On June 1, the inaugural observation of Jerusalem Sunday in Canadian Anglican churches, Archbishop Fred Hiltz spoke about the ways that ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem reflects Jesus's own focus on teaching, healing and peace-building.
At the Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto, Dean Douglas Stoute's opening remarks explained how the first Sunday after the Ascension of the Lord has been chosen as “a time for the church in Canada to remember particularly the life of the church in Jerusalem, which, as you can imagine, is certainly interesting but difficult at times.” He noted that a very large part of the Christian community in the region is Palestinian.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate, delivered the homily on the ministries of the church in Jerusalem, opening on the theme of the Ascension, at which Christ told his disciples they were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth.
He began by recalling the words of Canon John Peterson, former secretary general of the Anglican Communion, on the powerful symbolism of the empty tomb uniquely housed in the diocese's Cathedral Church of St. George. “Our roots stem from this empty tomb...this tomb makes us all citizens of Jerusalem,” he said.
His homily spoke of a diocese that bears witness to the Christian gospel amid constant strife, inequity and violence. Covering five countries, the jurisdiction comprises 7,000 Episcopalians, 23 parishes and 38 institutions.
Speaking of the suitability of choosing this particular day to celebrate Jerusalem, the archbishop echoed earlier statements on the good fit between the liturgical propers for Ascension Sunday and Jerusalem Sunday. “The beauty is that we are already there...with the readings for the day,” he said. “We've celebrated the occasion; we know we've been commissioned; we know we have the Lord's promise and we await, as the disciples did long ago, the fresh outpouring of the spirit on us.”
The new observance, he added, provides a learning opportunity to see in this diocese “the story of the few serving the many, regardless of race, religion, gender or socioeconomic status. The witness of the church in Jerusalem is the witness of the few serving thousands and thousands in the name of Jesus.”
The primate went on to show how closely each mission of the diocese, under Suheil Dawani, the fourth in its line of four Arab bishops, takes its direction from Christ himself and the inclusive ministries conducted by Jesus when he walked the Holy Land centuries ago. “Jesus welcomed; he didn't divide and separate; he opened his arms to one and all.”
Like Christ, the Diocese of Jerusalem is deeply committed to the ministry of hospitality, much of which is centred in the compound that is home to St. George's Cathedral, St. George's College and St. George's Guest House. Each year, these institutions welcome and teach large numbers of pilgrims and students.
In Jordan, the diocese has been given 2.5 acres of land by the king to develop a baptismal site in honour of Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan. It will become a destination for retreat, pilgrimage and reconciliation, and will serve the diocese, the Anglican Communion and the whole church. “It's all rooted in the ministry of hospitality, opening the doors, lifting the gates, welcoming people in to this place called holy by Christians, Jews and Muslims,” the primate said.
In honour of Christ's ministry as a teacher, the diocese is also deeply committed to education. It operates 21 schools that welcome 7,000 students of different faiths from kindergarten to vocational college, teaching them a wide range of skills and holding out hope of a better and more peaceful future for Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, and fostering mutual respect and understanding as they learn together.
Jesus healed the sick. He had the common touch and did not shy away from the untouchables, Hiltz said. In recognition of this, the diocese is deeply committed to health care. He singled out the Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children, noting how Canadian bishops from the ecclesiastical province of Canada on the east coast rallied to raise funds to reopen the centre's hydrotherapy pool, which had been forced to cease operation due to lack of money.
He mentioned the devoted staff at St. Luke's Hospital in Nablus and spoke of the Penman Clinic in Zababdeh, a facility in the West Bank that serves more than 12,000 people a year from 13 surrounding villages. As a true companion of the diocese, the Canadian church has made a substantial gift to the clinic.
“And Jesus preached peace, from the mountaintop, from inside the upper room and as he hung on that cross,” the primate said. “He was proclaiming peace and reconciliation amongst one another and with God.” Bishop Suheil, too, is continuing that ministry of peace and reconciliation, which, the bishop says, is “best served by dialogue, not debate.” Among other reconciliatory measures, the bishop was instrumental in establishing Kids4Peace, a movement that brings together young Muslims, Jews and Christians and their families to break down walls and build bridges for a more peaceful future.
“Jesus welcomed people; Jesus taught people; Jesus preached peace; Jesus healed the sick,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “These are the pillars on which rest the ministries of the Diocese of Jerusalem.”
As we give thanks for the Lord's commissioning us to be his witnesses unto the ends of the earth, the primate said, we should give particular thanks for the way that witness is borne out in the Diocese of Jerusalem under such difficult circumstances. He asked for the congregation's prayers for Bishop Suheil and all the clergy, parishes and institutions in the diocese that support the ministries of the gospel.
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Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.
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