The goals of the Bethlehem Partnership include increasing awareness and support of Palestinian Christians, praying for and supporting the work of the Lutheran church in Bethlehem, and offering opportunities for people to travel to the Holy Land and meet people whose lives are affected by the ministry of the church.
In 2004 the Southwest Association at the request of Memorial UCC, Fitchburg voted to establish a partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Over the past 10 years several delegations of clergy and lay people have traveled to the Holy Land not only to see the places where Jesus walked but also to listen to the voices of the people who live in the land of his birth. We have hosted Palestinian and Israeli speakers and a dance troupe from the Diyar Academy (an outreach project of Christmas Lutheran Church) who have helped us grow in our understanding and relationship with our sisters and brothers in Palestine. Some of our churches have used resources – local speakers, books, films, study guides – to learn more about the faith and life of Palestinian and
Israelis; some of our churches have raised money to support the work of the Bethlehem Church and Diyar Consortium, its institutional arm. In 2010 Rev Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church, was the Thursday Workshop Speaker and one of the Preachers at the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Conference. Our partnership has nourished our faith and increased our understanding. Our minds and hearts have been changed.
In 2014 the Southwest Association Partnership committee with the blessing of the Conference Board of Directors established a Conference wide Working Group (with representatives from other Associations) to explore ways to engage congregations around the Conference in the mission of the partnership. To that end, we invite your church to learn about the partnership and the people of Bethlehem whose faith and witness have captured our hearts.
WANT TO TAKE ACTION?
Here are some opportunities for you and your congregation:
1. Read and discuss Rev. Mitri Raheb’s book “Faith in the Face of Empire”.
2. Read and discuss Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann’s book “Chosen? Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”.
3. Learn about the Kairos Palestine document and how you might us it as a study tool in your congregation. In 2009 Palestinian Christians wrote this document – subtitled “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering” to tell the world about what is happening in their ancestral land and suggest ways their Christian brothers and sisters can stand with them in their struggle for peace and justice.
4. Follow news about the UCC Middle East Initiative by going to www.ucc.org and search “Middle East Initiative” of Global Ministries. Listen to archived presentations by experts on Israeli-Palestinian issues through the Global Ministries Middle East Initiative webinars website
5. Learn about General Synod resolutions on Israel/Palestine. Use resources developed by UCC PIN (Palestine Israel Network) to learn about the resolution calling for UCC churches and its members to boycott, divest, and sanction companies making a profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Contact Peter Makari, Wider Church Ministries Executive for Middle East and Europe at firstname.lastname@example.org for resources.
6. Have a film series about the issue. There are student films available from our partner organization – Diyar University and there are several good commercial films available on Netflix that would stimulate conversation. The Partnership committee can offer some ideas.
Your sisters and brothers in Christ,
The Bethlehem Partnership Working Group
As of spring 2016: Bonnie Van Overbeke, chair, Nancy Baumgardner; Phil Haslanger; Ted Peterson; Bob Mutton; Karla Schmidt; Deb Burich; and Emma Ledbetter.
Contact Person: Bonnie Van Overbeke
Bethlehem Partnership Facebook
Bright Stars Bethlehem: Organization for people and ministries of Christmas Lutheran Church
Global Ministries, Middle East Initiative: Provides information and educational resources for studying the Kairos Palestine document