Anglicans of Beirut
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The Anglicans of Beirut

February 26th, 2006  - Post No. 22
After more than a month in Lebanon, it seemed about time I attend services at the one and only Anglican church in the country, All Saints, not far from the American University of Beirut (AUB). It’s easy enough to find the church. Its property once ran up to the very edge of the Mediterranean, but landfill behind the church, part of the rebuilding of Beirut, has created the ideal setting for the tallest building in the city. The lofty spiral of the trendy Marina apartment tower, still under construction, rises above All Saints and is a very helpful landmark when trying to find the church.

All Saints Anglican Church has two congregations, one Arabic speaking the other English. Fr. George Al-Kobti and his associate, Fr. Imad Zoorob welcome me as I arrive for the 9:30 a.m. Arab language service. (Fr. Imad’s son is pictured here climbing the stairs of the church).

Later I learn that the main-stream protestant churches more-or-less divvied up mission efforts in the Middle East, with the result that most Arab protestants in Lebanon are Presbyterian, while most Palestinian protestants are Anglican. Thus, the Arab congregation here is primarily Palestinian, most of whom have been stranded in Lebanon since Israel’s independence and, in Arab eyes, the occupation of Palestine — with the annexation of Palestinian homes and property in 1948.

The service this Sunday was Morning Prayer, straight out of the classical Arabic translation of the Book of Common Prayer — and easy enough to follow, though I couldn’t understand a word. Fr. George has a good rapport with his congregation. He preached on the epistle reading for Quinquagesima Sunday, 1 Corinthians 13 — “… faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

The service was followed by a very friendly and well attended coffee hour, featuring Lebanese coffee served with manamish a savoury Arab flat bread (”Lebanese pizza!” I’m told.)

While the Arab speaking congregation enjoys coffee, preparations are underway for the 11 a.m. service for All Saints’ “International Congregation.” This is an English language congregation, made up of ex-pats for the most part, with more than 22 different national backgrounds represented in the community. It looks as though the Canadians may be the largest group and includes a United Church minister, now working as a teacher in Beirut. There are also members form the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and with several other countries represented as well.

Yesterday was the last Sunday of February (already!); and a cozy and informal service of worship and praise was organised, as is always the case here on the last Sunday of the month.

Other Sunday services during the month reflect the varied interests and preferences of the congregation, ranging from traditional to informal communion services (1st and 3rd Sundays) to variations on Morning Prayer, reflecting Anglican and Prebyterian traditions, on the 2nd sunday of the month.

Yesterday’s service was just fine, and was certainly a big hit with the parish youth! The service was lay led, and Ackie Lowry gave her personal testimony of faith in place of a sermon. She is the Swedish wife of Irishman Ian the service leader. She was well spoken, and her testimony was much appreciated. Here she is, pictured with two of her young fans from the parish.

Following the service there were several treats for sale to raise funds for the upcoming parish youth camp at the beginning of April. There was a wonderful bake table and best of all — in the opinion of many of the North Americans, at least — freshly filtred Starbuck’s coffee. As much as I am learning to enjoy Lebanese (a.k.a. Turkish) coffee, there is something deeply comforting about a cup of coffee made the way it is “back home.” This was the first such cup I have enjoyed in over a month, and what a wonderful cup of coffee it was! Compliments to the coffee makers pictured here!

Fr. Nabil Shehadi and his wife Sarah (another Canadian) made me feel very welcome in the Internation Congregation and invited me to join them and a small group from the parish for lunch at their home near the AUB. They have only recently arrived in Lebanon, taking up the pastoral leadership of the International Congregation last summer.

Fr. Nabil is a native of Lebanon, but has lived for the past 29 years in the U.K. where he met and married his wife Sarah, a member of a family from Lake Massawipi, Quebec — in the Diocese of Quebec for that matter! (Now, how’s that for a small world!) Here I am, with Fr. Nabil and three of the the parish kids, including Fr. Nabil’s son Sabastian (left) just outside the Shehadis’ apartment block.

I guess the congregation’s Canadian connection is a bit obvious in this photo? (That’s a Maple Leaf hocky sweater that one of the lads is wearing.)

Lunch is relaxed and wonderful, the Shehadis have a very nice apartment in the heart of what Fr. Nabil describes as the most cosmopolitan part of the city, and really only steps to the main gate of the university. The guests at lunch include 4 mission workers, for the most part teachers of English in church funded schools and programmes, or doing youth development work in the region. One, Colin, is a Christian environmentalist working on an environmental protection programme in the mountains.

Sebastian Shehadi entertains us with a video he and two of his classmates have made — the first in what this budding cinematographer hopes will be a series of comical video clips.

Paul, the husband of another Sarah (the United Church minister mentioned above) is part of the group along with his three sons, two of whom are pictured (right) standing in front of Fr. Nabil in the above. Paul teaches at a local English language middle school. There is another short term visitor, beside myself. Astrid from Norway is here for six weeks to complete research for he masters degree in Social Anthropology. She has been studying the patterns of national identification among the residents of one of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Astrid is pictured here (left) talking with Sarah Shehadi just inside the main gate of the university, where we pause during a short visit to the campus at the end of the afternoon.

Once through the campus, we join the crowds enjoying La Corniche, Beirut’s famous walkway along the shore of the Mediterranean. A thick haze rolled in off the sea Saturday evening and remained throughout the day Sunday. Making this sunset just a little bit eerie yet, with the warmer temperatures, very pleasant just the same.

With Fr Nabil’s assistance in negotiations with the driver, I take a seat in a “service taxi” — a cab functioning rather like a bus, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. Slightly more expenseive than a bus (1000LL compared to 500-750LL — that’s 80 cents Canadian compared to 40-60 cents) but more comfortable and quicker. I’ve made a good connection with the parish administrator who lives in Jounnieh, just up the coast from Antelias. If all goes well, I may even get a ride to join the International Conregation again for their Ash Wednesday service the day after tomorrow.