Having just come from meeting with Archbishop Suheil of the Episcopal Archdiocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, I’m still trying to come to grips with what he said. Granted that’s a fairly normal experience after hearing bishops speak these days, only instead of the usual wave of despair and bewilderment I’m feeling full of hope. The future isn’t as bleak as the forces of darkness would have us believe.
++Suheil’s diocese spans five countries, themselves melting pots of different cultures, religions and traditions. In some parishes, such as those of Gaza, unemployment is as high as 75% - and has been at that level for generations. He ministers to congregations for whom suicide bombers pose a daily threat, and for whom the both the victims and perpetrators of these killings are not meaningless names inside a release from AAP/Reuters, but are the people they live with: the little boy from down the road, the mother who shops at the same stores they do, or the old man who sits sipping coffee at the corner on warm sunny days. Terror, in all its forms, is second nature to his homeland.
And yet the Bishop’s message was uplifting. “Peace is possible”, he said, “if we are committed to making it so.” Through operating schools (which are open to all irrespective of their religion), hospitals (from which the military not infrequently blocks medical supplies) and a cross-cultural program called “Kids for Peace”, he sees a future written in the faces of children growing up in the knowledge that “the others” really human after all. His confidence in Christ transcends the insecurity which drives so many of his colleagues elsewhere in the world to dogmatism and hatred.
Afterwards the Bishop’s wife explained the integral role women are have in this process: to put it bluntly (which she was far to polite to do) women have more equality in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East than they do in Sydney.
No, GAFCON wasn’t dwelt upon. In the light of the Archbishop’s vision, and the darkness in which he and his community live, it all seemed irrelevant. There was no secret made about the fact that it’s not going to be helpful to the people of the area, regardless of the religion and/or cultural background, but in the light of where the church of the diocese wishes to go, and the mountains that must be climbed in order to reach that place, he made me realise that GAFCON will ultimately prove to be just one more brief gathering of angry wingnuts in a place which has proved historically irresistible to their ilk for millennia.
“Christians have lived in our diocese for two thousand years”, he said. “It is our land as much as it is everyone else’s. It is our calling to show how we can all live together in it, and to do so with the peace, compassion, wisdom and love of Christ.”