Pictured above are 20 of the 22 of us that are participating in the six-week sabbatical program at Tantur. 16 of us are ordained and 6 of us are members of the laity who have dedicated themselves to the work of the church in various significant ways: Sr Genna, CJ (Jesuit), is a senior lecturer in pastoral theology at Cambridge; Anita has spent her life working with the L’Arche community and tells wonderful stories of all of the time she has spent with Jean Vanier, L’Arche’s founder; Stephen is a lay reader in the Greek Orthodox church and a carpenter by trade who has come to Tantur to develop a deeper discipline of personal prayer.
Among those of us who are ordained, only five of us are members of the Anglican Communion. Two of my Anglican colleagues are retired parish priests and the other two (who, sadly for me, are not enrolled in the six-week sabbatical program and will be with us for only a short time longer), are relatively close to me in age and number of years ordained. Both Ysmena and Peter are currently serving congregations in the Church of England as parish priests but each represent different perspectives among the three most dominant ideologies in the C of E today, one an Anglo-Catholic and the other an Evangelical. As the sole representative from the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, and in the hope of not being presumptuous, I might represent what is the third dominant ideology in Anglicanism today amongst all my new friends both Anglican and Roman Catholic: Liberal.
Given what I wrote in my last post it is not surprising that the vast majority of those of us who are ordained and enrolled in the sabbatical program (13 out of 16) represent the Roman Catholic Church. Two are parish priests from the United States and the rest represent a diversity that is as broad geographically as it vocationally: Jobe, from Canada, is a Franciscan Friar whose specialty was Canon Law; Wulstan, a Benedictine monk, spent most of his ordained life as a teacher and University headmaster; Paddy, from Laragh, County Cavan, in Ireland, and who recently returned from many years of missionary work in Tanzania, began his vocation as a missionary in Liberia until the civil war made it impossible for him to remain there. JD is a parish priest from Scotland and Mark oversees multiple parishes in Australia spanning distances far greater than the Episcopal Dioceses of Washington, Maryland and Virginia combined. John, while ordained in Dublin, spent his life living in South Africa both before and after the Apartheid. Against the advice of his superiors, while in South Africa John repeatedly chose to live in the racially segregated townships where the members of those communities, in his words, taught him more than anyone ever has, “about the real meaning of love, forgiveness, compassion and generosity.” The gift of good company indeed.
Along with my new colleagues, both lay and cleric, the largely Palestinian staff and other residents at Tantur (Notre Dame students, volunteers and scholars in residence) are a joy to now know. Each day Issa (one of three with that name on staff here) and his staff prepare amazing Palestinian food for us. Peter and Emily, here to serve as volunteers for one year, have come from the Bruderhof community in New York. One doctoral fellow in residence is finishing a dissertation on the Samaritan woman at the well in The Gospel According to John, a project he’s been working on for nearly a decade; in it he’s comparing three verses of Holy Scripture, one verse from the New Testament with two verses from the Hebrew Scriptures. At a social gathering last Sunday evening I met a young family of four. Hannah (originally from New Orleans) is finishing her doctoral work on the meaning of sacrifice and her husband Brian is completing his study which focuses on the exegetical methods of Origen. Amazing… more (really) good company!
Besides my three years of seminary many years ago, my experience at Tantur thus far is probably as close to living what feels like a “monastic” life as I’ve ever had, only this time we represent more than one prevailing tradition and the students are a little older, and as such more tied to one tradition or another. In our first week together we’ve had to engage in conversations about things like Eucharistic hospitality, about the role of the laity versus the priesthood, etc. In some ways those conversations are resonant with the work we are all engaged in at Tantur: How do multiple traditions with firmly held beliefs dwell together? To whom does this sacred and Holy Land belong? Despite our differences we all belong together, one might say, but living with one another also means doing the dishes with them, a topic I hope I can get to in my next post…
More to come… and goodnight from Israel: