The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


January 7, 2009

A day in Jerusalem

Visiting bishops 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.

ServiceAcoustics 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 El Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's most revered worship sites that rest 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 in Redeemer's courtyard — 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.

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Embracing diversity