A three-denomination delegation begins nine-day journey of the Middle East
Seven faith leaders from three Protestant denominations are coming together in a nine day journey to the Middle East this week.
Executives of the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Canada will be visiting both common and unique partners in Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.
The traveling party is made up of these six national executives:
- UCC General Minister and President the Rev. John Dorhauer
- UCC Associate General Minister the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, who leads Wider Church Ministries and serves as co-executive of Global Ministries
- Disciples General Minister and President the Rev. Teresa ‘Terri’ Hord Owens
- President, Disciples Overseas Ministries and Global Ministries co-executive, the Rev. Marco Cable
- United Church of Canada Executive Minister, Theological Leadership, the Rev. Jennifer Janzen-Ball
- United Church of Canada Executive Minister, Church in Mission Unit, the Rev. Japhet Ndhlovu
Completing the delegation is Global Ministries’ Peter Makari, global relations minister for the Middle East and Europe. During the trip, April 19-28, the faith leaders will be visiting with a dozen partners at a time of economic and political crises in the region, when their work and witness are especially important. The visit is one of accompaniment, solidarity and immersion.
“I am looking forward to being present with the partners in the region again and to holding the tensions of the journey ahead,” said Thompson. She is serving two roles, as the current elected officer leading Wider Church Ministries and as the candidate to be the UCC’s next General Minister and President.
The trip, originally planned for UCC and Disciples executives in September 2020, was curtailed because of the pandemic. When plans were resurrected, the two denominations extended the invitation to the United Church of Canada, as all three churches are in full communion with each other.
“Preparations in 2020 didn’t get very far, since we had to postpone a full half-year before the trip,” Makari said. “The purpose was the same as it is now – engagement, accompaniment and solidarity with partners – but the context has shifted with Lebanon in an extreme financial/economic crisis; the region impacted by the Ukraine war; and the consequences of a very right-wing coalition now in power in Israel.”
UCC General Minister and President Dorhauer anticipates reconnecting with people he’s met during previous trips to the Middle East.
“(I’m looking forward to) a falafel wrap at my favorite vendor in Old City Jerusalem. Returning to so many places and people and hearing their stories about their own courage in the struggles for peace and justice,” he said.
The delegation will begin its journey in Lebanon, arriving in Beirut on Wednesday, April 19, traveling to Jordan on April 21, and then to Palestine on April 23. The trip concludes with worship and a walking tour of Jerusalem on April 27.
In addition to scheduled meetings, the group will also visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Jesus’ baptismal site at the Jordan River.
Dorhauer is interested in hearing about the people in the refugee camp in Jordan that he’s been to twice before, and he said, “as I say that, I am aware of how devastating it must be for those Syrian refugees to still be there seven years later.”
He’s humbled “receiving the hospitality of folk who, though their suffering is real, still take great pride and joy in receiving you into their homes, even if they are tents in a refugee camp in the middle of the desert.”
He and the other travelers will be sharing their experiences in a daily blog that can be found here on the Global Ministries website.
“We imagine that we will be able to offer reflections from the Middle East at a particularly challenging time, to share about what we see and experience, and to convey the ongoing witness and work of partners,” Makari said.
Dorhauer, who will write about the trip to the West Bank, said this experience will be bittersweet as it is the last overseas trip of his tenure as GMP.
“I attach a good deal of meaning to that, especially since everywhere we are going on the trip is with people and to places I have already been before,” he said. “I have deeply treasured the opportunity to be present and witness to the work being done by our overseas partners. This has always been a delight for me, and a true honor to be asked to do that. I will miss it greatly.”
Thompson, as the candidate chosen by the United Church of Christ Board to succeed him, sees it as a “moment of transition,” in which she can learn from Dorhauer as he prepares to leave after she is presented for election at General Synod.
“This visit will be an opportunity to reflect on the role in which I have been leading as AGM for Wider Church Ministries and the possibilities which will emerge in leadership as GMP,” she said. “Traveling with the leadership and representatives of these three denominations opens us to conversations about what might be next in the future for us in these full communion relationships we hold with The United Church of Canada and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).”
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