EAPPI Handover 68 to 69!

One of the most encouraging parts of my life here in Israel Palestine is the quarterly handover service for the teams of Ecumenical Accompanyists (EA’s). The Ecumenical Accompanyment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is a programme of the World Council of Churches and every quarter teams of 25 to 30 people between the ages of 20 and 70 come to join one of seven teams monitoring the situation in the West Bank. The programme is supported by Israelis and Palestinians and that is always reflected in the Handover Service held this time at the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem.

There have now been 68 teams serving for a full three months, and the service sees one group of  EA’s handing over to the next group – now team 69. I was an EA five years ago and my team number was 47. It makes me feel old!

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Rabbi Tehiel Grenimann addressing the service.

At the heart of the service is a ceremony where candles lighted by the old team light candles held by the new as the handover of the work takes place. As they do so these words are spoken, (Team name as appropriate):

”We pass on to you the calling to walk in the light with the people of Yanoun. May you walk with kindness, hope, patience and love so that you are blessed and are a blessing to all.

Incoming Team We accept the challenge to live and witness as EA’s in Yanoun. We thank you for your work, your love and the commitment you have given to the people of Israel – Palestine. Now take the gratitude of the people, the encounters and experiences you had, and the love of God back home with you, and tell your stories boldly!”

Do please pray for the incoming team 69 and the departing EA’s as they readjust to normal life – I know that it is not easy.

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Sometimes its about the height of frustration!

I often get asked what it’s like living in the West Bank. Often they are asking about security, crossing checkpoints and managing issues such as the water, living amongst Muslims, the traffic. All of these have their frustrations, and sometimes their joys. Often though its about uncertainties, not knowing quite what will happen next – I was driving home the other day and saw all the cars hurriedly turning round in front of me – then I heard the tear gas and realised that it was a Friday and it wasn’t a good idea to go down the Hebron Road!

But then there is also the languages, I am trying to learn Arabic. It’s a struggle but it is certainly a help. Hebrew is beyond me! Managing simple things then become everso stressful.

I discovered a month back that we are paying well over the odds for phone and internet at the office using two companies Beseq and Netvision. The services have been provided by them for years and things have moved on since the contracts were set up. After talking with our United Methodist Co-Ordinator in the U.S. I agreed to sort out getting the phone and WiFi from the same provider, and at a much better price. It sounded simple at the time!

The first problem was contacting them. Phone them up and the message is in Hebrew. I asked a friend who speaks Hebrew to listen to it and – after going through three selections – there is in Hebrew the phrase “For English press 4.” ! When I did so they managed to tell me that they couldn’t do anything with the account until I had the passport number and last four digits of the credit card used. A week later I obtained these (they weren’t mine) and I tried again on the phone. No English option left. All I wanted to do was to cancel the WiFi. Finally the IT person at Tantur said that he would do it. That was a week ago. Last time I spoke to him he said that he had tried them time and again and they kept saying they’d call back – and they hadn’t.

That however was the simple one! I took on the phone provider and intended getting our WiFi from the same company. It seemed that there was no choice but to use Baseq as they provided the land lines here. Using the phone was again impossible but they at least had a shop – in East Jerusalem. On the first of January the land line (and therefore the WiFi) had stopped working. So I visited their shop. They told me that the bill hadn’t been paid (it seems that the credit card had been cancelled), and so that was why the phone was off. I paid the bill and was assured that the line would be on again. Back to the office the following day – and the phone still didn’t work. Pressure of time meant that it was a week later before I could go back. When I did they said “there is now a fault on the line we can’t help call 166, its a free phone number” Guess what – its in Hebrew. So I asked if there was an English voice – oh yes press 4.  Off I went to a quiet place to call. After a call of 20 minutes I was informed – for the next sequence you need to be at the phone in question.

I returned o the office. Repeated the twenty minutes of selcting options and confirmed that I was not by the phone. The electronic operator kindly informed me that there was a fault on the line (which I already knew!) and said that I would now be put in contact with an operator. “Sorry no English speaking operators are available.” Line went dead. Tried to remake the call to hear from my phone “you have no credit left please recharge your credit.”

Back to the shop again – “you said it was a freephone service.” “Ah well only from Beseq numbers,” “but I wouldn’t want to phone it if my beseq line was working….!”

Very helpfully that said that they would iPhone an engineer. They did so and were told that someone would call me back. – Guess what —- no one has!

Well its now been over a month with no landline phone and no WiFi ar the Office, and it looks like another trip to the Beseq shop!

I hate to think what my blood pressure is now!!!

Skiing – ….in Israel????

My daughter Ceri and her husband Will came here for a few days and so we headed north – through the Jordan Valley to the heights of Hermon. There were rumours of snow, and as we drove the heavens opened and it poured with rain!!

We looked anxiously at the outside temperature and decided that it was likely to be falling as snow at least at the top. Sure enough as we arrived north of Galilee you could see snow on the slopes. Saturday dawned with the news from the web site that Hermon remained storm bound – but the prospect for Sunday was better, and so early on Sunday morning we set off and sure enough the slopes were open for Skiing for the first time this winter!

There  are subtle differences Skiing in Israel! In the Alps skiers divide almost equally men and women. On Hermon there must have been twenty men for every woman skiing.  Then there is the age thing. My grey hairs single me out – I must have been at least ten years the oldest on the slopes – in Europe I have quite a few folk of my age on the slopes with me!

And then there is the military – with the border of both Syria and Lebanon so close by there are military bases, soldiers and equipment around – even on the slopes themselves!

