Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine
Diocese of Olympia
By Mary Segall
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” We, the members of the Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine, Diocese of Olympia (the “Bishop’s Committee”), are very familiar with the choice to light that candle. The Bishop’s Committee was formed in 2000 at the request of Bishop Vincent Warner to support the presence and witness of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. The first chair of the Bishop’s Committee was The Rev. Stan Fowler succeeded by Brian Sellers-Peterson, Mary Pneuman, Warren Guykema, and Tim Hill. Randolph Urmston has served since 2011 as chair.
This Bishop’s Committee works through education, advocacy and prayer to support our Christian brothers and sisters in their witness for justice and peace. Our mission is to educate and to promote understanding of the complexities of the issues underlying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to promote understanding among the different congregations of the Episcopal Church in Western Washington. To this end, we decided to start an interactive process: we have put forward a series of well-constructed ideas and positions on different issues and invite your feedback. Feedback can be in person, via letter, email, or at our website, bishopscommittee.org. We see this dialogue continuing and expect there will be additional papers produced in the future with new ideas and actions identified to be taken by both the committee and you, the reader. The Bishop’s Committee meets every second Thursday of the month. If you would like to learn more about the Bishop’s Committee, please consult our website, bishopscommittee.org, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We envision a future in which everyone in Israel and Palestine can live together in a free and democratic state, with security, justice, and equal opportunity for all. We work toward this future by raising awareness, advocating for change, and praying for guidance.
— Mission & Vision Statement
In 2000, Bishop Vincent Warner established the Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine, recently renamed Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine, to support the presence and witness of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. The Diocese of Jerusalem presently oversees the operation of 21 schools, 6 healthcare facilities and 20 parishes in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, providing K-12 education for about 6,000 students, and offering employment to about 1,500 Palestinians. It serves tens of thousands in two hospitals — Ahli Hospital in Gaza and St. Luke’s Hospital, Nablus — and has a large outpatient clinic in Zababdeh, West Bank. It offers a variety of special education and rehab programs for the blind, deaf, retarded, and other disabilities through the Princess Basma Center for Children with Disabilities.
A formal partnership between the Diocese of Olympia and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem was first proposed in 1994 when Bishop Warner and Bishop Kafity of the Diocese of Jerusalem met in Jerusalem. Prior to this, many connections between the two dioceses had developed. Bishop Steven Bayne was instrumental in the founding of St. George’s College in Jerusalem. St. George’s alumni at St. Mark’s Cathedral were leaders in establishing the St. Mark’s Palestinian Concerns Group in the 1980’s, and Bishop Robert Cochrane was the first bishop to host the bishop of Jerusalem in our diocese.
Today, increasingly adverse living conditions threaten the very survival of the Christian churches in Israel and Palestine, and the estimated Christian population in the Holy Land has declined from 25–30% to 1–2%. Never has there been a more urgent time for public awareness and support.
By means of education, advocacy, and prayer, we are committed to supporting our Christian brothers and sisters in their struggle to survive the social, cultural, and economic effects of 49 years of military occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and to assisting their efforts to bring about a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A centerpiece of our work has been the formation of sister church relationships. These relationships have led to visitations and exchanges of youth and clergy, volunteer opportunities, and financial support for health and education ministries, especially through the Good Friday Offering. Currently there are active partnerships between St. Paul’s, Port Townsend, and St. Matthew’s, Zababdeh; Epiphany Parish, Seattle, and St. John the Baptist, Irbid, Jordan; St. Andrew’s, Seattle, and Holy Family, Raineh, Israel; and St. Thomas, Medina, and St. Andrew’s, Ramallah. Other efforts include the development of educational programs for the congregations of the Diocese of Olympia, an information and advocacy network, and collaboration with local ecumenical and interfaith organizations in support of joint projects and major conferences.
The Bishop’s Committee is your way to keep current and learn how you can help. We depend on our partners in the Diocese of Jerusalem for accurate, up-to-date information about the human cost of Israel’s continuing policy of settlement expansion and construction of separation barriers. We are connected with a national and international Christian network that includes The Episcopal Church USA’s Peace and Justice Ministry, American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ), Churches for Middle East Peace, Sabeel, and the Church Council of Greater Seattle.
Can we make a difference? There are no easy answers, but our Baptismal Covenant calls us to strive unceasingly for justice and peace. The Resurrection is our hope.