Celebrations began with a service of Holy Communion by the Jordan River with Bishop Younan preaching and presiding, and Pastor Mitri Raheb, pastor in Bethlehem and President of the Synod; Pastor Sani Ibrahim Azar, pastor in Jerusalem; and Pastor Samer Azar, pastor in Amman assisting.
In his sermon, Younan celebrated the gift of Baptism and reminded those gathered of our shared baptismal calling:
“In Lutheran theology we baptize infants according to our understanding of Baptism as a gift of God given through grace by faith, and not because of our works. In Baptism we carry Christ and becomes heirs, with Christ, of the promises of God. To this gift of grace and promise the whole church has been continuously witnessing.”
“And we Arab Christians, too, have carried this witness for 2,000 years. Our existence has always been a call to be apostles of love to the world and to be integrally involved in our society, in which God has called us to carry out the call of our Baptism as living witnesses to ourselves and to others.”
“Because of our covenant of Baptism we have stood steadfast in this place, as we have stood steadfast to our calling to be instruments of peace, brokers of justice, defenders of truth, advocates for the voiceless, promoters of human rights, including the rights of children and women, and ministers of reconciliation in service for the sake of all humanity.”
“Today, we renew our baptismal covenant and witness again to the manifestation of God, by the Holy Spirit, through Christ Jesus, and to the love of God, through which we are all called. And we break ground today as we begin to build this new church to the glory of God and the service of all Christians—not only Lutherans—who wish to come to this place to pray and renew their baptismal promises.”
The land for this project was granted the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the ELCJHL in 2008 and visioning and architectural planning has been underway since then.
The new Evangelical Lutheran Pilgrimage and Retreat Center will be one of twelve churches built at the site that aims to focus on the spiritual, historical, and environmental aspects of the area, with special emphasis given to:
•the rootedness of Christianity both in the history and in present-day life in Jordan,
•the deep ecumenical relationships between the local churches, and
•the strong interfaith relationships on both individual, community and leadership levels.
Mr. Nayef El-Fayez, Minister of Tourism, was present on behalf His Highness Prince Ghazi, the Special Advisor to the King on Religious Affairs, for the service and groundbreaking, speaking words of welcome and encouragement to the ELCJHL.
Others present included Mr. Akel Baltaji, a Senator in the Jordanian House of Senate; Mr. Ghazi Musharbash, a Representative in the Jordanian Parliament; and Father Nabil Haddad, from the Board of Trustees of the Baptismal Site.
Mr. Nabil Zaki Goussous, Principal Architect at NZG Architects, has served as architect on the project.
With construction beginning soon, the ELCJHL hopes to have the Pilgrimage and Retreat Center finished before next year, and to hold the consecration of the site on the next Feast of Epiphany on 6 January 2013.
Bishop Younan invited all present this day to return in one year, and extended an invitation to “all Lutheran churches, both the local congregations of the ELCJHL and the global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition to… come on the 6th of January to celebrate the Feast of Epiphany at the Baptismal Site at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan in the spirit of love and ecumenism.”
The ELCJHL gives thanks for the generous support given and pledged by various international partners, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) working closely with the OSMTH, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland for their grant, and many other friends of the ELCJHL.
Funds given in the US may be directed through the ELCA Global Gifts “ELCJHL Baptismal Site Project”. Donations from other countries abroad can be directed to the ELCJHL.