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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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January 9, 2009

All quiet — sort of — in the church

The sometime raucous Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was, well, quite a 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.

Worship in a chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Worship in a chapel at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson is on the left.
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."

Bishops visit the Mount of Olives
Lutheran bishops from the U.S. and Canada visit the Mount of Olives.

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.

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