From the Revd David Wakefield
During my sabbatical between January and March, 2019 I spent three weeks in Jerusalem, praying and talking with the ‘living stones’ of the Holy Land and considering life in Israel and the Palestinian Territories today. I attended the nine daily services in the Old City during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity experiencing worship outside my Anglican tradition.
After each, I met local Christians and heard their stories of living in the Holy Land. I had meetings with the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem and Dheisheh Refugee Camp with which my Diocese has links. I facilitated an exchange of information between my local primary school and a school and orphanage in the West Bank. I also spent time reading scripture in the holy sites, reflecting upon it, and so better equipping my ministry upon my return to duties. To give further reflection time, I then travelled to Nazareth to walk the 65km ‘Jesus Trail’ to Capernaum. Either side of the time spent in the Holy Land I had time to read, reflect and rest before returning to serving God as a parish priest of five parishes in rural Norfolk.
Thanks in part to the JMECA grant towards my travel costs, I have a far greater appreciation of the situation in the Holy Land and what it is like for those who live there. Meeting people of different Christian traditions during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity enabled me to understand the issues they face to a greater degree. It was a delight to talk with those who live, work, and worship in Jerusalem, including the patriarchs and church leaders. It was good to meet the Anglican Archbishop, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, and to hear of the work undertaken throughout the Middle East. Visiting the school and orphanage in Bethany added to my understanding of what it is like for those who grow up in the West Bank. It was a pleasure to meet them and see their positivity amidst growing tension in the area. Hearing first hand from a resident whilst visiting the Dheisheh refugee camp and the head of the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem added further dimensions to my understanding of the situation. Thank you again JMECA. Revd David Wakefield
And from Philip Edwards
My friend David and I began our trip in and around Jerusalem spending 20 days visiting people and places from our Palestinian hotel ‘base’ just outside the Old City near the Damascus Gate. As well as visiting the main sites (including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and Lazarus’s tomb in Bethany) we went off the usual tourist route delving deeper to find out more about this amazing area and its people. We even caught a bus to Bethlehem to witness the Armenian Christmas Eve celebrations the day after we arrived. We explored the Kidron Valley, including the infamous Valley of Hinnom and Gehenna (the place referred to as ‘hell’ in the Bible) locating the ‘Potter’s Field’ where Judas hanged himself. On a lighter note our favourite fun moment was walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel – a half-kilometre tunnel cut deep underground. The Old Testament states the king prepared Jerusalem for an impending Assyrian siege, blocking the water source of the upper Gihon, and leading it down westwards to the City of David, where it flowed into the Pool of Siloam. We splashed our way through the pitch black, wearing our precious head torches! We timed our trip specifically to coincide with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019. The experience of being part of the services held in Anglican, Armenian, Lutheran, Latin, Ethiopian, Coptic, Orthodox, Greek Melkite and Benedictine churches and abbeys was extremely diverse, yet wonderfully rich. We also met Archbishop Suheil Dawani at St George’s Cathedral (in Bethlehem) and were able to to engage in rewarding conversations with them both. Another arranged visit was to Jeel Al Amal, a boys’ home/school in Bethany where girls also day board – we’d visited and supported it in the past. Our final and moving, arranged visit was to Ibdaa Cultural Centre at Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem and close to the UN compound. After Jerusalem we bused to Nazareth to walk the ‘Jesus Trail’ to Capernaum. This was a 50 mile 5 day hike up hill and down dale – often wading through smelly, muddy water! It was demanding, stretching us both, but amazing to achieve. Thanks to JMECA for your kind support! Philip Edwards