20 May - Richard Sewell - A gathering like no other

STORIES

A gathering like no other

 

 The Very Rev'd Richard Sewell, Dean of St George's College, Jerusalem 

 

 

In my twenty year ministry, I have been on numerous retreats and clergy conferences in greatly varying centres. However, I can safely say that the clergy and spouses retreat for the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East is nothing like any I have ever been on before.

The first and most noticeable difference was that this ‘retreat’ was in a four star hotel situated on the shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Compared to the simple cell room of the retreat centre in Northampton or the old and cold stones of Burford Priory, this was something altogether more grand. The Dead Sea also offered the most dramatic of backdrops imaginable. However, this was a retreat and definitely not a holiday, so we did spend quite a lot of time in a conference room for lectures and many acts of worship which felt like they could have taken place anywhere in the world, even Northampton.

The participants were also striking and inspiring. Our Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East covers a huge area and includes the countries of Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and also covers north and south Cyprus, the Gulf countries of UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and others. In addition, the Province covers Iran and Iraq. Anglican clergy and their spouses attended from all these countries with the exception of Iran. It’s hard to properly convey the diverse ministries of all these countries. It felt like a privilege just to be in the same room and to share the stories of the challenges of ministry in each place and the joys expressed over and again of the way in which the love of Christ was being expressed in word and deed. The light of Christ is being kindled in so many unusual and encouraging ways despite often unpromising circumstances.

Thankfully we did escape the dark conference room on several occasions and we had some amazing experiences. Covid had prevented me from visiting Jordan over the past years so it was my first chance to visit some of the holy and historical sites. We drove a steep and winding road up Mount Nebo to get that extraordinary overview described in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses sees the Promised Land but God tells him that he may not enter because of his failure of leadership in the desert. A beautiful 4th century church recently restored was breathtaking, almost as much as the panoramas which surround it. Following this, we drove the short distance to the town of Madaba where numerous Byzantine churches have been discovered. Primary among them is St George’s Church which contains the world famous Madaba Map, a floor mosaic of the Holy Lands. It is the earliest known map of the region and has been an important resource for discovering lost sites.

But more than the sites, it is the people I will remember and the shared stories. We prayed together and we listened to one other. It provided me with an extraordinary sense of the ways in which God is equipping the Church with the means to respond to the challenges of this moment. We simply have to open and ready to serve.   

 

 


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