From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East offers ministry of hospitality
Fri, 28 Jun 2002 15:07:24 -0400
June 28, 2002
Episcopalians: Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East
offers ministry of hospitality
by James Solheim
(ENS) As one of the 38 provinces in the Anglican Communion, the
Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East is highly
unusual, straddling several continents and many different
cultures, offering a ministry of care and hospitality within the
Muslim countries of the Middle EAst.
"We are a very young church," said Bishop Clive Handford
during a briefing at the Episcopal Church Center in New York. He
was elected to head the province at a synod last February,
succeeding Bishop Iraj Mottahedeh of Iran on May 1. Formed in
1976, the province includes dioceses in Cyprus and the Gulf,
Egypt, Iran, and Jerusalem, serving as a bridge between Asia,
Europe and Africa. "It is about 3,000 miles from Cyprus in the
north down to Eritrea in Africa, and probably as many miles from
Algeria over to Iran," Handford said. "That means a lot of time
While many of the governments in the region are conservative
Islamic governments, "they are not hostile," Handford said, "as
long as we are understanding and sensitive." Seeking converts,
for example, is strictly forbidden, "although conversations
about faith are permitted."
In one or two of the more conservative Islamic countries the
church must remain inconspicuous and clerical garb can't be worn
in public. In most of the Gulf states, on the other hand, the
government provides land for building churches. Handford told of
recently dedicating a new church in Dubai with over a thousand
people in the congregation. "As many as 30,000 people a week use
our facilities." And dialogue between Christians and Muslims in
places such as Egypt have been quite productive.
"In almost every case, among work colleagues and religious
leaders, it comes out of a personal relationship," he said. "An
important example is the friendship between the rector of Al
Azhar University in Cairo and the archbishop of Canterbury. A
few weeks ago, Bishop Kenneth Cragg, author of such books as
The Call of the Minaret, was engaged in dialogue with
over 800 students at the university.
"It's almost impossible to avoid our identification with the
West, even though most of our church members are more often
Asians than Westerners," Handford noted. "And they still think
of the Western nations as Christian, using what seems to be a
convenient stereotype." In the wake of the terrorist attacks on
September 11, most of the Islamic countries in the region
condemned terrorism. "Many in the local population see the
American attack on Afghanistan as an attack on the family," he
With the Christian community spread so thin in the region,
Handford admits that there is a certain fragility and
vulnerability to life in the province. That brings some
difficulties in holding the churches of the province together
but he is convinced that there has also been "a gradual growing
together" in recent years.
Given the minority status of Christians, Handford said that
the Anglicans practice "a ministry of hospitality," sharing
their facilities with as many as a hundred other groups in some
places. "We serve as an umbrella, embracing every shade of
Christian, from Egyptian Copts to Filipino charismatics." He
said that migrant workers in the region have a very difficult
life and "the church is a place where they can be themselves and
affirm their identity."
--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.
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