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(Photo Will Hopkin)

It’s always good to have conversations with other Skiers – and I did so with quite a few people. They were largely summed up by the comment of one of the lift attendants – you come from England to ski on Hermon….why? Arn’t the Alps closer!

We had a great day skiing on Mount Hermon. Even though the clouds came across – we ended up sun burn on our faces! At the same time my aging knees were complaining of over work by the evening. – It’s a rough old deal being here in Israel Palestine!!!

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St Andrew’s Tiberias – Reopening.

Part of my work here is as an Associate Minister at the Church of Scotland. There is a small ecumenical team of us and we seek both to support each other and the Ministry of the Church of Scotland in the Holy Land. There is the Church of Scotland’s only School – the Tabitha School in Jaffa – and I do assemblies there form time to time, there is St Andrew’s Jerusalem which is my usual place of worship on a Sunday and St Andrews Tiberias where I preach from time to time. I have blogged about this in the past.

The building at Tiberias has been very run down. It is located just a short distance from the Sea of Galilee and many pass it on their way down to the shore line. However it has been greatly in need of renovation, including a new roof. Over the period of the work I was in Tiberias a couple of times and couldn’t get over how they could take the roof off and leave it off for weeks – knowing it wouldn’t rain – you could never do that in Britain!

On 24th January the building was reopened with a warm celebration on site and the building really does look so improved. Some of the original stone work has been revealed, the plaster work has been restored, and painted so that it contrasts with the stone work. The whole building now has a fresh, contemporary feel to it and the small congregation there are very pleased with it. For the opening event the congregation was joined by the Mayor of Tiberias, the local Catholic and Orthodox Priests, a delegation from Scotland, local partners of the Church of Scotland, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who performed the opening ceremony.

Some photos of the occasion:

Kate – the minister there, asked me to publicise that as well as groups being welcome to join the congregation at 6pm every Sunday – the building is available to be used for communion services – and located next to the Sea of Galilee its a great place to use. So – if you are taking a group to Galilee – why not drop in and use the building!

Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity- Jerusalem.

The main churches of Jerusalem share in the Week of Prayer for Christioan Unity through eight services in  Churches of the Old City. It’s an annual event that I thoroughly enjoy, and there does seem to be genuine warmth in the relations between the Church Leaders – despite there being differences in their churchmanship, political views and liturgical styles.

I thought that I might give a flavour of it through a slide show. Enjoy!

The photo of the organist at St George’s is there in tribute to the way she played Bach at the end of the service!

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The visit of the U.S. Vice President.

I was trying to get into Jerusalem to share in the Week of prayer for Christian Unity Service at St. George’s Cathederal, and as the traffic ground to a halt I discovered that the road in front of the King David Hotel was shut. Leaving the car where I could I walked by the quickest route, passing the front of the hotel. Outside it I saw the multiple posters as below.0D217E68-96A5-4920-A17E-FAFA42439B4C

Is it to wonder that the Palestinian leadership no longer consider the United States as a credible broker for peace?

Walking through the Jaffa Gate I realised the huge numbers of soldiers and “Border Police” present. Then a cavalcade of cars arrived – and Mike Pense was visiting the Old City.

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It was a very different scene in Bethlehem this morning – a general strike has been called and all the schools, colleges and government institutions are closed. It is very unclear what the future holds in the West Bank. The Israeli Government clearly believe that with the unqualified support of the present U.S. Government they can do as they like in regard to the Palestinians. The Palestinian aspiration for a State seem more distant than ever. This is breeding an attitude of despair in the West Bank.

Yesterday I had read to me a document called “leaflet 7.” It is written in Arabic and that still remains beyond me! It came from Fatah and called for the general strike taking place today. But it also echo’d the PLO call for ongoing resistence and used the word “Uprising” in Arabic  – Intifada,  – associated so clearly with the two times of outright resistence that took place. For Fatah to do so is significant and raises the question of how the Palestinian Authority’s Security Forces will respond to todays strike and the inevitable demonstrations that that implies. The P.A. has said that it would stop co-operating with the Israeli Security forces as a result of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem. If they do then the level of violence will inevitably rise.

We are tottering on the verge of very dangerous times.

Greek Orthodox Service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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Part of the elaborate ceiling to the Calvery section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

In Jerusalem the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is cellebrated with services in each of the seven churches of the Jerusalem Church Leaders. Each year it begins with an invitation to join the Greek Orthodox Church in the conducting of Compline at the Calvery section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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The service was conducted in Greek and as a result there were not many there who were able to join in! We watched and were being at one with each other by being there. Interestingly the time when many of the congregation was able to join in was in a section of the service that was in Latin! Many there knew the words and suddenly the volume of the congregational responses increased at least fourfold!

The service concluded with the Greek Patriach kissing the Calvery Stone, and then the others involved in the service doing so. Then the usual procession of pilgrims coming to the stone was resumed.

The ecumenical congregation was invited downstairs into the vestry rooms. Soft drinks, knaffe and chocolates were offered round and we were invited to view the relics. This is so far removed from my religious practice that I was very curious to see what was there! I had seen them last year but wanted to refresh my memory. I find it bizarre – but there is no denying that these artefacts mean a lot to many people.  The foot of saint …. or the finger of saint … . They do provide a dramatic example of the continuity of the church through the centuries. Here were a scull, bones from feet, hands and arms, that come from Christians living (in some cases) just a couple of hundred years after Jesus did. The room had ancient and modern icons, and a beautiful picture of Mary (see slide show).

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The scull of one of the ancient saints.

The diversity of Christian practice and liturgy is something few Christians in the West have any idea of. It is a privilage to be here in Jerusalem and have the chance to share in the worship life of churches so totally different from my own.

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