Today we got to sleep in just a bit, and have more leisurely departure as we packed up and prepared to travel down the Jordan Valley to the Jordan River and the site of Jesus’s baptism. But before that we had the great pleasure of being invited to come to St. Andrew’s Church, Tiberias, a Church of Scotland church and ministry led by the Rev. Kate MacDonald. She invited us to not only come to their 10 am Sunday service but to lead it and to preach at it. So, I presided, and the Very Rev. Paul Kennington, my co-leader, preached and played the piano! We expanded their congregation by about 400% and we were all pleased. It was another beautiful sunny day here as well. After the service we traveled through the valley to the baptismal site, where, as is so often the case here, we found a huge crowd, and were informed that the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem was present, and of course so many Armenian faithful as well. Also, the Jordan River itself is at record levels right now due to recent rains, which is actually a huge blessing. The Sea of Galilee, the Jordan, the Dead Sea all need it. In my 10 years of coming here, this is the highest levels I have ever experienced. So, there was one stairwell down to the water, and of course, the Patriarch got to stand there! Ghassan, our fabulous guide, did figure out how to get some water from the Jordan for us all and we did get to sing, and renew our baptismal vows. I am so glad that a group of former parishioners from St. James’, Austin have come along on this trip. Here they are!
There is something always interesting about making this stop. And then, the Patriarch decided it was time to leave, and a man with a camera spotted me and my purple shirt, and asked if I was Church of England. After I answered essentially, but the Episcopal part in the US, he said “I am your photographer!” He went on to explain he takes the pictures for the Church of England here, and often the Episcopal Church too. He had most recently taken the pictures of Prince Charles as he was here just this past week. And suddenly the Patriarch was walking by, and I was waved over by him, and we got our photo op. Turns out he lived in the US in Houston, and other places. We had a good talk and he was most gracious when I invited him into a selfie!
The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem is His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian. You can see other pictures of him and read it about him here https://armenian-patriarchate.com/home/
We left the Jordan and traveled to the ancient town of Jericho, for a great lunch, and a tour of the town, including the Sycamore Tree (not the original of course) of Zacchaeus fame,
and to meet some local people, and for many, to ride a camel! I really didn’t have to prime the pump on the riding of the camel this year, but I rode it nonetheless. Just about an annual experience now. We left Jericho and traveled the long 2200 plus foot climb to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The gate we usually enter into Bethlehem, at the wall, was locked with no explanation, so we had to drive around, a common experience for many living here, which added some time, but we made it, and had a wonderful evening in Manger Square.
Monday Morning we started early and were the first persons at the Shepherd’s Field. We moved into the cave there and prayed and sang.
From there we traveled to the Bethlehem Cooperative for a shopping respite. Then to the Creche Orphanage which is always a deeply moving visit. This one was no different. What these nuns and teachers do in this place is nothing short of miraculous and is truly the work of Jesus. We met the children, heard about their work, and then worshiped in their chapel. We are always so welcomed here.
After this visit we moved to Bethlehem University, the only Christian University in the West Bank. They have an excellent culinary arts department and they treated us to a great lunch, with students at each of our tables so we could learn more about them, about their lives, and about the education here. Again, I never miss putting this on my pilgrimages. As I told this group this morning, the next few hours are almost always the best of this pilgrimage. After that lunch, we were hosted by a panel of five students and a Q and A. At all these location, thanks to the generosity of our pilgrims we give donations to the work
Here is a picture of our table with our student guest Teli, a Christian from Bethlehem majoring in English and Translation. She was delightful
And then a group picture at the University
We left the University and visited the Church of the Nativity and the birthplace of Jesus, and then explored the “catacombs” and study of St. Jerome. It was a full and rich day.
Blessings to all,