Room at the inn: Diocese of Jerusalem planning Bethlehem ‘guest house’ for pilgrims

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The planned site, Binder says, would be a five-minute walk from Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, shown here. Photo: Volkova Natalia

Anglican pilgrims to Bethlehem could have their own place to stay and worship in the city in as few as two or three years, a priest with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem says.

In February 2019, the diocese announced that Archbishop Suheil Dawani, diocesan bishop of Jerusalem and primate of the province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, had met the mayor of Bethlehem, Anton Salman, to talk about the diocese’s plans for a “World Anglican Centre” in the city of Christ’s birth—the first official Anglican presence in the city.

The diocese said it had no churches in Bethlehem because the Episcopal and Lutheran churches had, many years ago, agreed to divide the area around Jerusalem between them for their mission, with the Lutherans taking the land to the south of Jerusalem and the Anglicans the area to the north.

Canon Donald Binder, chaplain to the archbishop, says the 1841 agreement with the Lutherans informally lapsed over the years, with the Lutherans, for example, now having a presence in Ramallah north of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, he says, the diocese discovered that it owned some property in Bethlehem— buildings now being used for a school, about a five-minute walk from Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. Local authorities have ruled that the diocese can now take possession of them, he says, and the diocese is now negotiating a move-in date with the school, which will move to another location in the city.

The idea is that the diocese will then renovate the buildings for use as a combined retreat centre with meeting rooms, chapel and guest house, Binder says—meaning pilgrims to the city would have a place to stay overnight.

“It will be a wonderful thing because it will be our first presence there in that city, which is only six miles away from St. George’s Cathedral [in Jerusalem], but it’s a world away because it’s in the West Bank, it’s behind the wall.”

The diocese is hoping to open the facility in two to three years, he says—though he cautions that the preparations involved could take longer.

“It’s not going to happen right away,” Binder says. “They say the word ‘Inshallah’ around here a lot, which means ‘God willing,’ and the reason for that is that Middle Eastern time doesn’t work like Western time—it’s much slower because of all the bureaucratic and political implications around any major decision, it seems. So we’ll see.”

The diocese isn’t able to say how many guest rooms it plans for the facility because it hasn’t yet had a chance to inspect the property, he says.

The diocese is now in the process of renovating a property in Nazareth, to turn it into a 60-room guest house for pilgrims. Income from that guest house will go toward repaying the loan for the renovation work and for the diocese’s charitable ministry, he says, and a similar financial model is planned for the Bethlehem centre.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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