The Church of Hope at Ramallah
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The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah was founded in 1954, in response to the stated need of refugees from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Spirit of Ecumenism is very much alive here in Ramallah, where Christians from Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches celebrate the same church calendar together by using the Orthodox Easter calendar and the Western Christmas calendar.
“In Ramallah we see the strength of the ecumenical movement in this part of Palestine in its particular sense, and in the world in its general sense.”
— Former Pastor, Rev. Ramez Ansara
Worship & Congregational Activities
Worship services are held each Sunday morning at 10:30 am, with Sunday School at 9:30 am in the parish hall. Even during times of curfew imposed by the Israeli military, the church bells of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope have continued to ring out, announcing worship and people come to pray.
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The Lutheran church building has three levels, the top level being the sanctuary, narthex and pastor’s office. The middle level has a large parish hall with a stage, along with several classrooms and a kitchen. The lower level houses three kindergarten classes. Built into a hill, the church sanctuary is entered from the street. Outside stairs take the visitor down to the large playground and the door into the parish hall. A few more outside stairs bring the visitor down to the kindergarten playground and entry doors.
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The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah was founded in 1954. Graduates of the Schneller Lutheran School and of the Lutheran School of Talitha Kumi who resided in Ramallah requested that a Lutheran church be established there. Also living in Ramallah were Lutherans who had taken refuge there after the war in 1948-49. Thirty-eight families were charter members of the congregation. The specific request for a Lutheran church in Ramallah was made of the heads of the church in Jerusalem. The Rev. Daoud Haddad, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem (later to become the first Bishop of the ELCJHL), came for two years to conduct worship services on Sunday afternoons. These services were held first in the Ramallah Quaker meeting house, and then in St. Andrew Episcopal Church. When the Rev. Bassem Nijim was called to serve the new Lutheran congregation in 1956, a house was rented to be a center for religious services and parish activities. The congregation was already raising money to build a new church building and a parsonage. The hope for a Lutheran school was also primary in the minds of the people.
Land was purchased and the parsonage was built in 1961. The cornerstone for the church building was laid in 1961 and the building was completed and dedicated in 1963. Pastor Nijim and the congregation were determined to establish a school to be connected to the Lutheran Church of Hope. In 1965 a kindergarten was started with ten students and two teachers. Each year after that classes were added. By 1975 a two-story school building had been constructed on a piece of land adjacent to the church. Children from kindergarten through grade nine were being taught. A third story was added in 1982, expanding the school to K-12 grades. More recently in 2001, a partial fourth story has been built on the school, housing a computer laboratory, a small performance hall and classrooms for music and art.
Pastor Nijim died in 1983, leaving a legacy of congregational and educational work in the Lutheran Church in Ramallah. His two daughters continue to live in the Ramallah and Jerusalem area. His wife and two sons are in California, USA.
The next pastor to serve the Lutheran Church of Hope was the Rev. Munib Younan, who today is the Bishop Emeritus of the ELCJHL. He was the pastor in Ramallah from 1984 until his consecration as bishop in 1998. The Rev. Ramez Ansara was the next pastor, having been ordained in the Lutheran Church of Hope by Bishop Emeritus Younan in 1999. Rev. Saliba Rishmawi was installed as pastor in March 2010.
Today the Lutheran Church of Hope congregation has about ninety-two Palestinian families (about 430 baptized members), nearly all of whom are refugees. Only two women in the congregation are descendants of the original founders of Ramallah; the others have come to Ramallah as refugees during the last fifty-five years (most after the 1948-49 war), primarily from Jaffa, Ramle and Lod, towns now inside the state of Israel. They have established themselves in businesses and homes in the Ramallah area but remember their towns of origin.
It is worth noting that more than 1,500 Lutherans from the Ramallah-area have emigrated over the years. Most are now living in the United States and Canada.
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The Ecumenical Grouping of Five Christian Churches in Ramallah
In 1995, the joint Lutheran-Anglican scouting program was established, enabling young people to grow in an ecumenical environment. The Lutheran-Anglican relationship is particularly strong and meaningful. The two congregations worship together at least ten times each year: Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, several times during Lent and all worship services during Holy Week.
Over the years, more and more ecumenical relationships have been established in Ramallah. Today, the five major Christian churches are joined in an ecumenical fellowship in which they partner in worship, education, community projects and social activities. The pastors and priests in the ecumenical grouping meet together often. Included in the ecumenical fellowship in Ramallah are the Greek Orthodox Church (Transfiguration of the Lord); the Roman Catholic Church (Holy Family); the Episcopal Evangelical Arab Church (St. Andrew’s); the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church (Annunciation); and the the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Hope).
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope also has important partnerships with the Grefson congregation in Oslo, Norway; with the Johannes Kirchengemeinde in Berlin; and with another German congregations in the Karlshorst parish, as well as many other contacts with other congregations in Europe and the United States. In addition to these connections, there are mutual efforts being made to establish partnerships with other churches around the world, especially in the USA and Tanzania.
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The Rev. Saliba Rishmawi previously served as the pastor of the Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah starting in March 2010 and ending in 2012.
The Rev. Ramez Ansara previously served as pastor of Hope. Pastor Ansara was born and raised in Ramallah. He received his theological training at the Lutheran Seminary in Tanzania, Africa, called Makumira University College. Classes at this seminary are taught primarily in English, but Swahili is the language of the people. Pastor Ansara can speak Swahili, and spent time with the Tanzanian people as well as studying at the seminary.
The Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan, Bishop Emeritus of the ELCJHL also previously served as pastor of the Ramallah congregation prior to being called to serve as Bishop, as well as during his first years as Bishop.
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Looking to the Future
A visit with the congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope will continue to reveal future hopes and dreams for congregation, school, and community. Recently, the cornerstone for a new school building for the Evangelical Lutehran School of Hope was laid, which, when finished, will be able to serve more than three times Hope’s current capacity. The Evangelical Lutheran School of Hope is also an active participate in the new ELCJHL Libraries Project: Opening a World of Possibilities, which is working to grow vibrant English-language language libraries in each of the four ELCJHL Schools. And plans for a combined community and health and wellness center are also in development.
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Sunday: 10:30 a.m.
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Rev. Imad Haddad
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope
Ramallah, Palestine (via Israel)