Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network meets in Albuquerque

Thursday to Saturday, February 18 to 20, some twenty-two leaders of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine/Israel Network (PIN) gathered at the Diocese of the Rio Grande’s Bosque Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico to assess the deteriorating situation in the Holy Land and the Church’s failure to address that situation at its 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City. 

Representing fourteen dioceses and eight of TEC’s nine provinces, we also began the planning process for the 2018 General Convention in Austin, Texas, leading, hopefully, to a more robust Church witness for justice and peace for our Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters. In this regard, we renewed our commitment to:

Fulfill our Baptismal vows and, in particular, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being; and

Respond to the 2005 call of Palestinian Civil Society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights and the prayerful call for justice of Palestinian Christians expressed in the 2009 Kairos Palestine Document.

Aided by a professional facilitator, Winni Wolf, we engaged in honest soul-searching with regard to past shortcomings in fostering a robust TEC witness on Palestine/Israel. We discussed the inter-personal dynamics of our relationship with the Church writ large, with some claiming that those of us in PIN had a reputation for being too angry, while others pointed to a tendency to “make nice” as an obstacle to promoting a more forceful message. Still others alluded to the institutional factors - among them, the fear of a disruption of the inter-faith dialogue or of being called anti-Semites – that inhibited Church leaders from acting more prophetically. We undertook to engage in a deeper dialogue with our own Church leaders as well as with Jews, not only with allies such as those in Jewish Voice for Peace, but also with those in older, more traditional groups with whom we might disagree; to be more intentional in including Palestinians in our conversations; to listen to all respectfully; and to address fears and misunderstandings wherever they may exist.

We also discussed the need to increase and diversify our membership and improve our organizational structures. To that end, we broadened our steering committee and created several goal-oriented working groups. Probably the most important of these will be an internal group focused on fund-raising and responsiveness to membership issues and a planning group devoted to preparing PIN’s participation in our next General Convention. 

At least as important as these nuts-and-bolts concerns was the opportunity to meet each other face-to-face and, by osmosis, gain strength and resolve, knowing that, while sometimes feeling isolated at our computer screens, we are not alone. 

Important, too, on a very personal level, was the quiet time at the beautiful and hospitable Bosque Center and the chance it afforded to reflect in silence on its labyrinth and along the banks of the swiftly flowing Rio Grande, as the migrating cranes circled noisily overhead. And, after the conference, there was the joy that several of us experienced worshipping at “St. Bede’s in the weeds,” a vibrant LGBT-welcoming community on the outskirts of Santa Fe, and my private trek through Apache country, through snow and dust storms and memories of the beginning of the atomic age, to a sublime sunset on the White Sands west of Alamogordo…proof that God and peace can be found in the wildest, seemingly most inhospitable places.

To be sure, at a parting Eucharist, we found peace and renewed resolve at the Bosque Center before heading our separate ways. I felt privileged to serve at the table, as Allison Liles, the EPF Executive Director, presided; Boyd Evans, a newly ordained deacon, proclaimed the Gospel; and Bruce Shipman, the former chaplain at Yale, preached a powerful sermon calling us to work for a future in which “all people living in the Holy Land shall participate in their government and be safe to grow their vines and tend their sheep, to use the image of the ’good life’ promoted by the prophets.”

With that, we resolved to go in peace to love and serve the Lord and to convene again “next year in Jerusalem.”

And that, dear friends, is more than just a prayer. For the Palestine/Israel Network of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship will hold its next leadership meeting in Jerusalem Tuesay to Monday, March 7 to 13, 2017 at the 10th International Conference of Sabeel, the Palestinian Christian Liberation Theology Center, after which we will visit all the important Christian pilgrimage sites as well as refugee camps and cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Hebron on the West Bank, and, God willing, Gaza.

Interested in learning more about the situation in Israel/Palestine, about sponsoring a film and/or study group at your church, about joining the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and its Israel/Palestine Network, about joining our 2017 gathering in the Holy Land? Contact Vicki Gray, 707.554.0672, vgray54951@aol.com.

Shalom. Saleem.