CHURCHES TOGETHER IN FARNHAM
WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
18th—25th January 2011
PLIGHT OF NATIVE CHRISTIANS IN THE HOLY LAND
A large congregation from different churches and denominations throughout the town and surrounding villages took part in Farnham's United Service to mark the 2011 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - and engaged in warm fellowship over the bring and share tea which followed.
The Revd Carol Wilson-Barker hosted and led the inspiring service at St George's Church, Badshot Lea, on Sunday, 23rd January on behalf of Churches Together in Farnham.
Left to right: Canon Jeffrey Bell, Revd Carol Wilson-Barker, Barry Hall (organist), Kris Lawrence (‘Rainbows and Paths’ presentation).
The 2011 theme for Unity Week - ‘All things in common' (from Acts 2) was chosen by an ecumenical group in Jerusalem and guest speaker Canon Jeffrey Bell, of All Saints Tilford, focussed on the plight of the dwindling Christian population of the area in his address. Canon Jeffrey has travelled extensively, lived and studied in the Middle East, and has led many pilgrimages to the biblical sites, as well as lecturing on the subject. Such was the suffering, he warned, that quite soon there would be no indigenous Christians left and the Holy Land would become a biblical theme park with our Holy Sites merely tourist venues [see full text below].
Scriptural readings at the United Service were by Stewart Dakers and Pastor Michael Hall (Chair of CTF) and Sadie Blankley led prayers. Kris Lawrence presented ‘Rainbows and Paths’, with everyone going forward to place a pebble. Barry Hall was organist and Rita Newell and her team served tea.
The CTF Prayer Meetings during Unity Week (18th to 25th January), each weekday at the St Joan Centre and on Saturday 22nd at the Pentecostal Church, also drew people from many different churches, with up to a dozen attending daily.
Canon Jeffrey Bell’s sermon at the United Service follows:
JERUSALEM - PLACE OF SUFFERING -YET ALSO OF HOPE
Luke 24: Jesus said: “The Scripture declares that in the name of the Messiah repentance, bringing forgiveness of sins, is to be proclaimed to all nations beginning from Jerusalem”.
Here we are gathered as members of many different congregations all professing their faith in Jesus Christ, and using the City of Jerusalem as focus.
The name Jerusalem means ‘God’s Peace’. Was ever a city so woefully misnamed? Jerusalem, from the moment King David captured it and made it Judea’s capital, has been for ever a place of bloodshed, division and destruction and conversely a place of pilgrimage.
Yet despite all this, Jerusalem is regarded as a Holy Site, the navel of the world on ancient maps and a defining focus for three world-wide religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Because of this cultural and religious ownership, it continues to be a place of conflict and division.
Muslims won’t allow Jews on to Temple Mount and Jews try to prevent the Muslims. Only we Christians seem to be able to wander there at will, although the beautiful basilica of the Purification of Mary, built in the early days of the Church, is now the Al-Aqsa Mosque where King Hussein’s Grandfather was assassinated just after the war, thus opening the floodgates of the continuing conflict between Jew and Muslim, while the native Christian community is ground between these two millstones!
The same story is repeated at the other Holy Sites across Israel/Palestine. When I first visited Bethlehem 50 or so years ago, the town was part of Jordan, as was the Old City of Jerusalem; and the majority of the population were Arab Christians.
Today those native Christians, whose family trees stretch back through many centuries, are leaving in their droves and the Christian community is now a frightened minority. There are more Palestinian Christians in Australia than there are in their homeland.
A few years ago, I met an Arab jeweller in Jerusalem, a Christian educated at St George’s Cathedral School and a member of the congregation there. He lived in Bethany but he told me that, either side of his life-long family home, Muslims had moved in and they were making his life a misery with threats and warnings. “I have no choice left but to sell up and emigrate,” he said in tears.
His story can be repeated again and again. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Israel/Palestine are suffering so much that, quite soon, there will be no Christians left and the Holy Land will become a Biblical Theme Park and our holy sites merely tourist venues.
Despite all this, there is a great courage and faith among our Christian communities there and outstanding hospitality.
At Cana with a group, we were warmly welcomed by the Greek Orthodox community and given a bottle of Cana wine to use at our Communion back home – a simple but lovely gesture that I was able to share the following Sunday.
Again in Nazareth on another visit, we were taken into the fellowship of the Maronite Church and placed under their protections – “Your party will be safe here and throughout the Suq.” This just reminds us, as our service today tells us, that we have all things in common.
I am amazed that so many western Christians are unaware of the indigenous Christian community in the Holy Land. Dr Raheb of Bethlehem has said: “The indigenous Christian population is easily forgotten by the international community. Americans tend to ask us when we converted. I tell them that the first Christian missionary was Jesus Christ and he was born in our town. The only thing that Palestine exports is Christianity. The Gospel has ‘made in Palestine’ on the back.”
However today’s service reminds us that there is always hope, because we are a Resurrection People.
A group of Jerusalem Christians of diverse traditions have come together to share their faith with us around the theme of ‘All things in common’.
Together they express their hope for the future of their Christian communities in the Holy Land and we must support and encourage them and keep them in our prayers. We and they are members of the same family - despite the labels we wear.
To close, I want to share with you a very special prayer which embraces the three branches of the Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It was written by a dear friend of mine who served as Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem – George Appleton. I have offered this prayer several times looking across the valley at the Holy City.
Mary Clarke, 28/01/2011