Besieged Middle East Christians get new church where Jesus was baptized

(Photo: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land)New Evangelical Lutheran Church at Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan in Jordan photographed on January 6, 2014.

Middle East Christian places of worship can evoke images of torched or shelled churches and fleeing believers, but there was recent cause for celebration at a new house to glorify Jesus, in Jordan.

More than 200 clergy and guests, including royalty joined Lutheran World Federation president, Bishop Munib A. Younan, on January 6 in dedicating the Evangelical Lutheran Church at Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan.

Belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) the church is at the spot where records show John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.

"Dedicating a new church is something that should not be taken for granted, especially in the Middle East," Younan, said in his dedication sermon.

"All too often, we see on television that churches are destroyed and atrocities are committed against houses of worship."

Receiving support and patronage from the Royal Family of Jordan was a "gracious act of hospitality, emblematic of the freedom of religion that we enjoy in Jordan."

The ELCJHL is one of the smallest churches in the 70-million strong Lutheran World Federation and in the World Council of Churches that represents more than 500 million Christians worldwide.

It was given land at the Baptismal Site by King Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 2008, making it one of seven churches to receive land.

It was donated with the hopes that Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan would become a site for pilgrimage and baptism to Christians worldwide.

"We are going to develop worship surrounding both baptism and baptismal renewal," Rev. Rolf Pearson who together with his wife Deacon Kerstin Pearson is seconded by Church of Sweden to take care of the site, the Lutheran World Federation reported.

"We are hoping that pilgrims will find a place where they can be renewed spiritually, a place to understand the religious, social and political context of the place where they are, and to see the church presence in the Middle East."

The Holy Land Lutheran church website says that though Palestinian Christians have been there since the first Pentecost, the roots of the ELCJHL are in the mid-19th century when German and English missionaries arrived teach and minister to the local people.

Today it has five congregations in Jerusalem, Ramallah and the Bethlehem area and one in Amman, Jordan.

The churches in Amman and Ramallah are comprised largely of families of refugees who fled their homes at the time of the tragic wars that followed the formation of Israel. It also operates four schools and four education programs.

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