COCOP Statement on the Annexation Plans of the Israeli Government

A Statement from the Partners of the ELCJHL

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:14

The international partners of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) at their virtual meeting on June 30, 2020, expressed their great concern about the current political situation in the Holy Land. The members of the Coordination Committee of Overseas Partners of the ELCJHL (COCOP) unanimously declared that the current plans of the Israeli government to annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories are against international law. The concern is that the annexation plans will lead to more political instability.

The members of COCOP express their concern for peace and the well-being of the people living in Israel and Palestine; Jews, Christians, and Muslims. They confirm their solidarity with their sister church as well as with all other Christians in the Holy Land. They also affirm their commitment to interreligious cooperation and partnership in the Holy Land and beyond. They are afraid that the annexation plans will lead to even more Christian emigration because through annexation many parishioners will lose their land. That means the Christian presence and witness in the Holy Land would continue to diminish. This would cause direct effects also on the spiritual life of the people and on the interfaith dialogue.

They are aware that other organization and churches in different countries have already expressed their deep concerns, such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Canada, and the USA, where the COCOP partners come from. They are aware of the Statement of Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches of Jerusalem of May 7, 2020 as well as the Statement of the Bishop of the ELCJHL, ‘Liberation, Not Annexation,” from Pentecost 2020. In addition, there are many other statements, including an Ecumenical Statement from the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Council of Churches and ACT Alliance dated June 29, 2020.

The members of COCOP call upon:

  • the Israeli government to stop the annexation plans and end the occupation
  • the international community to put pressure on the Israeli government to hold Israel accountable if they go ahead with the annexation plans
  • the Palestinian leadership to end internal disagreements and to speak with one voice when opposing the annexation plans of the Israeli government
  • Israeli and Palestinian civil society to speak out against the annexation and advocate for negotiations
  • those with political responsibility in Israel Palestine to resume negotiations to resolve the conflict on the basis of international law and of the internationally agreed call for a two-state solution.

It is the hope of the international partners of the ELCJHL that – together with other churches and church related organizations – all those calls will be heard and the requested actions will be taken. The members of COCOP will continue to stand in solidarity with their sister church, especially in her effort to pray, preach, work, and teach the value of life, understand, and coexistence, and to continue to advocate for their liberation and freedom. The partners together with the ELCJHL will continue to work and pray for reconciliation and peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.

Signed by:

  • Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), Chairperson of COCOP
  • Bishop Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Co-Chairperson of COCOP

A Message from COCOP to Bishop Ibrahim Azar

Dear Bishop Azar,

As COCOP partners, we would like to express our appreciation, support and solidarity with you and the leadership of the ELCJHL.

You have had to address numerous internal and external challenges this past year including the situation in Jordan, funding of your important ministries with a skeleton staff, dealing with a global COVID-19 crisis, and figuring out ways to continue caring for the lives of the members of your congregations, employees, students and their families while budgeted income was no longer assured. You did all this while living under the shadow of a challenging pandemic and political situation, which is now culminating in the threat of annexation.

We, therefore, would like you to know that we are united in thanking God for your faithfulness in ministry, and grateful for your leadership under these challenging circumstances. We support the decisions that you have made, including:

  • Raising your voice and reaching out to other faith leaders and the local ecumenical family to denounce violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and we encourage you to continue to do so.
  • The decision taken by the Church leadership regarding the situation in Amman. We know it was done after a lot of prayerful considerations and consultations and in the best interest of the Church.
  • The ELCJHL’s support of her congregations and the most vulnerable families during the COVID-19.
  • The ELCJHL’s emphasis on gender justice, equality, and women empowerment, and we encourage you to continue to do so.
  • The ELCJHL’s approach in dealing with the surrounding turmoil in faithfulness to what Jesus would expect from his church.
  • The ELCJHL’s clear, transparent, and accountable organizational structures and decision-making mechanisms.

We are committed to our mutual agreements with the ELCJHL, and we will continue to accompany you in realizing the ELCJHL’s vision for mission.

Sincerely,

COCOP Partners

Called to Lead The Way

Female Palestinian Lawyer to Speak at The UN For International Women’s Month

Scarlet Bishara is a judge in the Ecclesiastical Court of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and a member of Beit Jala congregation. Photo: Ben Gray/LWF

West Bank/New York – As the only female in the entire Middle East serving as a judge on the church Ecclesiastical Court which governs family matters among Christians, attorney Scarlet Bishara, a member of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), will be a panelist at the United Nations’ Sixty-Third Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) in New York, USA on 13 March.

