Methodist Church to Open New Office in the Holy Land

Date Posted: 4/23/2012

The Methodist Church is increasing its ministry in the world with a new office in the Holy Land. Serving the global Methodist family, the office will expand current work and will in part be a base for educating Holy Land pilgrims about a range of Middle Eastern and Israeli/Palestinian issues. The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church is developing the Methodist liaison office in partnership with the British Methodist Church and the World Methodist Council.

Thomas Kemper, who leads Global Ministries, outlined the plans to directors at the semi-annual meeting last month. According to Kemper the office will “embody our commitments to peace and justice and underscore our concern for the future of the declining Palestinian Christian community.”

The United Methodist Church has four missionaries and a mission intern in the region. Janet Lahr Lewis is the United Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel. She reports that officially expanding the liaison office will help accommodate the increasing response of the global Methodist church to the call for justice and peace from indigenous churches.

Part of the 2009 Kairos Palestine document says: "In order to understand our reality, we say to the Churches: Come and see. We will fulfill our role to make known to you the truth of our reality, receiving you as pilgrims coming to us to pray, carrying a message of peace, love, and reconciliation. You will know the facts and the people of this land, Palestinians and Israelis alike."

According to Kemper, this is exactly what the office will help facilitate. “These holy places are not just tourist destinations—they are places where Methodists can learn from and stand in solidarity with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ.”

The new Methodist liaison office will act as a catalyst for uniting the Methodist family of churches in their response. It will coordinate advocacy initiatives and provide travel options and volunteer opportunities for and by the global Methodist community through one shared office.

Bishop Ivan Abrahams, the General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, said: “The opening of the Palestine/Israel Liaison office is a prophetic action by the Methodist community. It gives content, shape, and form to the myriad resolutions taken by the Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, United, and Uniting churches around the world.”

There was a groundswell of support for increased presence in the region following the World Methodist Conference in Durban, South African, last August. In his address, Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian from Galilee, suggested that Christians coming to the Holy Land should not to be satisfied with visiting the "dead stones" of the archaeologists, but should be encouraged to visit "living stones" of the Christians in the land where Jesus lived and preached.

In January, United Methodist mission leaders met with the leaders of the British Methodist Church to discuss ways that the organizations could be in mission and ministry together. British Methodist Church Connexional executive Christine Elliott explained that both groups had a desire to move to a practical application of their partnership. “We identified a shared program of engagement in Israel-Palestine that we would present to the World Methodist Council.”

The World Methodist Council leadership met in February and formally approved the proposal. Abrahams expressed his support: “As peacemakers we are often called to stand in the breach in situations of conflict to faithfully serve Christ in the world. This action has moral and spiritual integrity, and that is why the World Methodist Council fully endorsed this initiative.”

According to Kemper, Global Ministries is also in conversation with the World Council of Churches about how the new office might relate to its Jerusalem Inter-church Center. While there are no plans to open a United Methodist mission church in the region, he said, “No truly global Christian agency serving a global church can sidestep the issues that arise today in that land of holy history and human contention.”

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