Monday, 15 October 2012

VP - Birmingham to Bethlehem

On Monday and Tuesday it was off to Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference. The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) had again enabled the joint-Churches group to meet politicians such as Eric Pickles and Dominic Grieve, Attorney General. I also had time to hear Jeremy Hunt in the Hall extol the virtues and significance of the NHS. No time in a blog for analytical comment, but the Tory view on coalition government was different to the LibDems two weeks ago. I was also given the opportunity to take part in the devotions at the Prayer Breakfast, which led to some interesting conversations afterwards. Upper Boddington's Church Council on Tuesday evening was a welcome change! Very recently I had been asked to represent the Church at the opening of the Methodist Liaison office in Tantur, near Jerusalem. So on Wednesday it was off to Luton Airport for Easyjet's flight to Tel Aviv. Evening in Bethlehem. At 5 am on Thursday morning I was being herded through the 'cattle pens' with all the Palestinian workers trying to get to Jerusalem to their daily work. It was my first time of crossing the wall and I found it a de-humanising process - but those around me did it every day. I marvel at their patience. The Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAPPI) were splendid people from all over the world, including 19 year old Alex, a Methodist from Brazil (see photo), and clearly all were deeply moved and troubled by what they were experiencing day in and day out.
Later on Thursday we moved to Tantur Ecumenical Institute where the new Methodist Liaison office will be housed, two rooms financed mainly by the UMC, with British help, on behalf of the World Methodist Council. Its main purposes will be to provide balanced information on what is happening in Israel/Palestine; to enable Methodist Churches to connect with local ecumenical initiatives in I/P; to encourage theological reflection and dialogue; and to facilitate visits for the increasing number of pilgrims and volunteers to I/P.
At the opening, to which about 100 people were invited, Theophilus, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem attended - rather unexpectedly! It was therefore appropriate that he should bless the offices. Also in the picture are Bishop Hope Ward (UMC) and Thomas Kemper (Gen Board Global Ministries). It all demonstrated the sensitive ecumenical approach that has been made so far with this new venture for the worldwide Methodist family. Thanks are due to Janet Lahr Lewis (a UMC missionary) who has been working in the Jerusalem area for the last 20 years.

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