The UN Bureau of the Commission will meet 11 – 22 March 2019, to reaffirm statements and review future strategies that support the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.

Bishara will speak during a side event, organized by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Church of Sweden, on the topic of Religious Actors Promoting Gender Equality Through Personal Status Laws in Palestine as a social protection system.

After the recognition and establishment of the Lutheran Ecclesiastical Court in 2014 by the Palestinian Authority, and inspired by the LWF Gender Justice policy, the ELCJHL established a groundbreaking amendment to its Personal Status laws in 2015.

I hear them.

Attorney Scarlet Bishara

One example of changes to the policy was an increase in the age that a girl can be allowed to marry from 14 years old to 18 years old.

Suad Younan, then head of the ELCJHL Women’s Committee and co-organizer of a 45-member seminar which launched the Arabic language Gender Policy in 2016, continues to encourage striving for equality in all religions and in the government.

“[It is important for the ELCJHL] to use its prophetic voice and effective tools to challenge ecclesiastical and socio-political fixtures,” Younan said in a 2016 LWF article.

The Personal Status Laws are cases such as divorce, inheritance, child custody, alimony, and other family matters, such as marriage age as mentioned above.

In Palestine, legal cases concerning the family are handled by the religious community.  Outside of the Islamic Sharia court, there are four Christian Ecclesiastical courts: the Catholic, the Anglican, the Orthodox and the Lutheran courts. Each of these denominations has its own law.

Bishara says that because of the culture, when a case reaches the Ecclesiastical court it is usually the last resort for a family, especially for women.

Most of the time the women come to the courts after consulting the family, their fathers, and their pastors. Bishara says that often they continue to face suffering because usually, particularly in the case of the Catholic and some Orthodox churches, they are judged by unmarried men – priests.

“As an unmarried man, it is difficult for them to understand the situation of women,” Bishara said.

She explains that because of the culture, most of the men will place the blame on the wife first, saying, ‘she didn’t cook well, and made her husband angry. She didn’t raise the children well, or she didn’t satisfy her husband, therefore, he beat her.’ This is the cultural norm that we face in the Middle East.”

As a woman, Bishara says her role as a female judge is simple… “I hear them [the women].”

She also understands the consequences of not listening to women. In the past, many were turned away and told to ‘be patient’ or to give their husband another chance, which has led to women and children being badly hurt by domestic violence.

“I am trusted with their stories because I am a woman.”

Bishara says that her male colleagues, the two ELCJHL pastors and head of the court, ELCJHL Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, respect her insights, support her position as judge, and accept her decisions in cases, fully.  She stated that Bishop Azar, installed as bishop of the ELCJHL January 2018, has given his blessings to continue the progressive work of gender equality within the church.

“She understands how other women are feeling. She explains things that the men don’t understand,” said Bishop Azar.

“She represents us in a good way. We notice the positive outcomes of what we have today with her on the court as judge.”

Bishara wrote in her paper to the UN,  “the Lutheran Family Law of 2015 provides a sustainable framework for answering questions raised about how to rectify gender imbalances in the personal status laws in Palestine that are still promulgated by religious institutions of all faith backgrounds.”

Her message to the commission is that the Lutheran Family Law can serve as a theological- and biblical-inspired model that other religious communities can use to craft their own laws guided by gender equality, including the Islamic laws.

“The religious communities in Palestine are uniquely positioned to champion the rights of women in Palestine.”

During her discussion with the CSW63, Bishara is excited about the future possibilities of the ELCJHL’s gender policy. She hopes to eventually see one ecumenical law for all Christians that upholds justice for all woman.

Overall, she believes that because of the dual court systems in the Middle East, civil and religious, it is the religious community that will be the leaders in a just system for women.

“Change in the Arab world is in the hands of the faith leaders.”

Dina Nasser, a health advisor to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, site coordinator for the Juzoor International Training Center in the West Bank, and an expert on hospital infection control is also a panelist with Bishara during the UN CSW63 side event.

COCOP Resources

Only participants with the link can view this page.

2020 “Virtual” COCOP Resources

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

Jeremiah 6:14

Below, find the Agenda for the COCOP 2020 meetings, held at Abrahams Herberge in Beit Jala for local partners and via Zoom for international partners.

