John Paul II Foundation / Magazine / A Church for unity: the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

A church for unity: the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

by Riccardo Burigana

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) has for years been committed to promoting Christian unity in the Middle East, with a focus on peace-building through the contribution of Christians, who are called to witness together to God's merciful love that helps reconciliation of memories.

The history of the Lutheran presence is relatively recent; in fact, it dates back to the mid-19th century, when German and Anglo-Saxon missionaries began a work to support the Christian communities, which were already present in the area. Soon the presence of these missionaries brought about a new season of evangelization, targeting all the inhabitants of the region, with the aim of creating a Protestant community. The first fruits of this work were the establishment of a series of local communities that in 1841 were united into an Anglican-Lutheran diocese, which as early as 1845 opened a hospital, while in 1851 the project to create a girls' school, the first in the region, got under way, and in 1860 an orphanage was opened. The experience of a local church, consisting of Lutherans and Anglicans, was interrupted in 1866 for political reasons, namely the Prussian policy for the creation of a German empire, with a nationalist drive that also affected German religious communities around the world, although it was now clear that Lutheran perspectives were different from Anglican ones in the region. Lutherans were interested in the creation of educational and social facilities in the belief that this was the way to alleviate the material and spiritual needs of the men and women of the region. For decades, this activity led to a slow growth in the membership of the community, which only after the end of World War II began to have its own structure.

On May 7, 1959, King Hussein approved the recognition of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan, which, over the years, began to grow, including welcoming refugees from the State of Israel. At the same time, the Lutheran Church in Jordan had begun a journey of transformation from a missionary church to a local church such that in 1974 it joined the Lutheran World Federation, established in 1947. In 1979 the first Palestinian bishop was elected, Rev. Daoud Haddad, who became a point of reference not only for Lutherans in the region because of his commitment to ecumenical dialogue, strengthening a path that was to become one of the special features of the Lutheran Church of Jordan, which in 2005 added "Holy Land" to its name so as to make even more explicit the idea of a pastoral care that included not only Jordan anymore but also the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, reaffirming the priority of ecumenical commitment to peace in the region.

            This ecumenical vocation for peace took on a new dimension, in 1998, with the appointment as bishop of Rev. Younan Munib, who had always been involved in international ecumenical bodies, starting with the Council of Christian Churches of the Middle East and ending with the Ecumenical Council of Churches, which welcomed the Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land in 2013, precisely during Bishop Munib's 20-year presidency. The latter, in 2010, was called to the presidency of the Lutheran World Federation, which gathered 148 members in 99 countries, with the task of leading Lutherans in the time of preparation and celebration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation (1517-2017). It was precisely thanks to Bishop Munib that this anniversary became an ecumenical occasion, particularly fruitful for the rethinking of relations among Christians, with a renewed commitment to a common witness to the Word of God, as was said and signed in the ecumenical prayer in Lund (Oct. 31, 2016), presided over by Bishop Munib and Pope Francis.

Precisely as president of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Munib spoke in February 2017 in Florence at a conference for the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, as part of an international historical-religious research project, Rereading the Reformation, coordinated by the Centro Studi per l'Ecumenismo in Italia; on that occasion Bishop Munib delivered a speech, Re-reading the Reformation, published in the John Paul II Foundation's journal, "Colloquia Mediterranea" [7 (2017), pp. 9-18], by which the common commemoration of the Reformation was to open new avenues for ecumenical witness, especially for peace-building, rooted in the Christian values of dialogue, welcome and sharing.

At the head of the Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, which is headquartered at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, Bishop Sani Ibrahim Charlie "Barhoum" Azar was elected on Jan. 12, 2018, to continue the work of his predecessor, Bishop Munib, for a concrete, daily commitment to peace-building as the priority commitment of Christians, who are called to be "salt of the world."

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