Sixty of the 66 bishops of the EvangelicalLutheran Church in America (ELCA), the ELCA secretary, and fiveof the six bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada(ELCIC), Winnipeg, plus spouses and staff will visit the MiddleEast, Jan. 6-13, 2009.
Sixty of the 66 bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the ELCA secretary, and five of the six bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), Winnipeg, plus spouses and staff will visit the Middle East, Jan. 6-13, 2009.
Participants will meet with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian religious, community and political leaders, visit congregations and schools, and sites of religious significance.
The visit is the 2009 Bishops' Academy, an annual event in which leaders from both churches engage in theological reflection and study. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and its bishop, the Rev. Munib A. Younan, plus staff of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are partners with the ELCA and ELCIC in planning the visit.
A small delegation, including the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, and the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national
bishop, will travel first to Jordan, Jan. 3-6. They will meet Jordanian religious and political leaders, plus ambassadors from Canada and the United States, before traveling to Jerusalem to meet their colleagues.
The Lutheran bishops' visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine is a part of the 2005 ELCA "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine," Bishops and spouses provided synod and personal funds for the visit.
The Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg, bishop, ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, Denver, and chair, ELCA Conference of Bishops, said the bishops' visit is "unprecedented." "I am proud of the commitment of our bishops, and those of the ELCIC, to visit this fascinating and troubled region of the world to learn, to support Christian sisters and brothers, and to advocate for peace and justice for all people," he said. "As we prepare for this historic visit, members of the Conference of Bishops are working diligently for a successful and meaningful journey. We thank members throughout the ELCA for their support of this visit. We pray that our journey will bring many
blessings to the ELCA."
The bishops discussed holding their annual academy in Israel and Palestine for years, said the Rev. Dean W. Nelson, bishop, ELCA Southwest California Synod, Glendale, and chair of the bishops' academy committee. In 2005 the LWF Council met in
Bethlehem and Jerusalem, making such a visit seem possible, he said. Adoption of the ELCA Middle East strategy was an important catalyst, Nelson said. "That action provided the framework for us to move forward in planning this trip," he said. "We expect this trip will enable us to grow in our awareness of the reality of life in Israel and Palestine, accompany our brothers and sisters in the ELCJHL in their witness and service, and become better advocates in our own countries for an end to the ongoing hostilities in the Holy Land." Nelson added he hopes that the presence of such a significant number of North American church leaders will have a
positive impact on those working for peace in the region.
"The decision of the ELCA and ELCIC bishops to meet for their annual time of theological study and discussion in Israel-Palestine cannot be overestimated in its significance for the people of the ELCJHL," said the Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop, ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass. The synod has a companion synod relationship with the ELCJHL.
Lutherans there are eager for the bishops' visit to see the reality of their lives and communities, she said. "By this trip we hope to accomplish first the keeping of a promise: we will embody our commitment to accompany the ELCJHL," she said. "But also, we seek to be advocates for peace in the Middle East. I believe that it is only by the power of God, through the commitment and relationship of people from all the faith traditions in this region, that the hope for peace can be realized, and both Israel and Palestine can benefit from the freedom and security that a shared life of peace would bring."