COCOP 2020 Agenda

Each of the following reports is downloadable and able to be viewed on an electronic reader or printed. To download the report to your personal device, click on the arrow pointing “down” in the upper right hand corner of the document.

COCOP 2020 Full Reports is optimized for online reading and includes the Bishop’s Report, the Congregational Reports, and the Additional Reports in a single document. It features internal hyperlinks which allow you to easily navigate between the sections of the report. Simply click on the name of the report you would wish to view in the Table of Contents on the second page. When you have finished reading that section, you can click [ Return to Table of Contents ] to select a new section.

COCOP 2020 Full Reports

The Bishop’s Report, Congregational Reports, and Additional Reports are optimized for printing, but can also be viewed on an electronic reader.

2020 Bishop’s Report

2020 Congregational Reports

2020 Additional Reports

2020 Educational Ministries Report

https://www.dropbox.com/s/jdfruxkg1fjwyp8/Educational%20Ministries%20COCOP%202020.pdf?dl=0

Bishop Azar Addresses ELCJHL Partners

Bishop Ibrahim Azar speaks to the ELCJHL partners on Saturday, January 13, his first full day as bishop of the church. Pictured, (left) Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Bishop Susan Johnson of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.  Photo by Ben Gray / ELCJHL

Jerusalem, 13 January 2018 – The day after the consecration of The Rev. Sani Ibrahim Azar as the fourth Palestinian Bishop of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), Bishop Azar addressed the international partner churches in attendance for the installation. The international partners of the ELCJHL include organizations, churches and councils that have entered into mutual companionship and accompaniment for the betterment of both.

Representatives from all of the 29 ecumenical partners, member organizations and companion churches attended the first address to them from the newly consecrated, Bishop Azar.

Bishop Azar casually stood in front of the group gathered in the refectory hall of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City without a podium and without notes and greeted the longtime friends and supporters of the Palestinian Lutheran church.

In a gentle and measured manner,  Bishop Azar thanked partners for decades of missional work in the region. Peppered with humor, Bishop Azar told the partners that he would implement a new strategic plan for the next five years that would include: Spiritual care for the people of the church, financial sustainability projects, Diakonia to the community, and efforts to continue gender justice.

“Our pastors and laypeople will go where the people are, we will not sit by idly in our churches waiting for the people to come to us,” Bishop Azar said.

During the question and answer session of the address, Bishop Susan Johnson of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the President of The Coordination Committee for Cooperation between the ELCJHL and Overseas Partners (COCOP) asked Bishop Azar which of his many names (Sani Ibrahim “Barhoum” Charlie Azar) should the partners to use.

“In writing, Bishop Ibrahim Azar and in speaking, Bishop Barhoum,” Bishop Azar humbly replied with a smile.

Photo Gallery of the Address

Celebrating 30 Years of Ministry

ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan pulls away the veil of the monument placed on site at Christmas Lutheran Church commemorating The Rev. Mitri Raheb’s 30 years at the Bethlehem church as pastor. Ben Gray/ELCJHL

Bethlehem – The Church, community, family, and friends came together today, June 9, 2017, to celebrate 30 years of faithful service to The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church by The Rev. Mitri Raheb. – The Church, community, family, and friends came together today, June 9, 2017, to celebrate 30 years of faithful service to The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church by The Rev. Mitri Raheb.

Sunday, June 4th was the last worship service presided by Rev. Raheb at Christmas Lutheran. Rev. Raheb will remain an ELCJHL ordained minister with a concentrated focus on the Diyar Consortium. Diyar is a collaboration of college, and wellness, arts and cultural centers in Bethlehem for community enrichment.

The small Bethlehem church was packed with beloved friends, parishioners, ELCJHL clergy, representatives from the Palestinian Authority; including the Mayor of Bethlehem, Mr. Tony Salman. The ecumenical public support for Rev. Raheb’s shift from the pastor of a parish to the full-time minister and manager of Diyar was also present. In attendance was the Greek Orthodox Bishop Attalah Hanna, Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabah, the Palestinian Ambassador to the Vatican Mr. Issa Kassissieh, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Christian Relations Mr. Ziad Bandak.

