Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) attended and preached at worship services Jan. 11 at five Lutheran congregations in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank.
Forty-four bishops representing both churches are participating in a series of meetings Jan. 6-13 with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank, and visiting religious sites. Their visit also focuses on support and encouragement for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).
ELCJHL congregations and bishops who preached were:
+ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Sahour, Beit Sahour: The Rev. Bruce H. Burnside, ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin (based in Madison)
+ Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem: The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop (Chicago)
+ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope, Ramallah: The Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
+ Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Reformation, Beit Jala: The Rev. Margaret G. Payne, ELCA New England Synod (Worcester, Mass.)
+ Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, Bethlehem: The Rev. Floyd M. Schoenhals, ELCA Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod (Tulsa, Okla.)
The Jerusalem congregation celebrated worship in Arabic and English, led by the Rev. Ibrahim Azar, pastor of the Arabic- speaking congregation, and the Rev. Mark Holman, pastor of the English-speaking congregation. The worship theme was Jesus' Baptism.
In his sermon, Hanson told the congregation that God's word of promise for all is that "the heavens are still opened and theSpirit of God is still descending."
"In Baptism God commissions us and promises us the strength of the Holy Spirit for the struggle for peace with justice. How good it is that, even in the midst of occupation and war and violence, we have something to say, and that is that Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen, continues to accompany us," the ELCA presiding bishop said.
"The liberating gift of Christ through faith by God's grace is that Christ continues to accompany us as we accompany you, Palestinian Christians, in your struggle for justice and peace," he said.
Some of the visitors for worship at the Church of the Redeemer represented four ELCA seminaries: the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago; the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia; the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.; and Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio.
Students and faculty from the seminaries were in the Middle East as part of their "J-term" programs in which the Lutherans tour and study in different regions of the world each January.
Following worship the North American bishops, spouses and staff were hosted by member families for lunch throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank.