Author Archives: lindasgalvin

Shoah…An Obliteration of Potential

Shoah - an obliteration of potential

Shoah – an obliteration of potential

A sermon preached on Candlemas, honouring Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, based on Luke 2:22-40

May I speak and may you hear, through the Grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

A Jewish family… mother, father and precious new born baby son… entering the temple in Jerusalem, some 33 to 40 days after his birth, to fulfil a rite of passage required under the law of Moses; the purification of his mother with a simple offering, for those without wealth or status, of a pair of turtle doves or young pigeons.

Three people learning what it means to be a family, with little or no inkling of what life lies ahead of them, but filled with dreams and aspirations of what their son may grow up to be. Maybe for Joseph, a son to follow in the family tradition, to become a skilled carpenter working alongside him, and for Mary, a child who will grow up strong and healthy, perhaps achieving far greater things than his parents had by becoming a rabbi or priest.

We have to remember that this was taking place quite some time before three strangers from the East would turn up on their doorstep, with their unusual gifts, and a warning in a dream that would cause the family to flee across the border into Egypt. And yet the season of Epiphany draws to a close today with this story of Simeon revealing the poignant potential Jesus is destined to fulfil.

A potential that was to bring salvation for those who believe in him, both to Jews and Gentiles at the expense of those who would oppose him, , ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’. A potential that is offered to each and every one of us, to every child that is born. A potential that is to be nurtured and encouraged whatever shape or form it may take. A potential that can be torn away, stamped on and destroyed.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly
John 10:10

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, a day set aside from our November Remembrance Day; when we remember those who fought and gave their lives not only in the 1st World War but also in the 2nd World War, where they stood up aside the evil tyranny of the Nazi regime. Holocaust Memorial Day is a special day to remember the six million Jews as well as other victims, who were murdered simply because of their religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation, bringing the total nearer to eleven million lives.

As a dry statistic, eleven million people is probably unimaginable, but imagine that you drove to the outskirts of London and suddenly the roads, houses and buildings were empty, deserted, every single place, right into the centre of the city. Everyone had disappeared, leaving behind most of their possessions, gone without a trace. Not a single living person remaining.

For the Jews living in Nazi occupied countries, these disappearances were happening in every city, town and village. The streets were falling silent, no one rushing about their daily business, no children playing in streets or shouting and laughing in parks and playgrounds. For among those six million almost a quarter of them were children, 1.5 million lives. Children who never got the chance to grow up and fulfil their potential or their dreams for the future.

Those six million people who were not born as victims, but who had their hopes and dreams brutally stripped away because of an ideology that condemned them to death just because they were Jewish.

Some of you will know that late last year I undertook a ten day seminar at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where they not only educate people about the events and the peoples of the Holocaust or Shoah, as they prefer to call it, but also strive to preserve the memories and stories of the victims. Their photographic archive contains hundreds of photographs of Jewish people; people who smiled, danced, took part in sports and musical events, got married and enjoyed holidays and family occasions; with no awareness of the fate that awaited them; each now frozen in time for posterity, as the camera captured their everyday lives.

Pre-War Jewish Life

There are also photos of beloved children, dressed up and posed in their Sabbath best, no different I doubt to the snapshots we have, brought out years later to embarrass our offspring, except these children would face no future embarrassment.

This recognition of unfulfilled hope is echoed in another part of the site, where the Children’s Memorial has been created by hollowing out an under underground cavern, which has its own symbolism. It is entered by a descent that funnels you into a darkened room. In the gloom the images of several unnamed children stare out from photographs, as the sound of a mournful lament softly plays.

Then further down, feeling your way into the darkness, you enter what appears to be a room filled with stars. The effect is created by just five candles, which are replaced each day, reflected by mirrors to produce an infinity of tiny lights. In this twilight we listened to just a few of the names of some 1800 of the children, their ages and where they were from; a representation of stolen lives. It is very moving and I immediately thought of my own children

But it is the photographs that haunt me because it makes these children more tangible, and despite not knowing their names, they are no longer anonymous. In your service sheet is a slip of paper with some photographs on it, take a look at it now [see below].

Shoah Children Victims

Florika Liebmann, Unknown and Raphael Altmann

On the left is Florika Liebmann. She was born in 1934 in Szeged, Hungary to Bela and Szenka Liebmann. Bela was a Jewish photographer and businessman who ran an optical and photographic supply store, as well as doing photography in local theatres. During World War Two, he was conscripted into the Hungarian labour service. Szenka and Florika were deported, and in April 1945 were killed along with 38 other victims, in the village of Weissenbach by retreating SS soldiers.

