Bikfaya, Lebanon – On 22-23 January, The Executive Committee of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) held its third meeting at the Patriarchal See of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East in Atchane.
Bishop Ibrahim Azar is a member representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land which is a member of the MECC Evangelical Church Family.
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.
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.
Beirut, 24 March – The ELCJHL rejoices with The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon which ordained its second female pastor today in Beirut at Rabieh Church! Bishop Munib Younan was in attendance.
Sally Azar, who is a seminarian in Lebanon at the Near East School of Theology, said of Rev. Kassab’s ordination today and Rev. Sleiman’s last month:
“Watching all the women here (Lebanon); it gives me hope and strength for the future ministry in my church (ELCJHL).
Miss. Azar will be the ELCJHL’s first ordained woman.
Jerusalem, 14 January 2017 – Gathered in Beit Jala, Palestine, the Synod of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) elected The Rev. Ibrahim Azar, pastor of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem, as bishop-elect of the church.
In a democratic election, 38 voting members of the ELCJHL voted for Rev. Azar, the only candidate on the ballot, as the bishop-elect. The ELCJHL synod emerged following the vote.
During the synodical meeting, the members also elected The Rev. Samer N. Azar, pastor of The Evangelical Lutheran Good Shepherd Church, Jordan, as president of the synod, Mr. Anton Nassar, member of The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church Bethlehem as deputy president, and Ms. Muna Tannous, member of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope Ramallah as secretary. The synod also elected a church council which is composed of The Right Rev. Dr. Bishop Munib Younan, synod president Rev. Azar, Mr. Ghessan Kasabrah, of Jerusalem, Mr. Adel Khader of Bethlehem, Mr. Rifat Qassis, and Mr. Issa Muraibe. All church council officials will serve a 5-year term.
“I am very happy that the unity of the church has been maintained. I will continue in my capacity as the bishop of the church to keep the unity that is a living witness for our church and for others,” Bishop Younan said.
Bishop-elect Azar was born June 22, 1961. Rev. Azar is a product of The Evangelical Lutheran Schools in Palestine, graduating from The Evangelical Lutheran School of Bethlehem in 1979. Rev. Azar earned his theology degree from Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich, Germany in 1987. He was ordained in 1988.
Rev. Azar is married to Nahla Elias Azar, and has three daughters, Sally, Sama and Jihan Azar.
Bishop Younan was consecrated Bishop of the ELCJHL in 1998 and is the third Palestinian bishop of the ELCJHL which was founded by Germans and had been previously led by German clergy.
Among his duties, Bishop Younan governs six Palestinian Lutheran churches and four schools developed for Palestinian children. He launched and built the church and pilgrimage center at the baptismal site on the Jordan River and oversees several other congregational and global developmental programs.
In 2010, Bishop Younan was elected president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a global communion of 145 churches in the Lutheran tradition represented in 98 countries.
The ELCJHL is one of the LWF member churches, serving approximately 3,000 local members.
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Amman, 6 September 2016 –Leaders and delegates from the member churches that constitute the four families of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) gathered in Amman, Jordan for its 11th General Assembly. The four families of Christian churches: Oriental Orthodox Family, Orthodox Family, Evangelical Family and the Catholic Family gathered this week with a theme from Psalm 136:1 “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever.”
The General Assembly was hosted by Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem. The Assembly met for the first time in Jordan with a cordial welcome from His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein of Jordan.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land His Grace Bishop Munib A. Younan’s term as the Evangelical Family president ended. MECC offered, as a token of appreciation, to recognize Bishop Younan and the other previous presidents of church families as Honorary Presidents.
The Council reaffirmed its mission of Christian unity to gather churches of the Middle East and to be a communication tool between each other so that they remain in permanent relationship and face the difficulties together.
“Today it is Our Lord Jesus who gathers us as one holy universal apostolic church, and He is in our midst. He is the one who unites us and confirms our mission to carry together, each in their own way, the Gospel of love in the Middle East,” Bishop Younan spoke to the assembly.
After years of internal and external challenges, the MECC vowed to renew the organization and stand steadfast in its mission to Middle Eastern Christians through the love of Christ and the mercy of the Lord.
The Assembly of Heads of churches, Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Archbishops, Bishops, and Reverends announced that it will restore confidence in its message of hope, service and social justice.
“Reinvigorating the MECC is both a Christian and a national duty… We must proclaim words of comfort, words o equality, words of inclusion, words honoring diversity and pluralism, words of justice, words of freedom of religion,” Bishop Younan said.
Call to Action from Western Churches
The council also emphasized the necessity of churches in the West to partner with churches in the east.
“We are not asking the world for protection, but for peace!” Patriarch of Antioch and All the East for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, Youhanna X, said.
General Secretary Father Michel Jalakh called on members to compose a document from member churches that address MECC thinking, the common denominator among them and their view about the external forces, thus helping the West to better understand the reality of churches in the East.
Due to immigration and movement, then president of the Oriental Orthodox Family , His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, asked members to remember Middle Eastern churches in diaspora.
“We must be in cooperation with our diaspora church. We have become global churches. But know that our roots are here, our community is global, and we have a common responsibility to help the diaspora of the Middle East.”
Remember Rootedness in the Region
Acknowledging the challenges of the region, The MECC Keynote address by Catholicos Aram I urged the council to recall its deep rootedness,
“Stay in the Middle East, and stay rooted. “Christianity is the root of this region, not the branch,” Catholicos Aram I said.
Members discussed ways in which Christian-Muslim relations are vital to the region and developing methods to maintain relations between the two, encouraging the Council that relations today can mirror the cooperation of the two religions from decades past in which Muslim and Christians lived with respect of each other.
“Pope Francis has called this the year of mercy, and so the church is finding acceptance in the Muslim community because the church is entering with mercy.” Father Bader.
His Grace Bishop Younan said, “…the Church in the Middle East must work with people of good conscience from every religion as our companions in this one motherland, to implant these noble and sublime common values.”
Responsibility for Diakonia and Social Justice
In the spirit of MECC’s pledge to promote social reconciliation and ease human suffering through diakonia and social justice, the Assembly outlined its service projects to date: Aiding displaced families in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan through its member churches.
The Assembly also collectively agreed to respect the historical status quo of worship spaces including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians and the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims.
“We are called to continue to raise our voice against oppression, against extremism, against occupation, against injustice, against displacement and persecution. We will continue to raise our voice in support of justice, peace, equality, and reconciliation,” said Bishop Younan.
In Other MECC Business
New presidents for the church families were also elected at the General Assembly:
Metropolitan Mar Theophilos George Saliba for the Pre-Chacedonian Family; Patriarch John of Antioch for the Orthodox Family; Right Rev. Dr. Habib Badr for the Evangelical Family; and Mar Raphael Luis Sako for the Latin Family. Dr. Michel Jalakh was reelected General Secretary.
LWF President Bishop Munib A. Younan’s Speech to the Assembly: