January 6, 2009
Gather at the riverBishops from North America joined members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Amman at the banks of the Jordan River to celebrate with a eucharist the blessing of a parcel overlooking the river given the church for a retreat center and worship facility.
The significance of the day was not lost on those gathered at one of the sites believed to be the spot where Jesus was baptized. It was Epiphany, which marks both the visit of the wise men to Jesus as a child as well as his baptism.
The crowd worshipped at a recently constructed covered grand stand at the very foot of the river. The Jordan River is reported to be remnant of river Jesus would have seen, having been greatly reduced in recent years by the siphoning of its water for irrigation and other uses. The shallow, narrow river is brownish green in color and exceedingly murky.
That didn't stop those gathered from celebrating the recent gift of Jordan's King Abdullah II of a sizable nearby plot of land for the buildings. A number of churches and centers of various faith traditions are under construction or planned in the area, once a military security zone between Jordan and Israel.
The moon-like surface of the site is the result of sediments deposited there eons ago when the adjacent Dead Sea covered a much larger area. It overlooks the river, the Israel-Jordan border and the city of Jericho.
Later in the day the small group of bishops from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada were joined by a majority of their fellow bishops in Jerusalem for a seven-day visit of the city and the West Bank through January 13.
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.
Presiding Bishops Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA and Susan C. Johnson of the ELCIC joined Bishop Munib A. Younan of ELCJHL in a private session with the king Tuesday morning. Details of their conversation were not released.
Leaders of the ELCA and ELCIC plan to meet with Israeli officials later this week to discuss the current fighting in the Gaza Strip, efforts to stop it and what can be done to reach a long-term peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians.