Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Christianity and the Middle East: Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Middle East Peace Enters Second Year

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Christianity and the Middle East: Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Middle East Peace Enters Second Year

Article excerpt

Christianity and the Middle East: Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Middle East Peace Enters Second Year

Fred Strickert is professor of religion at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.

For an entire year Christians throughout the world have been engaged in a continuous prayer vigil for Middle East Peace.

The organizers of this project state that they have offered the vigil "as an opportunity for congregations to incorporate the welfare of the people of the Middle East into the heart of their church life: in their worship, in their learning, and in their advocacy."

The vigil originated when the Rev. H. George Anderson, former bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, inquired what his church could do for the people of the Middle East. Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan of Jerusalem replied simply, "Pray for us." Younan suggested that a model might be found in Paul's words to partner churches that he is engaged "in prayer constantly for you" (Philippians 1:4).

Monthly Rotation

The question was how a prayer vigil might be set up which would be constant. It had been customary for churches to set aside a particular day to focus on Middle East issues. That was quite different, however, from the emphasis on continuity.

Rev. Mark Brown, director of Lutheran Office of Governmental affairs, was given the task of implementation. Beginning with the first Sunday in Advent (Dec. 3) in 2000, he proposed that Christians of particular states rotate their prayer obligations according to an assigned day of the month. For example Alabama and New York were assigned the third day of each month. Alaska and North Carolina were assigned the fourth. Thus every single day of the month was covered. (See sidebar for complete schedule.)

Immediately the vigil was adopted by the National Council of Churches, thus becoming truly an ecumenical undertaking. Subsequently, it has been adopted as well by the World Council of Churches, as part of its accompaniment program, and by numerous individual churches throughout the world.

When the vigil was first announced, many were surprised that no specific time limit was set for the venture. Instead, it would continue until a just resolution for the conflict is achieved.

Responded Mark Brown, "Some people are surprised when we say that this prayer vigil will continue until the violence ends and we can celebrate a just and lasting negotiated resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. …

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