Hard on the heels of the Moderator’s visit, the Church in the Galilee welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had come on a ‘private pilgrimage’, but obviously had to connect with the Church, so on a Saturday evening there was a reception in Nazareth for, not just the local Anglican community, but leaders of the wider Church. The clergy came in all their finery, with pectoral crosses, purple piping and flowing robes, and I felt distinctly underdressed in my suit and clerical shirt. After various speeches by local dignitaries and an Arab member of the Knesset, Dr Williams spoke, and the thing which stuck with me most was when he said, ‘We pray for you every day in the Chapel at Lambeth Palace’. The Church here can feel very vulnerable, and somehow it is empowering to hear that every day prayers are said for the church in the Holy Land. We know it, but it is sometimes good to hear it.
Snow-capped Mount Hermon
It is always good when groups from Scotland stay in the Hotel. There have been a few groups in February, including one from Cowal led by my predecessor here, Jen Zielinsky, and the ‘Guild’ group led by Clarence and Joan Musgrave. This year, the weather in February has been a bit ‘iffy’ however, with rain and wind and even some snow. The views over the Lake have been shrouded in mist, and sailings on the Lake were cancelled a few of the days. However, it has been wonderful to hear the sound of the water on the lake, and now suddenly the weather has cleared, and Mt Hermon covered in snow stands majestically over the Lake. There is no snow in Tiberias, but I travelled up to the Druze villages on the Golan with a friend to show him the Syrian border, and the streets were packed with snow. Such is the novelty that people from Tel Aviv drive up in order to build snowmen and have snowball fights! One friend even collects snow in a bucket to make ‘snow’ soup!
AIDS Awareness Sunday
Aware that Clarence’s group would be at Church on the Sunday, we decided to hold our AIDS Awareness Sunday to coincide with their visit, so that at least there would be a few people there. As it turned out we also had a group of Presbyterians from Atlanta, as well as some Methodists from Atlanta and a group of Dutch pilgrims, as well as some individuals. It was the fullest I have seen the church! Baker Awawdy, the Director of the Galilee Society, spoke about their work with HIV, especially in the Palestinian community in the Galilee. Admittedly HIV affects a far smaller percentage of the population than in Africa, but they face similar difficulties from stigma and taboo.
The’ price-tag’ phenomenon has been with us for several months, a disturbing tit-for-tat which has seen graves desecrated and mosques set alight. I picked up the ‘Haaretz’ newspaper recently, and there was a prominent article on Christians in Jerusalem being the latest victims of ‘price-tag’ attacks. A Baptist church had been vandalised and cars spray-painted with nasty slogans. It also reported that Armenian priests were spat upon when walking through parts of the Old City. The writer of the article indicated that this wasn’t part of any organised ideological attack, but was probably ‘just’ hooliganism carried out by individuals jumping on the price-tag bandwagon. I have certainly never experienced anything like this and nor would most Christians going in and out of Jerusalem. However, I did think that the article brought out the vulnerability Christians can sometimes feel in this Holy Land.
Mar Elias School in Ibillin
It was good to visit the Mar Elias school in Ibillin, a town near Haifa. It is run by the Melkite Church and is the brainchild of the now Archbishop Elias Chacour. Although a Christian school, many of the 3000 pupils who attend the kindergarten, elementary and senior schools are Moslem, and there are even some Jewish and Druze pupils and teachers as well. The school has an excellent academic standard and the exam results are among the top 10% in the country. However, what impressed me as I was taken around was the emphasis on peace, reconciliation and acceptance. Everywhere there seemed to be mosaics and murals on the theme of peace, while much of the ironwork also incorporated doves. The school sees it as so important to impart such values, so that the pupils on leaving the school may work towards a better future. It was also good to visit the church, which had the most amazing ikons and pictures, which focused on the Beatitudes and included modern ‘saints’ like Brother Roger of Taize and Dorothy Day, who embody the values the school aims to inspire within the young folk. It was also good to meet several volunteers from UK and America who are spending several weeks helping at the school.