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One London church goes on the record with ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Still more Christmas messages. The Pope weighed in again, albeit mostly in broad generalities, but with a nod to atheists.  The justice club is growing.

But check out this London church’s “Bethlehem Unwrapped” happening. They built a real Wall – in the middle of London – with a series of events to boot.

Quite an undertaking. Talk about going on record.

What it would be like if we had a similar happening in our American backyard?

It would be a difficult assignment.

Some American church has got to do it sooner or later. After all, the churches have been on a BDS roll for some time. Sure there have been setbacks and retro-assaults like the one the American Studies Association is undergoing now. In the past few days, the ASA issued a red alert due to the usual threats from the usual suspects.

Then there was the pre-Christmas message from Elie Wiesel – “Iran Must Not Be Allowed To Remain Nuclear.” Wiesel’s endless rendition of the axis of evil and America (with Israel) as innocent routine is old and tired. You would think he and his advisers realize it. They don’t.

Branding Iran as a nuclear outlaw is a hoot, considering Israel’s nuclear stockpile. But, then, why let rational thought and analysis interfere with an established Holocaust-Forever ideology?

Nonetheless as the year draws to an end, we should take note how far things have come.

In Bethlehem Unwrapped, we even have a minister who is willing to stand up and be counted. Since I’ve noted the religious and secular Samantha Power types who adopt patriarchy as their natural habitat, women who stand up deserve a shout out.

So, hats off to Reverend Lucy Winkett, Rector, St. James’s Piccadilly. Here is the way she addresses her sponsorship of the event:

St James’s Church welcomes you to Bethlehem Unwrapped 23rd December 2013 – 5th January 2014. At Christmas, we sing about the “little town of Bethlehem”. This Christmas, we are hosting a festival celebrating the people of Bethlehem today and drawing attention to the Barrier that affects every aspect of daily life. The wall in our courtyard is a replica segment of the wall that surrounds Bethlehem. It is 8 metres tall because the real wall is 8 metres. It obscures the view of this historic church because that is what has happened to Bethlehem’s holy sites and historic places.

In 2009, Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem issued a joint appeal to Christians throughout the world to understand and help to alleviate the desperate hardship the wall has caused. It is a daily disaster for ordinary Palestinian families. In hosting this festival, St James’s Church joins the movement in Bethlehem known as “beautiful resistance”, celebrating the culture, music, food and humour of those who live behind the Wall. St James’s stands in solidarity with the universal call for a just and sustainable solution for both Palestinians and Israelis. The stated aim of the wall at its inception in 2002 was to protect Israeli citizens from terrorism. St James’s Church opposes all forms of racism including anti-Semitism and supports the right of the State of Israel to exist with secure internationally recognised borders.

This wall is symbolic of walls all over the world that divide and confine peoples, restricting free movement and dominating the imagination of those who live behind them. We believe that bridges not walls are the only lasting foundation for peace. On Sunday 5th January at the end of the festival, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, the Wall itself will be transformed into a symbol of peace and hope.

We join with people of all faiths in praying for the day when the Wall will come down.

If only church folks in America would hear Reverend Winkett’s words. Better yet if they saw their own churches so wonderfully unwrapped, it might empower them to ask how America contributes to injustice in the (un)Holy Land.

Of course, there would be the usual charges of anti-Semitism. It goes with the territory. Yet both the One State discourse and the BDS movement are gaining traction here. It’s a matter of time until the churches walk the extra mile in Palestinian shoes.

I do hope that the Reverend’s theology is progressive all around, unlike some of the best known anti-Zionist British clergy on the scene today. You know the clergy who take Jews to task for Zionism while spouting retro-theologies where there’s no room in the Inn for Jews – except as straying precursors to their wonderful Cross-adorned clerical black shirts. At least, as far as I can see this isn’t true with Reverend Winkett.

In the coming year let’s demand an end to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim boxes some would like us to re-inhabit. Our burgeoning justice club – welcome atheists! – can’t afford divisions anymore.

So bravo for Bethlehem Unwrapping. A positive note to start our New Year.

Still the challenge remains. When will a similar unwrapping take place in (Christian) America?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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12 Responses

  1. MHughes976
    December 26, 2013, 9:38 am

    I’ll be trying to get some strong attention to all this in my part of the Church of England – the Oxford Diocese – in the New Year.
    As far as I know Lucy Winkett is indeed an all-round progressive. Mind you, Anglican clergy are not known as ‘Reverend X’ – ‘Ms. Winkett’ would be better.

    • W.Jones
      December 26, 2013, 10:31 am

      I thought Rev. is one of their titles? What is the title then?

      • Walid
        December 26, 2013, 10:45 am

        Whatever her title, bravo, bravo, bravo to Lucy Winkett.

