Text from ELCA News Service
CHICAGO (ELCA) – In her first visit to the Middle East as presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton led a delegation Jan. 11-17 to meet with leaders and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land – a companion church of the ELCA. The delegation also met with political and religious leaders, including a meeting with the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.
The ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) are member churches of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 144 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.
During their visit, the delegation met with students of the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour and Dar Al-Kalima Lutheran School in Bethlehem. The school and educational programs of the ELCJHL employ nearly 200 educators, administrators, social workers and others, and nearly all faculty and staff are Palestinians from Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jerusalem and elsewhere. The delegation visited Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, and they toured the Environmental Education Center in Beit Jala, a ministry of the ELCJHL, to learn more about the denomination’s special ecological projects.
“The impact of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land upon the lives of all people in the region is out of proportion to its size. This relatively small church does enormous work in education, humanitarian aid, environmental study, advocacy, ecumenical and inter- religious relations and peacemaking all while dealing with the difficult and ever present reality of the Israeli occupation,” said Eaton.
“This land has a unique beauty: green and gentle in Galilee, severe and barren in the mountains and hills around Jerusalem and the West Bank. It wasn’t what I expected the first time I saw it. It made me aware of all of the preconceptions I bring with me to this place. That is a dangerous thing to do,” she said. This trip marks Eaton’s third visit to the Middle East, first as ELCA presiding bishop.
The delegation visited the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem and also toured Augusta Victoria Hospital, a ministry of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The hospital offers the only cancer facility for residents of the West Bank and Gaza, and it employs more than 300 people. The hospital was founded in 1950. Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, the hospital’s chief executive officer, and the Rev. Mark Brown, LWF regional representative in Jerusalem, accompanied Eaton on the hospital tour.
“Augusta Victoria Hospital is a vital ministry” said Eaton. “It is something that The Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are committed to supporting, have been, are now and always will be.”
“We were very honored by the visit of Bishop Eaton and her delegation,” said the Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the ELCJHL and president of The Lutheran World Federation.
“We arranged a program where she could meet all concerned parties, all ecumenical parties, representatives from all of the Abrahamic faiths, and the work of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and The Lutheran World Federation in Jerusalem. Through her visit, this accompaniment relationship that started in 1988 was strengthened even more. It has helped us to see that we both in the ELCJHL and ELCA have been called together for a common mission for the love of God in the Middle East and the United States,” said Younan.
The ELCA delegation met with representatives of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land – established in 2005 to ensure the ongoing engagement of the leadership and representation of the official religious institutions of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith communities in the Holy Land.
In addition to the council, the delegation met with Patriarch Theophilos III, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem; Patriarch Fouad Twal, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; and Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, Patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Eaton and others from her delegation met with Palestinian Authority officials, the mayor of Bethlehem, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, Israeli deputy foreign minister officials, the U.S. Consul General and others.
Eaton addressed a gathering of ELCJHL pastors and the denomination’s Church Council. The relationship between the ELCJHL and ELCA “is deeply important to us,” she said, adding that she sees hope for the land through the ministries of ELCJHL. “When I think of people, Christian brothers and sisters, who are in situations that seem hopeless and they have hope, they give me hope. This church is a source of hope for me when I think there can be no hope,” she said.
Images of the ELCA delegation’s visit are available at http://www.elca.org/Living-Lutheran/Photos.
Renewing efforts for a two-state peace agreement
In a Jan. 21 letter to President Obama, members of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East urged the president – in coordination with the Quartet (the United Nations, United States, the European Union and Russia) – to work with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to renew efforts and achieve a negotiated two-state peace agreement “before it is too late.” Eaton is among the Christian, Jewish and Muslim endorsers of the letter.
In their letter, the religious leaders wrote that “the Gaza war demonstrated once again that there is no military solution to the conflict” and “given developments on the ground, including dangerous new violent clashes in Jerusalem, simply urging the parties to return to negotiations is no longer sufficient.”
The leaders said that “the outline for a two-state peace agreement is widely known and would likely be accepted by majorities of Israelis and Palestinians if presented by their leaders as the only viable alternative to more violence and war.”
The leaders urged the president to authorize U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – coordinating with the Quartet and “drawing on internationally accepted principles and practical ideas from previous official and informal negotiations” – to offer a balanced and fair framework to the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority as the basis for negotiating a two-state peace agreement to end conflict. Religious leaders also offered to meet with Kerry to discuss ways they can be helpful.