Methodist Presence is Strengthened in the Holy Land
By Melissa Hinnen
October 18, 2012―With a spirit of ecumenism, the new Methodist Liaison Office opened on October 11 in Jerusalem “to engage the world Methodist family in Christ’s ministry of peace, justice, truth and mercy among all peoples living in this land in partnership with the Palestinian Christian community.” According to the purpose statement, the office will serve as a Wesleyan-based resource, connect with local initiatives, encourage theological reflection and facilitate visits for pilgrims and volunteers.
The office is a partnership of the World Methodist Council, the Methodist Church of Britain and the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. Bishop Ivan Abrahams, who leads the World Methodist Council, was unable to attend the opening, but said in a submitted statement, “The opening of a Methodist Liaison Office in Israel/Palestine is consistent with the work, witness and vision of the World Methodist Council, who on several occasions has passed resolutions on the situation in the Holy Land.”
Local heads of churches, including His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III of the Greek Orthodox Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church Bishop of Palestine and Jordan Munib Younan, attended the event along with representatives from partner organizations, Methodist volunteers and United Methodist missionaries. The program and reception took place at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, where the new office is located.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Annual Conference and nominated president of the Global Ministries board offered a prayer for the office. “We give thanks for our mingled spiritual gifts and pray that they will work for God’s will in this land for all God’s people. May this new beginning be a sign of hope, strength and light.”
Michael King, vice president of the Methodist Church in Britain, addressed the gathering stressing the ecumenical nature of the office. “As much as we are committed to being salt and light in this part of the world, the success will depend on all of you gathered in this room who are the people that live and work here. We welcome you as our key partners.”
Pursuing Peace, Justice, Dignity
Earlier in the week, the Methodist delegation visited holy sites in Jerusalem and spent time grappling with the complexities of the Israel and Palestine relationship. The Methodist leaders walked through the Bethlehem checkpoint at 5 a.m. with hundreds of Palestinians who were going to work and they visited the struggling Palestinian community in Wadi Fuquin. Meeting with Palestinian Christians provided a unique lens through which to view the issues while peace and justice advocacy groups provided avenues for response.
Barbara Boigegrain, top staff executive of the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, traveled with the delegation. The group met with leadership and constituency groups in Israel and Palestine to learn about the impact of the Israeli occupation. At the 2012 General Conference, a resolution on aligning United Methodist investments in Palestine/Israel was amended and called “on the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to explore serious peacemaking strategies in Israel and Palestine, including positive economic and financial investment in Palestine.“
Boigegrain said, “I am thankful for the opportunity to have learned firsthand about the issues of justice, dignity and fairness affecting those who live together in this land. Our visit provided us with a wealth of information to share with our board as we explore ways to fulfill our mission in an informed, responsible and credible way.”
Leaping over walls
Currently Global Ministries has five missionaries serving in the Holy Land. Janet Lahr Lewis and Kristen Brown are heading the new Methodist Liaison Office. Alex Awad is a Palestinian Christian who along with his wife, Brenda faithfully serves in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. John Daniel Gore is a young adult missionary working with WI’AM Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center. In addition to missionaries, three Methodists are serving through the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. Numerous Methodist volunteer teams spend time in the region each year.
Thomas Kemper, the head of Global Ministries, is from Germany. Seeing the wall that is being built to separate Israel and Palestine, he could not help but make a connection to his own experience with the Berlin Wall. At the Methodist office opening in Jerusalem, he recounted a visit to East Germany in the early 1970s and the stark reality of the wall dividing his people. One of the Scripture passages that gave them particular hope during that time was Psalm 18:29, “By my God I can leap over a wall.”
Expressing gratitude for the churches that are in the Holy Land, Kemper said, “We hope that through our deepened ecumenical cooperation, all of us will be stronger in our pursuit of the things that make for peace.”