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.
The Wisconsin UCC Conference Bethlehem Partnership continues to find ways of sharing the faith and lives of Palestinian Christians with our churches and the broader community. We have written articles for Conference and Association newsletters, made presentations in churches, and raised money for scholarships so that young adults in Bethlehem can attend our partner college Dar al Kalima University. We have been working with other denominations through a Madison area Bright Stars of Bethlehem chapter and again this year co-sponsored an Advent Service of Lessons and Carols in the Madison area.
This past July, in partnership with Rev Everett Mitchell, pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church, we brought Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, former pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church, founder of Diyar Consortitum, and President of Bright Stars of Bethlehem, to Madison. His visit enabled us to partner with congregations who previously had not been involved in or aware of the work of our local Bright Stars of Bethlehem chapter, including First Unitarian Universalist Society, Sharai Shamayim Jewish congregation, Lake Edge Lutheran Church and Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church. Rev. Mitri spoke at several venues, met with the staff of our Wisconsin US Senator Tammy Baldwin and area Representative Mark Pocan, and was interviewed by Madison 365, a local online news outlet that reaches a broad community of minority and young adults. Hopefully, these presentations and conversations expanded our reach and helped people learn more about the faith and lives of our partners in Bethlehem and better understand the issues they and their Jewish and Muslim neighbors face.
We also made plans for another UCC trip to Bethlehem sponsored by the Partnership. Bonnie and Nancy will be taking 14 people, mostly from the Southwest and Southeast Associations to Jordan, Israel, and Palestine to not only see religious and historical sites but to meet the people who today live out their faith in this holy and troubled land. We had an excellent response to the trip with a waiting list of another dozen or so people. So we feel our outreach has been working! We hope, in the future, to encourage others to take and lead trips to share with others what God is doing today in the little town of Bethlehem.
Members of the UCC Committee: Bonnie Van Overbeke, chair; Nancy Baumgardner; Phil Haslanger; Merry Spangler; Ted Peterson; Karla Schmidt; James Schleif; 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