      • MHughes976
        December 26, 2013, 2:11 pm

        Well, we’re still the institution – some would say semi-comical institution – described by Trollope, with a respected but not sacred clergy. The fuller title would be ‘the Reverend Mr./Ms.’ but if one of these is to drop out it’s ‘Rev’, so that it is the commonality with ordinary people that is marked. Though we can be a bit ridiculous we can manage to do serious things, as Ms. Winkett shows. On the other hand I’d have to say she is unusually bold and that the main reaction of the CofE to Kairos Palestine was disgracefully cowardly. We will see what attempts are made to destroy her.

      • W.Jones
        December 26, 2013, 8:57 pm


        Did the C of E have any reaction at all to Kairos Palestine?

        Kairos Palestine was written by leading Palestinian Christians, but not in all cases did they represent the main church leader. But their churches’ leaders did make a statement recognizing Kairos Palestine and talking about it sympathetically. eg. in one case an author was a bishop and the Patriarch officially replied that he “heard” the document and that it was about real suffering, etc.

        Second, what about Kairos Britain? Its authors include C of E church figures, including at least one bishop, and replied to Kairos Palestine with sympathy and repeated alot of what it said. It was a kind of echo of Kairos Palestine. I would be interested in discussing this further with you by email.

      • MHughes976
        December 26, 2013, 9:26 pm

        To the best of my memory, discussion of Kairos Palestine was deflected at the General Synod and came to nothing much. At the time only one very junior Bishop (of Huntingdon) made reference to it in messages to his flock. More recently Kairos Britain has indeed come into being – I joined it last month – and may gain some influence. There’s also an organisation called ‘Embrace the Middle East’ which is now offering speakers who will bring some information to grassroots CofE organisations. The parish next door to mine is hosting one of their speakers in a couple of weeks, so things are starting at last to happen.

      • W.Jones
        December 28, 2013, 5:14 pm

        Congratulations on joining it.

  2. W.Jones
    December 26, 2013, 10:32 am

    This is interesting. Traditionally around Christmas people make scenes from Bethlehem to bring the site to life for Christians. In this case it shows the wall, because it’s a major feature of Bethlehem now.

    • Walid
      December 27, 2013, 2:39 am

      Leave it to the good Canadians to do the right thing; from Haaretz 3 weeks ago:

      “Canada’s largest Protestant church launched a campaign to boycott goods made in the West Bank.

      The United Church of Canada campaign, dubbed “Unsettling Goods: Choose Peace in Palestine and Israel,” encourages “economic action” against three Israeli companies: Keter Plastic Ltd., SodaStream and Ahava, which all have factories in the West Bank.

      “With these efforts, we join with many others striving to bring peace with justice to the Holy Land,” the church’s moderator, Gary Paterson, wrote in a November letter to church members announcing the launch of the campaign.

      Churchgoers are also urged to avoid retailers carrying the products, such as Canadian Tire, The Bay, Home Depot and Walmart….”

  3. LeaNder
    December 26, 2013, 11:24 am

    Great idea. Thanks for letting us know.

  4. gamal
    December 26, 2013, 12:23 pm

    OT but perhaps of interest, a Bradford Synagogue saved by Muslims

    “Now the two men get on so well that when Leavor goes on holiday he gives the synagogue keys to Karim, as well as the alarm code. They have begun what they hope will be a lasting tradition, whereby the Jewish community invites local Muslims and Christians to an oneg shabbat (Friday night dinner) and Muslims return the invitation for a Ramadan feast and Christians during the harvest festival. For the latter, Karim provided halal mince for the shepherd’s pie.”

    • Walid
      December 27, 2013, 2:26 am

      gamal, this brings to mind another oddity involving 2 religions and the most holy of Christian churches in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built on the site believed to be where Jesus was buried and resurrected. Since 826 years, the keys to the church have been entrusted to 2 Muslim families, the Joudeh and the Nusseibeh by the Sultan Saladin. This came about because the various Christian sects could not agree among themselves on which group was to be responsible for the church so Saladin decided for them. The fighting between the Orthodox and the Catholics that at times turn physical never stopped. Each morning at 7:30, someone from the Jaoudeh family unlocks the main door to the church, then hands the key to someone from the Nusseibeh family that unlocks a second door to let out those that had stayed inside all night to pray. The exception to the daily ritual happens on the evening preceding the Orthodox Easter when the church is opened in the evening for the annual Miracle of Lights event. In 1834, the Church was so packed that a stampede caused four hundred deaths. The Muslim governor Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt exited the packed church by commanding his guards to slice a way out. There was a stampede and four hundred died. In 1856, Greek pilgrims battled Armenians with concealed sticks and stones. Not the most of peaceful of religious locations. Israeli police still being called in to break up fights between Christians.

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