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All Saints Needs More Saints


Entrance to All Saints Church BeirutRaymond El Khoury, Churchwarden at All Saints Beirut is living proof that mass emigration from Lebanon is not just a modern phenomenon.

His grandparents left in 1900 as economic migrants to seek a better life in America, but when the boat stopped at Freetown Sierra Leone they got off and began a family association there that lasted until 1995 when Raymond, who was born in Sierra Leone returned. He is now the head of an English-speaking School in Beirut and has been a member of All Saints through good times and bad for more than twenty years.

When he first attended the church, it held the only English language service that he could find. In those days it was well attended, but now is another time when many young people are leaving to try to make a new life elsewhere and that is one reason why numbers have fallen and the demographic has changed. Raymond has seen a particular change during the past fourteen years. Missionaries used to make up a good proportion of the congregation but the various crises that have befallen the country have prompted Missionary organisations to withdraw their full-time workers. These have included wars and rumours of wars; an economic collapse that has seen many people fall into poverty, a bank crisis in which many people fear that their savings here are lost, and of course, COVID.

The church dwafed by high rise buiuldingsAll Saints is a beautiful church. When its foundation stone was laid by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1912 and later consecrated in 1929, it stood on the waterfront but now, thanks to land reclamation it is a little further inland, dwarfed by massive high rises all around but giving the air of a place of peace and tranquillity. It has some very attractive windows which were installed over a period, but which have a common feature of naming their contributors. Miraculously they survived the 2020 explosion, which occurred in the port area nearby.two of the windows

There has not been a full time Vicar here since 2018. Previous Vicars include Rev’d Alan Amos, husband of Dr Clare Amos, a JMECA Director, who led the last service, in 1977, before the church moved to temporary premises during the civil war. At that time the church was reputed to have the largest Arabic congregation in the Diocese.  Archbishop Hosam, who has been a regular visitor, is very supportive of a new era of ministry but this would be on a house-for-duty basis with a Missionary Society sponsor paying stipend and being involved in the appointment.

The sanctuary at All SaintsArchdeacon Imad is the priest responsible for the church and he celebrates the Eucharist for both English and Arabic congregations but has other responsibilities. The Arabic congregation has also declined. From 1948 it mostly comprised Palestinian refugees, but they too are part of the emigration story, and many have left for good. Imad’s own children are abroad. He is Lebanese, from the south of the country. His village is currently evacuated because of the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and many houses, including some of his family property, have been bombed and partially destroyed. Other people who lived there are very much in his prayers as he describes them as people who do not have money to rebuild, and who can see little hope for the future.

Churchwarden raymond
Raymond El Khoury

Raymond believes there are some signs of future life for the church. The church worship group, which consists of four musicians, are young and enthusiastic. There is enthusiasm also within the PCC, and the church is obviously well cared for. The church was packed for a service that was held after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and is also popular at Christmas. From time-to-time hopes are raised with talk of a partnership with NEST (Near East School of Theology) or the Mission to Seafarers, but nothing concrete has emerged as yet. Archdeacon Imad supplies a reality check. “It’s difficult,” he says, “when people can’t afford the petrol to come to church."

Things will improve if the situation in the country improves.


Posted 21st May 2024