Today I went to church in Jerusalem. In order to get there on time, I had to take the light rail from Hebrew University to Damascus Gate and run up the Via Dolorosa. I squeezed past a Brazilian tour group carrying a cross and chanting a prayer and sprinted past Station Five. What a strange feeling that was.
The whole time I was remembering my route to church in New Orleans. When I lived in Bayou St. John I would walk or bike down Ursulines Ave, along the bayou, and down one block of Jeff Davies Pkwy. The bike ride took about 8 minutes.
When I lived Uptown, I would bike 25 minutes through Uptown, Broadmoor and Gerttown, go over the highway bridge, and down the neutral ground of Jeff Davies to the church on Canal Street. Sometimes I woke up early (walla!) and rode the streetcar for an hour and a half. I had to walk four blocks to Carrollton, catch the St. Charles Streetcar, ride the crescent route to Canal Street, then catch the Canal Streetcar and ride up to Jeff Davies. It was an incredibly indirect route, but I loved the Streetcar so much it didn't really matter. And if I spent 15 minutes downtown on Canal Street it felt like an eventful day.
I was thinking about this as I went to church in Jerusalem this morning. I have no home base here so I'll probably come from somewhere different every Sunday morning I go to church. My first time, I CouchSurfed in West Jerusalem and walked 20 minutes from an apartment on Ben Yehuda Street to Damascus gate in the Old City. I grabbed a cream cheese and lox bagel on the way and scarfed it down as I walked. In Jerusalem it's not as weird to eat while you walk, like an American would. In the West Bank I often get people calling, "sahtain!" at me, basically poking fun and saying Bon Apetit! Americans and their constant rush, their "to-go" culture...what a funny thing.
So I ate my bagel and descended onto the Old City, where I could hear all the church bells ringing. It was a beautiful sound. I wasn't ordinarily awake at 8:45am. My church in New Orleans started at 11:10.
The congregation is made up of Americans and other internationals, and they get new visitors every week from Africa, Sweden, India, everywhere....The service reminds me a lot of my Lutheran childhood summer days in Washington, Minnesota, and Alaska. It's a lot quieter than the gospel services in New Orleans, but it has that warm, family feel.
Here are some photos I took of the church sanctuary and the courtyard outside. The sanctuary was an infirmary during the Crusader period. Now they use it as a mini-chapel for the English-speaking congregation.
After meeting the pastor and his wife for strudel at the Austrian Hospice, I walked to the Educational Bookstore. As I walked under the old city walls, I looked up and saw the Mount of Olives. I just had to stop and take a picture.
Today I also returned to the bookstore. On my way down the Via Dolorosa I had to squeeze past two Christian tourist groups, one from India and the other from somewhere in Europe. This was their first time walking the Stations of the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Some of the groups sing, some of them listen quietly to their tour guides. Most of them pray together. Palestinian shop owners advertise batteries and memory cards with their wooden crosses and other Christian souvenirs. And I'm just going to and from church, establishing a new routine in this amazing city. A city that 99% of my friends in the West Bank aren't allowed to see. I can't spend a minute here without remembering that.
Now I'm sitting in the bookstore, surrounded by books on Palestine and they're playing my favorite song by Fairouz. Three of the people who sat at the next table are Eccumenical Accompaniers. They monitor checkpoints and army/settler incidents in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank. One woman was from Ireland, the other two were from Switzerland and Sweden. They get a three-month tourist visa like everyone else, and they don't mention their work to the Israeli passport-stampers. They pretend to be tourists. They wear vests with the symbol of a dove and a cross and they're still thrown into the anti-Israel bin. They give presentations to the members of my congregation, like the Christian Peacemaker team and the Tent of Nations from Hebron. They're encouraged to be active in social justice once they go back home, but they're not allowed to be politically active here. How fragile is the presence of international Christians in this place....