Stories from the Holy Land Pilgrimage, part 1

A group of more than thirty Episcopalians from Connecticut (as well as a few family members from other states) has been on pilgrimage in Israel-Palestine since Monday, July 10th. With their pilgrimage drawing to a close, here are a few stories and impressions from the first week.

The Work of the Diocese of Jerusalem

Archbishop Suheil Dawani met with us to share the work of the Diocese of Jerusalem. He talked about the three missions of the diocese: pastoral care, the institutions, and interfaith reconciliation. The Christian community in Palestine lives under a great deal of stress. Pastoral care is important, but not an area where we can be helpful. The Archbishop acknowledged that interfaith efforts take considerable time and effort and represent great challenges.

The diocese owns and operates about 16 schools, two major hospitals plus a number of clinics and several residential and outpatient institutions for those with disabilities. The Episcopal church is a small minority within the small, struggling Christian minority. The schools and hospitals are the visible and substantial way in which the church can share the ministry of tolerance, respect for differences, and reconciliation. They welcome all, regardless of ethic, religious, or economic background.

Muslim families pay tuition to attend Episcopal schools because of the values their children are taught. We should be extremely proud of this work. It’s the part of our family in our Holy Land that we can support through prayer and gifts. (Anne Lynn)

Gift, Glory, and Sadness

My faith has always been affirmed and nourished by Love’s (God’s) first Incarnation. The beauty of landscape and time traveling from Jerusalem – beginning with our time at dawn in the desert of the beauty of Galilee. Gift.

In the desert again I was reminded of all members of creation, including each of us, are unique, precious, and unrepeatable. I saw this in each hill, each stone. At home I see this in each wave that graces the shore.

Again I felt at home on the Sea of Galilee.

My story as shared and felt connected to the Jerusalem Peace Builders concept of identity including trauma, or in my case fear of heights. Glory in my case of monasteries – holy ground and our relational to my faith healing.

Joe and Kristin’s loving kindness overshadowed my fear allowing me to visit the monastery in the hillside (that place of temptation so connected to addiction, power, prestige).  The divine indwelling or sparks of light within were on display when Joe and Kristin were so present to my needs, sparkling brightly as did the sky over our guest house in Nazareth.

Sadness for me is real and has taken the beauty of the landscape, all Love’s first incarnation, from the Palestinians. Taxing trash so there is garbage everywhere. Building walls, concrete and barbed wire. This is foul deadening. (Jaye Lyon)

Where Jesus Walked

The trip came especially alive when we went to Nazareth – The Primacy of Saint Peter Church by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus studied and taught, and so many other 2,000 year old sites where Jesus walked. (Dede Baker)

The Jordan River

We departed Nazareth early to go to the Jordan River. Iyad (our wonderful guide) had found a secluded roadway where we could get to the river to renew our baptismal vows. We passed some befuddled fisherman as we went down the road. After the opening of the service Bishops Ian and Laura waded our into the water. Using olive branches that Ranya (our other wonderful guide) had collected, the bishops sprinkled us with the river water. Many of us waded into the water to be sealed with the sign of the cross. The sounds of nature hummed all around. It was an amazing experience. Some of the fishermen had come down to watch. When we passed the Peace I offered them my hand. As they took it one said, “Salaam” and the other said, “Peace.” I felt I had crossed a cultural divide. My last surprise was when I turned at the end of the service and saw Bishop Ian and his wife Kristin swimming in the river! It was an experience that will stay with me for many years to come. (Sarah L. Guterman)

Photo credit: Melina Dezhbod, The Western Wall
Stories compiled by Sharon Pearson and edited by Adam Thomas

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