January 22, 2015
Our final morning in Israel began with a quick drive to Abu Ghosh, a town about six miles west of Jerusalem that is (one of many) locations believed to be the site of the first century town of Emmaus. Abu Ghosh is one of the earliest areas of human habitation in Israel, with archaeological remains of three Neolithic settlement phases, the middle phase is dated to the 7th millennium BCE. It is also the sight associated with the location of the Arc of the Covenant, which King David later moved to Jerusalem. If this is the sight of Emmaus, it lends a nice symmetry to the traveling nature of the Spirit of God as on the move and meeting people where they are.
The Crusader Church of the Resurrection in Abu Ghosh was built in 1142 as a French monastic community of monks and nuns following the Benedictine rule. Our Pilgrim group was fortunate to have the opportunity to have our final Eucharist in this beautiful space, the walls of which are filled with the remnants of frescoes that were mainly destroyed by Muslims who took over the area after victory over the Christian Crusaders.
We have had wonderful sermons, hymns and worship throughout our journey in the Holy Land, and this service was especially meaningful. We gathered together items we wanted to have blessed and placed the on the altar. Bishop Greg presided, with Bishop Barry preaching and Dominic and Paul (our stunning guides from Lightline) assisting. Our local guide from Shepherd Tours, Ghassan, also worshiped with us.
Immediately following the fine service, the women of our group gathered around the altar, laid hands upon it, and offered prayers on behalf of women – in Israel, Palestine, at home and around the world. Because of the nature of the Christian churches here, even in the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, women priests are not permitted to preside at most altars in the Holy Land. This was especially evidenced by the fact that at no time did a woman clergy person preside or assist at any of our Eucharistic services in any of the places we worshiped. If Rachel takes a group on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she will need to bring along a token male clergy person in order to gain entrance into many of the altars here – including this one at Abu Ghosh.
After the women’s heartfelt prayers (given with many tears), one of the bishops remarked that we were “lucky” that one of the local priests didn’t walk by to see it. You can perhaps imagine the women’s response to that concern. We felt it was more that the men didn’t want us to jeopardize their future ability to use the space. And here we are being asked by them to stand up for justice for the people and faiths of this country when they are hesitant enough to stand up for justice for the women of their own countries and church. Ah, well, we were glad to be at Abu Ghosh, nonetheless.
It was a wonderful way to formally conclude our Pilgrimage before heading back to Jerusalem for lunch and exploration on our own until departing for dinner and the airport in the evening.
Rachel, Sarah and I had pizza in a shop near the Gloria Hotel and then headed into the suk for last bit of shopping and to go once more to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Then we hiked towards the Damascus Gate and had a last drink of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice before going out of the Old City and up Nablus Street to St.George’s College.
Rachel’s purpose was to visit the shop of Abraham, located just outside the college gateway. She selected a beautiful pectoral cross there while Sarah went to the cathedral once more. After that visit, they parted ways so that Rachel could meet up with a friend and possible cousin met through Facebook.
Kate Taber is a Presbyterian missioner representing that denominations efforts in peacemaking and partnerships between Israel and Palestine. Her husband, Nathan Stock, is the Director of the Carter Center in Jerusalem. Rachel and Kate met up at the Notre Dame Hotel for coffee in the cafe there. They were able to talk for about an hour before Rachel and me had to walk the five minutes up from the New Gate to the Jaffa Gate to meet our bus one last time. I’m glad to know more friends there, and I hope we get to return to visit again.
Our bus driver, Nihal, took us the two hours to Jaffa, where we had our last dinner together as a Pilgrim group before going to the airport. The Tel Aviv airport is very security driven – our bus was inspected, and once inside, we had four additional check points that required our passports before even getting to our gates.
Our twelve hour flight to Newark was without incident, and a small group of us from Olympia waited for our common plane to Seattle – Sarah, Michael, Katherine, Cynthia, Rachel and me all boarded on time four our four hour flight to the west coast.
Once home, Rachel’s and my good friends, Becky and Tom Clark, brought Rachel’s car to the airport so that we could drive to Whidbey directly from there – a final ferry ride and we were home to cats, dogs and husband.
Though we have unpacked our luggage, I think we will be unpacking our hearts and minds from this trip for a very long time (as well as sorting through the many gifts physical, emotional and spiritual that we have brought back with us).
Our pilgrimage was an amazing journey, supported by an amazing team of organizers and guides who made the experience extraordinary in depth of information, breadth of opportunity and in quality of worship. We were blessed a hundred times over by the people we met and who cared for us, guiding us through barriers and obstacles to view the riches of their faith, heritage and country – which is to say, their people.
I will treasure it all and will pray for them all for as long as I live. I will be and am grateful.
Peace and Blessings to my beloved squirrels – now and always!