Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

Posted in Blog, Israel

The first Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Michael Solomon Alexander (1799 – 1843), was the second son of Prussian Rabbi Alexander Wolff. He was born in Schönlanke in Prussia (now Trzcianka, Poland). From the age of seven, he was taught the Talmud and from the age of sixteen to twenty he taught both the Talmud and the German language to his community. In about 1820 he emigrated to England and became a rabbi at Norwich. Here he met up with William Marsh, a stalwart of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (now the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People or CMJ).

Hoping to get away from Christian influences he moved to Devon. His hope, however, was unsuccessful for in Exeter in 1825 he stayed with a dentist, Anthony Norris Groves. Groves was himself a Christian who became a missionary in Baghdad in 1829. In Plymouth, Alexander got a job teaching Hebrew to the Rev. Benjamin Golding of Stonehouse church in Plymouth. This led to Alexander’s conversion to Christianity in 1825 and a move with his wife to Dublin where he taught Hebrew and was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church in 1827. From 1832 to 1841 he became Professor of Hebrew at King’s College, London, and here he helped in the preparation of a new translation of the New Testament, and the Book of Common Prayer, into Hebrew.

In 1841 the British and Prussian Governments, acting with the Church of England and the Evangelical Church in Prussia, established a Protestant Bishopric in Jerusalem. And so it came about that none other than Michael Alexander was ordained a bishop on 7 December 1841 at Lambeth Palace and became the first Anglican bishop of Jerusalem arriving there in January 1842.

Alexander’s position in Jerusalem was always controversial. He announced that his first duty was to bring the Jews of the city to Christ. Naturally this alarmed the Jews. When Bishop Alexander arrived in Jerusalem, he had no cathedral and almost no congregation. He set to work sharing the Gospel and began building Christ Church near the Jaffa Gate. In Bishop Alexander’s time, Jerusalem was a dirty, decaying town in a forgotten corner of the Ottoman Empire and, in response to the poverty and unsanitary conditions, he established the first modern hospital in the city in December 1844.

Nearly 40 years later, in 1882, the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) established the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital (lit. ‘The Arab People’s Hospital’) in Gaza City. Today it is managed by the Anglican church in Jerusalem. It is the only Christian hospital in the Gaza Strip, the only cancer hospital, and the oldest hospital in Gaza. On 14 October 2023, the hospital’s Diagnostic Cancer Treatment Centre was damaged by rockets, injuring four hospital staff and severely damaging two of its upper floors. Hamas blamed an Israeli airstrike for the blast, a charge the Israeli Defence Force vigorously denied. Israel claims that a Palestinian rocket launched by the militant group, Islamic Jihad, exploded in mid-air fell on the hospital grounds tragically killing or seriously wounding some refugees who had gathered there. Based on ‘overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information’ both the US and UK governments were inclined to accept Israel’s account of what happened.

The current Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, is a Palestinian. In May 2023, he carried the Bible in the procession at the Coronation of Charles and Camilla. When we were in Jerusalem in 2022, Sheila joined an act of worship in the Via Dolorosa led by Archbishop Naoum (I was isolating with Covid). On 24 October 2023, Archbishop Justin Welby joined Archbishop Naoum in Jerusalem. The two men issued a joint emergency appeal calling for prayers and donations not only for the work of the Anglican run Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, but also for the Diocese of Jerusalem’s work throughout the Holy Land which is being greatly affected by the Israel-Hamas war.

Sheila and I stayed in a guest house overlooking the Sea of Galilee owned by the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People (CMJ Israel). In November this guest house began receiving displaced people as part of its War Relief Fund. I think we should all pray for the return of peace to the land where Jesus was born on that first Christmas 2000 years ago.