LWF plans to develop a sports and community center on the Mount of Olives property, he said. In 2010 the LWF, the ELCJHL and the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria Foundation of the Evangelical Church in Germany plan to start construction of a housing project on the property. Plans calls for 84 units, reserved for Palestinian Christians, Brown said.

    The housing project is an attempt to respond to the dwindling number of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem, down from more than 31,000 in 1946 to less than 15,000 in 2000, Brown said. The housing project also attempts to preserve the concept of a “shared Jerusalem” for Christians, Jews and Muslims, he said.

    “The lack of affordable housing has caused Christians to leave East Jerusalem and move to the West Bank or somewhere else,” Brown said.

    <more>

    videoblog 5 – Highlights – Jan. 9-10

    Posted on January 10, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift

    a montage from Jan. 9-10

    videoblog 5 - Highlights - Jan. 9-10

    North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Israeli Officials

    Posted on January 9, 2009 by Paul Edison-Swift

    JERUSALEM (ELCA) — Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) met Jan. 8 with Israeli government and religious officials as part of a pilgrimage to the Middle East. The bishops also toured the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and laid a wreath.

    Forty-five 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. The visit, focused on supporting the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, is the North American Lutheran bishops’ annual academy for theological reflection and study.

    The Lutheran bishops met with the two chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger and Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who spoke about the current fighting in Gaza.

    For nearly eight years Israelis living near Gaza have been subject to periodic rocket attacks on their homes, launched by Hamas from Gaza, Metzger said. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, but it has the right to self-defense if Israeli lives are threatened, he said.

    “When you return to your countries, please be ambassadors to our feelings,” Metzger said to the Lutheran bishops. “We don’t want war. We don’t want to kill innocent people. We want only to defend ourselves.”

    The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told the rabbis that the bishops opposed the escalating violence. “I hope you hear — it didn’t sound like you have — our rejection of any violence perpetrated upon the people of Israel — the violence of suicide bombers, Hamas rockets, or rockets from the north today,” Hanson said.

    The rabbis feel “deep distress” for the loss of innocent lives in the Gaza conflict, Amar said. To help explain the large number of civilian casualties, the rabbis said authorities showed them maps and photos of where they believe rockets have been fired from Gaza. Earlier in the day, a rocket launched from Lebanon into Israel was determined to be an isolated incident. < more >

    All Quiet — Sort of — in the Church

    Posted on January 9, 2009 by

    By Daniel J. Lehmann

    The sometime raucous Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was, well, a quiet church Friday morning except for the spirited singing as Lutheran bishops from the U.S. and Canada held a communion service in a small chapel.

    Thanks to the Roman Catholic Franciscans, leaders from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada filled a chapel the religious order controls a few steps from what some considered to be the tomb of Jesus.

    The closed door to the main part of the church might have helped. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is run by a handful of Christian denominations that in some instances see themselves in competition for the site. Shoving matches occur occasionally, and the keys to the building are held by a Muslim family.

    The 8 a.m. service found the normally bustling church virtually empty and the service went off without a hitch. Celebrants kept their vestments inconspicuous as they entered and left the chapel, so as not to draw attention from the other Christian sects.

    A young Franciscan priest did come in through a back door to observe a portion of the eucharist, joining the bishops, spouses and staff singing “Dona nobis pacem.”

    The group left immediately afterward for Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives. The Lutheran World Federation-owned facility sits atop the mount from where bishops could see a police observation balloon and helicopters scan the Old City of Jerusalem.

    Security was tight on Friday as some Muslim leaders called for demonstrations following Friday prayers in opposition to the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. The group encountered no trouble reaching the hospital, or later when it was taken by bus to Bethlehem, which sits in the West Bank territory and on the opposite side of Israeli’s controversial separation wall.

    At the Mount of Olives, bishops were updated on the hospital’s evolution into a specialties facility, particularly oncology. The 46-acre site will also be home to an $8.4 million housing project for Palestinian Christians once zoning approval is received from the Israeli government. Funding has been all but secured.

    In Bethlehem, some bishops crossed back into the Israeli portion of Jerusalem and participated in Shabbat services at two synagogues and meals with member families.

    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.

    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.

    A Day in Jerusalem

    Posted on January 7, 2009 by

    By Daniel J. Lehmann

    Bishops visiting Jerusalem learned firsthand the ups and downs of life in Jerusalem Wednesday.

    Leading clergy from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada started their day with a Eucharist in the starkly handsome Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the center of the Old City.

    Acoustics in the 1898 sanctuary built by the German kaiser are exceptional. The bishops and staff did not hold back in their singing as part of their second day of a seven-day meeting in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

    The obvious joy from the service would soon dissipate as the group walked through the narrow, covered streets of the Old City for a rare tour by Christians of the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s most revered worship sites that rests atop the Temple Mount. The visit was arranged by Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein.

    The group was turned away at the mosque by Israeli authorities after a short and frank verbal exchange. Israeli officials contacted group leaders to say the visit could occur later in the day. The deed was done, however, and the bishops moved on with their day.

    Clerical leaders of the two North American churches are on a mission of accompaniment, awareness and advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

    After lunch Redeemer’s courtyard buildings, parts of which date from the 12th century, the bishops divided into groups for walking tours of the Old City. They visited churches and former mosques and synagogues of various kinds, witnessing the street life where Israelis, Palestinians and tourists mingle on streets some 2,000-plus years old.

    The life in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza confronted them again in the evening during a presentation by a United Nations official on the walls surrounding the Palestinian areas and the Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

    Then came testimony for peace and mutual understanding — not revenge — between the two sides from an Israeli whose 14-year-old daughter was killed by two Palestinian suicide bombers and a Palestinian whose 62-year-old father was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. The bishops supported the pair with a long ovation and prayer with the laying on of hands.