On the right is Raphael Altmann. He was born in 1937 in Wilmersdorf, Germany to Kurt and Grietje Altmann. He was the oldest of four children, including his brothers Martijn and Fred. During the German occupation, the family was expelled to Zeist, in the Netherlands, from where they went into hiding in late 1942. When they could no longer stay together, the parents gave their two older children to a children’s house in Zeist. The house had an escape procedure, but in real time things went wrong. The headmistress was arrested with the children and sent to the Westerbork camp. The children were sent from this camp on to Auschwitz, where they perished on 26 March 1944. Kurt and Grietje, however, hid in four different places with their youngest son Fred and managed to survive. Raphael and Martijn never got to meet their sister Sophia, who was born in 1949

And the picture in the middle, what do you see there? A disabled child? A child with Downs Syndrome? Or a child who was lovingly dressed in his smart sailor’s suit, with polished, laced up boots and no doubt one of his daddy’s ties. I couldn’t find a name or a history for this young man, but he is known to have been victim of the Holocaust and he is representative of one of at least 5,000 disabled children who were murdered under the Nazi regime.

The Nazis falsely believed that some human beings were superior to others and they aimed to develop and preserve a pure Aryan master race. To do this they strove to select those they believed to be the most ‘perfect’ human beings and to deliberately remove from society those considered ‘undesirable’, including the disabled.

German midwives and doctors were ordered to report any child known to them who was born deaf or blind, with paralysis or with a neurological disorder such as Down’s Syndrome, and these children were systematically removed from institutions and families, although not without some reluctance on the parents’ part, from whom the final euthanasia was hidden.

Hitler and his regime justified this by endorsing opinions as expressed by Madison Grant, the author of The Passing of the Great Race, who said, “Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life, tend to prevent […] the elimination of defective infants … The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race.”

Nazi Propaganda Against the Disabled

Translation: 60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering with a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen that is your money too.

The Nazis took Darwin’s ideas of natural selection, in particular the idea of survival of the fittest in the animal kingdom, and applied them to the human world and society, however, the valuable of human life doesn’t just rely on its usefulness to others, but more importantly its capacity to love and be loved, and God places in each and every one of us an overriding potential for love.

Not just then, but nowadays, there is also a danger that we stifle this potential even before a child is born. A recent warning by the Church of England was that the future existence of people with Down’s Syndrome is ‘under question’ with the introduction of a new Non-Invasive Prenatal blood test to test for the condition, that the Church is concerned will lead to more terminations because of people’s fears and concerns about their ability to raise a disabled child and misconceptions about the condition itself.

I believe there are compelling and justifiable reasons why a pregnancy might be terminated, particularly if it is for the health and mental wellbeing of the woman or of the unborn child, but not for a sense of seeking ‘perfection’. Some woman reportedly, when they were told that the child they were carrying had Down’s Syndrome were presented with this information as ‘bad news’.

Actress and screenwriter, Sally Phillips, whose son Olly has Down’s, recently addressed this in the BBC documentary ‘A World without Down’s Syndrome’ revealed that when he was born, the doctor said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’, the nurse on duty wept, and nothing positive was expressed. She discovered however, that far from being a tragedy their lives have been transformed by Olly, who is now twelve and attending a mainstream secondary school.

As she says, ‘Having Olly in my life has changed me and my family for the better. He has slightly worse impulse control which means he often says exactly what everyone is thinking but is too shy to say and he is also incredibly caring and gifted emotionally, really focussing on how others are feeling by noticing when people are upset when I don’t.’

And we do well to remember that discriminating against the disabled, disables us and diminishes us. There is no perfect human being, not me or you, nor anyone else apart from the person of Jesus, and no-one should be robbed of their potential for a full and meaningful life.

Simeon, when he looked at the baby that was in his arms, rejoiced that he was being given this opportunity to see for himself the person sent to bring about God’s plan of salvation for all, ‘the light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’; and we know that Jesus was able to fulfil his potential by making the ultimate sacrifice of dying on the cross. It was part of God’s all-encompassing plan of his will being done on earth, but it was also Jesus’ choice and decision to go through with it, no one else’s.

Definitely ‘good news’, however, this still didn’t negate the sorrow that would be felt by Mary his mother. The sword that would pierce her soul, should also prick our own conscience so that we don’t forget those millions of innocent lives that ended so abruptly and so brutally. Children who never got the chance to grow up and fulfil their potential.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time to remember the millions of people who were murdered, not just as an anonymous mass, but having looked into the eyes of the people in these photographs realising that they were people, just as we are. We don’t know everyone’s name but we can pause to reflect on their suffering and remember their ‘untold stories’. We can also make a clear promise to speak out against discrimination which judges some lives to be of less value than others today

In that way all may grow strong, be filled with wisdom and know that the favour of God rests on them.