The Finland Ambassador to Palestine, Ms. Anu Saarela and German Representative to Palestine, Mr. Peter Beerwerth came to honor Rev. Raheb’s work in the church and in the global arena. The Coordination Committee for Cooperation between the ELCJHL and Overseas Partners (COCOP), representing nine international Lutheran churches and organizations, also honored the international relationship Rev. Raheb has cultivated.

Rev. Raheb was honored in sermons and speeches for his daily dedication to the church and the empowerment of his people in the face of persecution while living under 50 years of occupation. It was said that his gentle spirit, tenacity toward change, justice, equality and business sense are his marks of excellence. It was said that Rev. Raheb always uplifts others to take pride in being born in the very place where Jesus was born, and to not give up hope in the power of the cross, which he discusses in his latest publication co-authored with Dr. Suzanne Watts Henderson, The Cross in Contexts: Suffering and Redemption in Palestine.

Patriarch Emeritus Sabah, jokingly referred to Rev. Raheb as Obama Obama, making reference to Rev. Raheb’s German Media Award in 2011 given to leaders who demonstrate exceptional excellence, vision, and leadership. In May, the same award was presented to Former U.S. President Barack Obama in Berlin.

There was praise as Rev. Raheb was referred to as a gardener of the people and of the community. He is known for community redevelopment or planting new olive trees where war and poverty had demolished others. His peers were referring to his work at Diyar Consortium as a large part of that redevelopment in Bethlehem. Diyar was created in 1995 out of the destruction from the second Intifada that ravished Bethlehem economically and socially. The center offers a place to create art, learn skills, and reclaim heritage through its many community outreach programs.

This is where Rev. Raheb will consolidate his ministerial and managerial work. It was said that his ministry broadens beyond parish ministry.

He was lauded as a Palestinian Liberation Theologian who speaks unwaveringly with boldness, courage, and gentleness about the plight of the Palestinian people.

The Rev. Munther Isaac succeeds Rev. Raheb as the pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church – Bethlehem.

Arabic Language Press Release:  Arabic Language Press Release

Live Stream: https://youtu.be/Zw5xjX7QX58

Rev. Mitri’s Farewell Address:

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.elcjhl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Farewell-Address-of-the-Rev.pdf” title=”Farewell Address of the Rev”]

Bishop Younan’s Sermon:

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.elcjhl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Bishop-Sermon-Mitri-9-June-2017.pdf” title=”Bishop Sermon Mitri 9 June 2017″]

 

 

 

Bishop Younan Celebrates 1,000 Years of Christianity in Sweden

Bishop Younan Celebrates 1,000 years of Christianity in Skara, Sweden

Bishop Younan Celebrates 1,000 years of Christianity in Skara, Sweden
Bishop Younan Celebrates 1,000 years of Christianity in Skara, Sweden (© Church of Sweden)

Recently, a representative of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Swedish crown princess, Bishop Munib Younan, church leaders and thousands of others took part in the celebration of one thousand years of Christianity in Sweden held in the Diocese of Skara in southern Sweden.

The diocese, which is one of the oldest existing dioceses in Sweden, was once a diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Since the Protestant reformation it has been part of the Church of Sweden, which is Lutheran.

The weeklong celebration included a pilgrimage of young people from five countries who walked seven days together, worship services with strong ecumenical representation from different countries, concerts, workshops and seminars. More than 12,000 participants took part in the celebrations.

During the official lunch held on Saturday, in which Crown Princess Victoria participated, Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters, WCC associate general secretary, expressed appreciation for the ecumenical attitude of the Church of Sweden:

“I was touched to see so many representatives of churches from different parts of the world. While celebrating 1000 years of Christianity in your country, you have included the concerns of churches in the Middle East that are much older and are under pressure right now,” Wolters said. “And you are willing to learn from African churches that are much younger. That is a strong sign of ecumenical solidarity and openness to ecumenical learning.”

One concrete example of ecumenical cooperation during the celebrations was a pilgrimage called “Walking to Emmaus”. It involved 45 youth between 17 and 22 years of age from Sweden, South Africa, Germany, England, and Palestine. They walked together for seven days and shared experiences of faith and life as well as a sense of the worldwide church.

The project runs from 2013-2015 and is led by the Diocese of Skara (Church of Sweden) in close cooperation with the Lutheran Church in Bavaria (ELKB), the South-East Diocese of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA), the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and the Church of Sweden.

