Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Two Arab-Christian-Palestinian-Israeli-Episcopal Churches

St. Matthew's Zababdeh (Greene photo)
Sunday morning, we drove to Zababdeh, a West Bank town with a Christian majority.  We attended church at St. Matthews Episcopal Church, part of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem.  Father Nael Abu Rahmoun, the priest, told us that since the town was Christian, the laws of the Palestine Authority said it had to have a Christian mayor.  The town has a Greek Orthodox, a Roman Catholic, a Melkite Catholic and an Episcopal church.  St. Matthews runs a health clinic and teaches classes in Hebrew, English and Italian for the community.  They also run children’s Christian education classes, a Vacation Bible School for their parish and an interfaith summer program.  The service was conducted in mostly in Arabic, as it is every Sunday, with Fr. Nael using English for some of the prayers and Bishop Sean concelebrating and praying some of the Eucharistic Prayer in English.  The parishioners used their hymnal, which contains Arabic texts to many familiar tunes including “What a Friend We Have In Jesus”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Ode to Joy”, and “Slane.”  While they sang in Arabic, a projection screen flashed English words for us to sing along.  We also recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Creeds in our own languages.  The Eucharistic Service Booklet for the Diocese of Jerusalem includes five different Eucharistic prayers from a variety of Anglican prayerbooks.  We had a copy of the booklet in English and Arabic copies were in the pews.

Fr. Nael and Bishop Sean (Greene photo)
After the service, Fr. Nael had to run to do another service in a neighboring town to cover for a priest who was on vacation (NWPA and the Holy Land aren’t so different!).  His wife, Mira, and their two-year-old Clara gave us a tour of their outreach projects.  Then the congregation hosted us for a wonderful lunch which is called “upside-down.”  They brought in a huge pot with rice, chicken, cauliflower, carrots and spices, then they put a pan on top of it and flipped the whole thing over.  Delicious! 


Today (Tuesday) we drove from Nazareth to another Galilean town called Shefa’Amr.  (I’ll catch up the trip to Nazareth as soon as I can.  Both Nazareth and Shefa’Amr are within the borders of Israel proper.)   In Shefa’Amr, we met with Fr. Fuad Dagher at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  He talked about his own background as someone born into the Episcopal Church who went on to ministry right after school, serving in Jerusalem and Lebanon before returning to his native area.  Then he talked about his identity and the identity of many of his parishioners.  He said, “I am Arab, Christian, Palestinian, Israeli, and Episcopalian.”  Then he unpacked each of these. 

The Lord's Prayer in Arabic at St. Paul's Community Center (Greene Photo)
He is Arab, but not Muslim, noting that not all Arabs are Muslim, and not all Muslims are Arab.  In fact, Arabs were Christians 600 years before Mohammed was born. (Read Acts 2 – notice anybody surprising that was present at the first Pentecost!)  He noted that he prays to Allah, which is simply the name for God in Arabic and not a specifically Moslem God.  (In fact, Allah is closely related to the Hebrew word for God, which is El.  Both come from the same Semitic language root.)

Fr. Fuad said that he is Christian, but that doesn’t mean he is a recent convent.  Many Evangelicals he meets seem to think that an Arab or a Palestinian Christian must have become one recently, but he could even be called a cradle Episcopalian. 

He is a Palestinian, being part of a family that was native to the land before the State of Israel was created in 1948.  At the same time, he is a citizen of the State of Israel.  Living within the borders of Israel before the Six Days War, he has the right to vote and he pays taxes to the Israeli government.  He has an Israeli passport.  At the same time, being a Christian makes him a minority within a minority.  Palestinians are about 20% of the population within Israel, but Christian Palestinians are only about 1.5% of the Israeli population (there are other Messianic Jewish Christians, but I don’t have statistics for that group at this point).  Finally, Fr. Fuad is Episcopalian, but not British (or American).  As we noted tonight in our group reflections, often in America we don’t realize that when we speak of Arabs in the Middle East, we are talking about Christians as well as Moslems.   

St. Paul's Community Center (Green photo)
Fr. Fuad gave us a tour of the new community center St. Paul’s had built over the last two years with generous support from the Diocese of Los Angeles and contributions from throughout their local community.  The center has large terrace overlooking a courtyard that is used for concerts, plays and other events, as well as three interior rooms for any number of community gatherings.  Part of the beauty of the construction was that the entire community offered contributions of time, talent and treasure.  His parishioners contributed, but so did the Christians from the Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic and Roman Catholic churches.  Moslem and Druse neighbors worked beside their Christian brothers and sisters, and Jewish experts provided construction consultation.  Everybody worked together to build something good for their common community. 

Fr. Fuad: "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem" (Green Photo)
Before we left his church, Fr. Fuad pulled out his guitar and sang a song about praying for the peace of Jerusalem.  The tune is easy and catchy, and I hope we’ll have opportunities to sing it when we return to the states.  We visited the local Melkite church with Fr. Fuad, as well.  The priest there, Fr. Andrew, works closely with Fr. Fuad, and their parishes do a lot together.   The church looked very much like an Orthodox Church.  They had icons throughout the church, although Fr. Andrew noted that underneath many of the icons was the name of the donor which he did not feel was appropriate. They also had a laptop on shelf with a camera to put their liturgies on the internet for shut-ins!

We had lunch with Fr. Fuad at a local restaurant that specialized in schwarma – the meat in gyros in the United States.  They also had meat kabobs that were the closest thing to hamburger we’ve had here.  Both of the meats, along with the hummus and other vegetable appetizers, were excellent.  Then our schedule noted “a treat you will not want to miss!!”  Next to the restaurant was a shop that made their own   ice cream.  They were famous for a pistachio flavor that was mixed with vanilla.  Our guide told us, “You Americans all love ice cream,” and we all did love this ice cream.

No comments:

Post a Comment