Despite the continuing violence in the Gaza Strip, bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) proceeded with their plans to travel to the Middle East from Jan. 6 to 13. The delegation was scheduled to travel to Jerusalem Tuesday, Jan. 6.
The delegation, which includes ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, is in the Middle East to express support for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), “to learn more about the realities of living in the Middle East and to advocate for peace,” the ELCIC said in a press statement. The bishops were also travelling to the Middle East as part of their 2009 Academy, a time for theological reflection and study held every year.
Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the ELCJHL, and the Lutheran World Federation, said the visit was “a tragic and opportune time for North American Lutherans to visit their partners in Palestine. They will have a unique opportunity to witness the challenges of living in this disputed land.”
ELCIC and ELCA bishops and staff monitored the situation in Israel and Gaza last week and discussed the possibility of reducing the size of the delegation because of security concerns. In the end, the bishops decided that the visit should proceed as planned “with bishops from both churches participating as possible.” A delegation of seven Lutheran bishops, including Bishops Johnson and Hanson, were already in Amman, Jordan, from Jan. 3 to 5. They will be joined by 29 more bishops from the ELCA and four more bishops from the ELCIC in the Israel and West Bank portion of the visit.
Meanwhile, at a worship service Jan. 4 at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Bishop Hanson said he and other church leaders from the U.S. and Canada were committing themselves to pray for peace in the Middle East. “He (Bishop Hanson) said he fears people in the United States view the Middle East in its complexity, which prevents speaking clearly for an end to violence, for the withdrawing of Israeli troops from Gaza, for a return to negotiations, for a re-establishment of human rights, and for an opening of borders so that medicine and basic necessities can get to the people of Gaza,” said the press statement.