The purpose of the project is to make it possible for 60 young people to take part in pilgrimages in Sweden during 2014 and in Israel and Palestine in 2015 to gain a common understanding of each other, different traditions and the worldwide church.

Participants in the closing worship included church leaders from Sweden, Finland, UK, Germany, the Middle East, as well as Archbishop emeritus Anders Wejryd of the Church of Sweden, the WCC president for Europe.

To read this article on the World Council of Churches (WCC) webpage, you can visit here.

Erik Apelgårdh Takes Over COCOP Co-Chair Position

Co-Chair Inken Wöhlbrand stands with newly-elected COCOP Co-Chair Erik Apelgårdh

Co-Chair Inken Wöhlbrand stands with newly-elected COCOP Co-Chair Erik Apelgårdh
Co-Chair Inken Wöhlbrand stands with newly-elected COCOP Co-Chair Erik Apelgårdh (© Danae Hudson/ELCJHL)

At the 2014 COCOP, or the The Coordination Committee for Cooperation between the ELCJHL and Overseas Partners, Church of Sweden member Erik Apelgårdh was elected as the new co-chair of the meeting, replacing Inken Wöhlbrand from The United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD).

COCOP was started in 1978 with an aim to support the ELCJHL in its ministries.  It has since turned into a partnership between the ELCJHL and its overseas partners, with voting members from all parties.

Thank you to Inken Wöhlbrand for her years of service as the co-chair for the annual COCOP meeting. As we say goodbye to Inken, we welcome Erik Apelgårdh as the new co-chair and look forward to many fruitful years together.

To view photos from the 2014 COCOP meetings, you can visit the ELCJHL’s photo gallery.

Meet Rev. Rolf Pearson, The Pastor for the New Baptismal Site

Rev. Rolf Pearson

Rev. Rolf Pearson
Rev. Rolf Pearson (©ELCJHL)

Rev. Rolf Pearson and his wife Kerstin will be taking over the role as caretakers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan.  Rev. Rolf Pearson will be developing worship services and spiritual practices and both Rev. Pearson and Kerstin will be working on creating a pilgrim center.

We sat down with Rev. Pearson to talk to him about himself and the Baptismal Site at Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in Sweden and always grew up in a Christian environment.  First in the Salvation Army, but then I was involved in the youth movement in our home congregation in the Church of Sweden.  I started out studying journalism, but after a year, I changed my mind and went into theology.  I met my wife, who is a bio-chemist, when I was studying theology.  We married and I became the pastor of a small congregation in Sweden.  Then, we went to Zimbabwe in 1982, just after the War of Independence.  Kerstin set up a laboratory at a hospital that had been closed during the war and I became the pastor of a congregation.  I spent two years there before being asked by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (ELCZ) to start an educational center in the south of Zimbabwe.  I wrote a textbook and grammar in Shona, the local language, and we also taught the language to missionaries and NGOs working in Zimbabwe.  We went back to Sweden in the ‘90s and I took over the missionary education for the Church of Sweden.  But we didn’t stay long – we went to the Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, for 10 years, working with the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).  We worked as the Gulf Liaison Officers of the MECC with the goal of helping churches coordinate their services to the often abused and oppressed migrant population.  After finishing our commitment in the Gulf and moving back to Sweden, we thought our traveling days were over.  After two years, we found the Ecumenical Secretary position in Jerusalem where I have been serving.  And now we’re heading out again!

Continue reading “Meet Rev. Rolf Pearson, The Pastor for the New Baptismal Site”

Bishop Hans-Erik Nordin And Delegation Visit The ELCJHL

Bishop Hans-Erik Nordin and Delegation visit the ELCJHL
Bishop Munib Younan of the ELCJHL and Bishop Hans-Erik Nordin, Bishop of the Diocese of Strängnäs, Church of Sweden. © Danae Hudson/ELCJHL

JERUSALEM – Bishop Hans-Erik Nordin, Bishop of the Diocese of Strängnäs, Church of Sweden, along with a delegation of clergy, visited the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and Bishop Munib Younan during church services on Sunday, March 3rd, 2013.

The ELCJHL has had a long relationship with the Church of Sweden throughout the years.  Bishop Hans-Erik Nordin spoke to the Arabic Speaking Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, expressing the Church of Sweden’s strong support of the Palestinians and his hope that a relationship between the Church of Sweden, especially the Diocese of Strängnäs, and the ELCJHL will continue to grow.