HMD 2018




A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

A voice a calling out

A sermon for the third Sunday in Advent recalling John the Baptist as the ‘one calling out in the wilderness’, and the call to be that voice today.

Reading: John 1:6-8, 19-28

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I wonder how many of you will admit to watching ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’? Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong if you do. I think we all have a natural curiosity to watch people who for one reason or another are deemed famous, doing things that are strange or unusual. I must admit that if I hear in the news that someone is proving to be a real character, I might flick over and catch part of an episode to see what all the fuss is about.

Of course it’s easy for us nowadays, with satellite TV and catch up, to bring things that are happening ‘live’ into the comfort of our living rooms or on our mobile devices to satisfy our curiosity, but in Jesus’ day any apparent fame was broadcast by word of mouth and only those who were serious about finding our more would make the effort to travel long distances on the testimony of a friend or neighbour; and yet, we hear in Luke’s gospel that ‘the crowds’ were coming out to see John the Baptist; and today in John’s gospel we catch a sense that the strict traditionalists, the Pharisee’s, had got wind of a strange and curious man doing things that were unsettling and causing ripples in their neat and tidy well-ordered lives. Who was this man?

Obviously, not concerned enough to distance themselves from undertaking their strict religious observances in the temple in Jerusalem, but enough to send a contingent of representatives to find out more, just in case. What then did they find as they journeyed out into the wilderness around the River Jordan? The gospel writer tells us that the place they found John was at Bethany – not the village just east of Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives, that was the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. No this Bethany, although nowadays not officially known, would have had to have been about 50 miles to the North of Jerusalem, in Jordan, and is thought to be modern day Al-Maghtas, an Arabic word for a site of baptism or immersion and which has been venerated as such since the Byzantine period.

That’s the place but what about the man? John, even by biblical standards, would have presented an eccentric appearance, dressed in camel hair clothing secured with a leather belt and a physique that was sculpted by a diet of locusts and wild honey, one can imagine his wild hair and austere demeanour were not the things that were attracting the people to him. He probably looked like an ancient prophet, if not smelt like an ancient prophet and his words echoed the prophecies of those Old Testament prophets who had gone before him. Perhaps his disregard for his own personal appearance confirmed his humble and self-effacing nature, but let’s be under no doubt, John was no shy wallflower, he knew what his role was and he was certain about the mission he was undertaking.

In answer to their attempts to guess his identify, he wasn’t the Messiah and he wasn’t the re-embodiment of the prophet Elijah, but he was the messenger that the prophet Isaiah had said would appear as a herald to prepare the way for the Messiah’s appearance; to make straight the paths, to smooth the way, to give people a chance to re-order their lives before it was too late. Yet Isaiah had mentioned nothing about the need to be baptised in order to repent of your sins and certainly this form of baptism was not something that the Jewish people would have seen as normal. Ritualistic washing, however had been practised since the time of Moses, through the Leviticus laws when a person needed to be cleansed and purified in order to be able to make sacrifices in the Temple.

This ritual was later expanded to taking a dip in a ‘mikveh’ or immersion pool, with steps leading down on one side and then up on the other, having passed through the pool of water; think of the pools of Siloam and Bethsaida, that were used for high days and holidays at the Temple site. And as with a lot of Jewish ritual law there are six different options that satisfy the requirements starting with pits, to cisterns refreshed by rainwater, custom-built ritual baths, then fountains, then flowing waters. But natural lakes and rivers were considered to be the best, so the ‘living waters’ of the River Jordan were definitely ideal.

But as John says this is only the preliminaries, water would give way to immersion in the Holy Spirit, and he was very, very clear of his unworthiness to carry out this form of baptism. There was another coming after him. Curiosity satisfied then for the Pharisees’ researchers, they would no doubt return to their leaders with more food for thought than reassurances. But that still leaves us with the question of why so many people were attracted to the message that John was voicing and what that means for us today. What was this baptism of repentance that he offered?

Like ourselves this Advent, the people had been watching and waiting, in fact they had been waiting for over 400 years. This period of seemingly divine silence is the name given to the period of time between the last of the Old Testament prophets and the arrival of Jesus in the New Testament. It had begun with Malachi’s prediction of Elijah’s return, ‘I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes,’ hence the Pharisee’s question and was now to end with its fulfilment in the coming of John the Baptist.

Silence however didn’t mean that the people had been living in limbo, because despite the lack of Scripture detailing this period, a great deal happened. The Jewish homeland had first of all been taken over from the Persians by the Greek Empire followed by an Egyptian occupation. Then halfway through the Syrians overtook Jerusalem, followed by the Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes’ desecration of the Holy of Holies within the temple which led to a revolt, led by the Maccabee brothers to retake control of the Jerusalem, only to be conquered by the Roman Empire, the state the people found themselves in now.

