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'Living Stones' - a visit to Jordan
30/11/18

Fred Kratt, the Bishop of Coventry's Research Assistant, visited the Synod of the Diocese of Jerusalem in Jordan. In this article he writes about the experience.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of visiting Jordan for eight days. I was there primarily to assist Bishop Christopher, who was representing the Archbishop of Canterbury at the annual Diocesan Synod or ‘Majma’ of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, which was taking place in Amman, Jordan’s capital city. The trip was a joy and privilege on many levels, both professionally and personally, and one I will remember for many years to come.

I had never been to the Middle East before, let alone Jordan, and the customs, food, built and natural environments were very new to me, but at the same time very exciting to encounter and explore (especially from my background as a geographer!). Meanwhile, the Synod itself was, in structure and form, quite familiar and I was surprised by the array of stylistic similarities that we share in the Anglican Communion, from hymns, to liturgy, to vestments. However, at the same time, the gathering was wonderfully distinct from how I had experienced church up to that point, not least because much of the proceedings were in Arabic! A sense among local church members of being part of the wider Holy Land was strong and it was clear that the Church there is utterly indigenous, something that has been sadly and tragically questioned in the recent politics and violent upheavals of the wider region. The members of the Diocese, led by our host the Archbishop Suheil Dawani, refer to themselves as the ‘Living Stones’ and are passionate about maintaining a Christian presence in the land of Jesus’ birth, baptism, ministry, death and resurrection.

As a Christian young person interested in learning about Christianity in different cultural contexts, the highlight of my trip was simply meeting Christian clergy and laypeople from across a Diocese that covers five hugely significant countries: Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. As Research Assistant to the Bishop of Coventry, helping Bishop Christopher with his efforts to support persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and also as a volunteer in Coventry serving refugees from that very region, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet the Christians who had inspired me so much, in their ancestral and Biblical home. Meeting one such Christian, Father George (pictured with me above), vicar of an Anglican church in a challenging district of Amman with a particular ministry among Christians fleeing Syria and Iraq, was very special for me. Father George gave me a guided tour of his church and the church’s ministry among vulnerable older women. He also took me up onto the roof of the church from which we looked out onto his parish, and the wider city. The hospitality and love shown by his church toward refugees and the poor was inspiring but also challenging given that Jordan itself is not a hugely well-off country. I was honoured that Father George allowed me to pray for his ministry, and blessed to be prayed for by him as I returned to Coventry the following day. He expressed his desire to form long-standing links between his parish and parishes in England, so that we can be built up together.

Reading and writing about the persecuted Church over the last couple of years had led me to view Middle Eastern Christians almost as ‘super-Christians’ in a far-away part of the world, and therefore difficult to relate to. However, upon meeting local Christians I was struck that they are like me, they trust in the same Jesus I do and yet also have ordinary struggles such as stress, doubts, and disappointments. And yet there is no denying how the Church’s faith (much more so than mine) is remarkably deep and steadfast in what is among the hardest regions in the world to be a practising Christian. Their faith and love for Jesus is lived out very practically, so that it appears to transform every aspect of their individual and collective lives.  From an outsider’s cursory perspective, the Church’s prospects in the region nevertheless appears rather bleak – with persecution and emigration reducing the size of congregations, and the low birth rate among Christian families barely keeping up its numbers (despite an influx of Christian refugees from the surrounding region), all in the context of strict restrictions on evangelism. However, again and again I was struck by their hope in the future of the Church and its survival in that region, or as one priest said ‘you cannot but have hope [in a Diocese centred] in the city of the resurrection’.

There is an awful lot these brothers and sisters can teach us about how to live as distinctive and faithful Christians in a non-Christian culture. Do continue to remember the suffering of Christians in the region and elsewhere in the world in your prayers, as we try to do most evenings in the chapel of Bishop’s House. My thanks go to Bishop Christopher who enabled my trip to happen, to my colleagues in the Bishop’s Office who have offered their comments and suggestions on this piece. However, my greatest thanks go to God and to all those who welcomed, hosted and shared their lives with me in Jordan. The trip has confirmed in me, that if it is God’s will, I would like to dedicate my working energies in the future to serving and encouraging God’s persecuted Church, with the prayer that they can shine even brighter as the light they already are in the world.

 

By Fred Kratt – Research Assistant to the Bishop of Coventry

Photo Credit: Fr George

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