A Chat With The New Vicar

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Rodny Said Returns Home After Seminary in Canada

Rodny Said is the new vicar at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour. Photo by Ben Gray / ELCJHL

A lifetime member of The Evangelical Lutheran church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Rodny Said tells about his internship to serve the church at home in Palestine and his feelings of excitement and uncertainty returning from theological studies at Martin Luther University College/Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Said will do congregational work at The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour with 150 members and teach religion to 11th and 12th grades at Beit Sahour School

He talks about the gifts he has to offer the Palestinian church and his hope for communal healing. 

You just returned in August. What do you think of your internship assignment? And how are you feeling since you’ve been back? 

When you come back you don’t know what to expect after being gone for six years. I’m excited to work with the church and I’ve already started getting more involved with the Beit Sahour community. So far, it has been a good experience. I will be working with Pastor Munther Isaac who will be in charge of administrative work at the church which he will divide with his congregation in Bethlehem. He will have to be there for communion for instance, since I can’t do baptisms, marriages, and communion until I complete the internship. 

Tell me more about your path to theological education. 

Before I went to study for my Master of Divinity degree, I went to Bethlehem University for Hotel Management and a bachelor’s degree in Christian and Global Citizenship at Wilfrid Laurier University. Once I complete the year-long internship then I will be eligible for graduation because all of my coursework is completed. This is the final part of the degree program.

I’d also like to add that it was (Former) Bishop Munib Younan who helped me connect with people from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and helped me get the scholarship to attend.

With all of your exposure, studies and transformational experiences, what gift do you want to give to the church? 

I am trained in a theological way, preaching on Sunday is important but being in the community is just as important. I will tell you what the people in Beit Sahour told me, “You can preach whatever you want on Sundays but what you do on a daily basis in the community is what is important.”  Much of my training in spiritual care and psychotherapy will be the gift that I give because I have worked on myself and will be able to counsel them on their journey. 

Why do you feel that those gifts and education in spiritual care and psychotherapy are necessary in the Palestinian community/church?

The Palestinian community is suffering with a lot of trauma so people can feel that the pastor can care for them. Jesus did this ministry on the streets with the depressed. I think that if I were to preach, I have to be there on the ground with people, visiting them, walking with them, too. 

What is unique about serving the congregation and community in Beit Sahour? 

In Beit Sahour if you are not out in the community you cannot make it as a pastor.  The people expect you to be at the community events, with the Muslims celebrating and with the Orthodox and Latin churches. It is important to participate with the whole community. There is a super strong connection with all the people there. If you, as a pastor, are not doing this then you are disconnected from the community. I was born and raised in Jerusalem so I am still learning this way of being in community in Beit Sahour. I must stop at the shops on the street to say hello to the shop owners, even go to the government and be a part of the solution, that is what’s expected of me from the church. 

What do you want people to know about you and how you do ministry? 

In our society people always think the pastor is too busy so I want people to feel safe coming to see me, but even better I want to take that first step to meet them. I am not a magician so I can’t solve everything but I think talking helps people feel some relief – that’s the therapy of talking and the beginning to many solutions. It’s the way people grieve here, by talking to each other; talking in communities.

There are some pretty good examples of this type of pastoral care within the ELCJHL, do you think so? 

Yes, I do! Pastor Ashraf is a great example. He knows the entire village; when you say Pastor Ashraf’s name everybody knows him. This is a lot of pressure to follow. I have to step up my game! He was my pastor when I was a youth. We worked together for many years and I’ve learned a lot of skills from him. 

Also, Bishop Barhoum has known me since I was born. He was my pastor for 25 years and a perfect example of being humble. I think pastors and bishops forget this when they are on the seat but really we are nothing, we are people. This is what Bishop Barhoum has taught me through how he talks and relates to people.

What else do you want to say? 

The pastor’s role is to serve and not be served. The pastor sets the example. What I learned in Canada is to encourage the role of the community as valuable too, not just the pastor as leader. I think this concept of communal work does two things: It makes the people feel like they belong in the church, that they are not just there to pray – they feel like it is home. Next, people need to understand that they are the Church. The Church is them, this is important. The Church is us. The Beit Sahour community realizes this and takes ownership for the church, and this results in the pastor being able to focus on other stuff.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada – Eastern Synod is a companion with the ELCJHL and sponsors Rodny Said’s education. Martin Luther University College also gives financial support.