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January 2, 2009

ELCA Presiding bishop calls for Gaza ceasefire; bishops prepare for visit

Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said the ELCA joins with all people calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and southern Israel. Hanson also asked ELCA members to join Middle East religious leaders who requested that Sunday, Jan. 4, be "a day for justice and peace in the land of peace," he wrote in a Dec. 31 pastoral letter.

Hanson issued the letter as the ELCA Conference of Bishops and bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada prepare to visit religious, government and community leaders, congregations and schools in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. They scheduled the visit months ago as part of their annual academy, a time of theological reflection and study.

At least 39 ELCA bishops, plus 5 ELCIC bishops, 27 spouses and 14 ELCA churchwide staff are expected to make the Jan. 6-13 visit.

A smaller delegation will visit Jordan beginning Jan. 3. The visit is intended to show support for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Holy Land, led by its bishop, Munib A. Younan, and the Lutheran World Federation. The bishops also want to learn more about the complexities in the region, and to promote just and peaceful solutions to the conflict.

"This is a tragic yet opportune time for North American Lutherans to visit their partners in Palestine," said Younan, also an LWF vice president, in a news release. "They will have a unique opportunity to witness the challenges of living in this disputed land."

Leading the delegations from the North American Lutheran churches are Hanson and Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop. The visit is being coordinated with staff and leaders from both churches, the ELCJHL and the LWF. Hanson is also LWF president.

The ELCA and the ELCIC are monitoring events as the bishops prepare for their visit, Hanson wrote. This week bishops and staff of both churches met several times by conference call "and are united in their assessment that the trip is timelier than ever and should proceed," he said in the letter.

"In this very difficult time, the bishops hope that their presence can be a source of comfort to these partners and manifest support for these ministries," Hanson wrote.

"The continuing loss of life, infliction of serious injury and devastation of property will only deepen hatred and divisions, and will serve no good end. Only negotiations, leading to a two-state solution, will bring about a durable peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians," the presiding bishop wrote.

The ELCA and ELCIC bishops invited prayers from members. "On behalf of their churches, the bishops offer to their Christian sisters and brothers and to all people affected by the conflict, their steadfast support, and their efforts and prayers for peace to prevail and healing to begin," Hanson's letter concluded.

Financial gifts sent to the ELCA in response to the conflict in Gaza will support relief efforts of Augusta Victoria Hospital, an LWF facility on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and relief efforts of ELCA International Disaster Response, said Megan E. Bradfield, associate director for international development, ELCA Global Mission. AVH is responding to the medical needs of cancer and dialysis patients from Gaza, she said.

Read the full text of Presiding Bishop Hanson's statement on the ELCA Web site.

Information about the bishops' Middle East visit is at on the ELCA Web site.

Gifts may be sent to ELCA International Disaster Response (1-800-638-3522).

More: The Lutheran's editor Daniel Lehmann will be blogging from the trip. Follow his posts here.

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