December 4, 2000

Delegation of church leaders headed to Middle East to bolster peace efforts

by James Solheim
    A high-level delegation of American church leaders is headed for the Middle East to express solidarity with Christian churches there and to lend their voices to a growing chorus calling for renewed efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in the area.
    The delegation hopes to meet with Israeli and Palestinian political and religious leaders to discuss the escalation of violence and collapse of the peace process, as well as  difficult issues such as the future status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, refugees and the protection of human rights.
    "It is crucial that we sit down with those who are victims of the violence, as well as those who are working to restart peace negotiations," said the Rev. Mark Brown, assistant director in the Office for Governmental Affairs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA), who was instrumental in arranging the December 7-12 visit.
    Despite the heightened tensions in the area, Brown said that the delegation also hopes to visit institutions in Jerusalem, Gaza, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Ramallah. "We need to better understand the breakdown in peace negotiations and discuss ways in which churches in the U.S., Palestine and Israel can work together to strengthen the Christian communities and to promote a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," he said.
    The delegation include participants from the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ and the Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Quaker and United Methodist churches.
The visit comes at a time when many of the churches begin a Prayer Vigil for Middle East Peace. The vigil begins on the first Sunday in Advent, December 3, and will continue until the violence ends and a peace agreement emerges.
Based on an ELCA initiative and organized by the ecumenical working group Churches for Middle East Peace, the vigil holds in prayer all those who are suffering in the Holy Land, both Palestinians and Israelis. (For details and resources go to www.cmep.org and click on Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Peace in the Middle East.)

Participants in the delegation include:

Bishop Viken Aykazian of the Armenian Apostolic Church
The Very Rev. Brother Stephen Glodek of the Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes
The Rev. John McCullough of Church World Service and Witness of the National Council of Churches
Bishop Vincent Warner of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Olympia
Mrs. Patti Browning, wife of the former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church
Bishop Dimitrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Former Presiding Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom of the ELCA
Bishop Margaret Payne, bishop of the ELCA's New England Synod
Donella Clemens of the Mennonite Central Committee
Inez Allan of the Presbyterian Church USA
Mary Ellen McNish of the American Friends Service Committee
The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson of the United Church of Christ
Bishop William Oden of the United Methodist Church

Note: If you would like to receive daily press reports and photos of the visit, send your E-mail address before December 6 to CorinneWhi@aol.com at Churches for Middle East Peace. During the trip the delegation's press officer, Jim Solheim, can be reached at jsolheim@dfms.org.