You can understand, therefore, when the strange and unusual figure of John appeared in the wilderness, calling people to repent, to turn back to God , then they were ready and curious enough to seek him out. There were some, like the Pharisees, who came to the Jordan to observe John’s ministry but who had no desire to step into the water themselves. However, even those who did wade into the river, it wasn’t enough to be ritually purified, John’s baptism was more than that – it was a symbolic representation of changing one’s mind and going a new direction – a direction that pointed toward Jesus. His was the voice calling as we are called to be that voice.

On a personal level, I have always been reminded that this task has been passed on to us each time I say out loud the Benedictus during Morning Prayer. The second half of the canticle is an address by Zechariah to his own son, John the Baptist,

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.

You, my child… that you is directed at each and everyone one of us to be the voice, offering the knowledge that points people toward Christ. With John’s baptism, a person repented of sin, acknowledged their need for salvation, and was therefore ready to place their faith in Jesus Christ. It foreshadowed what Jesus would, did and still does accomplish, as the Benedictus goes on to say

In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

John the Baptist wasn’t a B-list celebrity in the jungle or wilderness, someone you think you’ve heard of but you’re not sure you recognise them – he was definitely A-list, but he wasn’t the main attraction. His baptism was a purification ceremony meant to ready the peoples’ hearts to receive their Saviour. In this season of Advent we too are watching and waiting to receive once again with joy our Saviour. It’s an event worth calling out about…



Risky Business

Risky Business

Sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25.14-30

How much of a risk are you willing to take on behalf of your faith? Have you ever considered that it’s necessary to take risks? Surely God doesn’t expect us to take risks! Or does he?

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I wonder, what’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? I could throw in a few example to make you think, ooh yes that’s a risky thing to have done; you might say I took a real risk when I did that; or maybe you don’t take risks because you always weigh up the chances of failure and success and stick with the greater odds of success.

After all taking risks is a risky business – it can involve an exposure to danger, the possibility of something unpleasant or unwelcome happening; the probability of financial loss or the chance of incurring unfortunate consequences by engaging in that particular action. The fact is behaviour psychologists have proved that as human beings we are generally adverse to anything that involves a risk – people will prefer not to take a risk even at the cost of letting valuable opportunities pass by.

In today’s gospel we have the example of three slaves or servants and their attitudes to risk. The first two felt able to take a risk, but then it wasn’t their money they were taking a risk with but the third one started to analyse what the risks were and decided to do nothing, not even the soft option of putting it into no-risk low interest bank account. He calculated the possibility, the probability and chance and decided they were too great for him, and it seemed he made the wrong choice.

Our lives are full of opportunities to take risks, especially where our faith is concerned. I cannot speak for all of you whether you have taken risks on your journeys of faith. Maybe you’re like I was just beginning to dare to put your foot through the door because you want to find out what it is that’s calling you to be here. Or maybe you’ve accepted the invitation and want to know what God might be asking you to do next.

For me one of the risks was stepping into the unknown, with no church background or experience, a painful sense of not wanting to step into an arena in which I could be scrutinised and found to be wanting and yet a deep desire to put myself forward despite all of this. You may have heard me say before, but it was reading John Ortberg’s book, ‘If You Want To Walk On Water You Have To Get Out Of The Boat’, which was the catalyst that made me take a risk to get where I am today; and I would suggest that every Christian’s life is marked by windows of opportunity that demand a radical step of faith in order to follow Christ and fulfil his agenda for their lives.

What makes that step radical is that it always involves significant risk.  We know there are times where God will offer an opportunity and it may be in our relationships; in our career; in regard to our finances, when he says, ‘In order to obey me, in order to follow me, in order to do exactly what I want you to do, this is what you need to do in this situation’. And everything within us is fearful, ‘Really God, you want me to do that?’

The reason it’s radical is because you say to yourself, ‘If this doesn’t work out, this relationship could fall apart.  If I do that, I could be changing my family dynamics, it may ruin my career possibilities in the future, or what if I can’t pay my bills?’ When we are facing a challenge and the possibility of failing, our mind rationalises our fears by coming up with hundreds of logical reasons not to do it. But, where there is no risk, there is no faith. Just like the third servant had no faith in the master.

Without faith there is no power and where there is no faith, there is no joy, no reward, no pleasing of God.  In fact, where there is no faith, what you do get is hollow religious activity, moralistic rules, and dead orthodoxy.  We all know of churches where despite the God talk and the many programmes and course that are run, over time it becomes religious activity and the focus is on, ‘Do this but don’t do that’ Lots of rules and the wrong sort of power. Where though is the presence of God?

We know that when we have great faith we are able to do great things. We only have to think about all the people throughout the history of the bible such Moses, Esther, David, Peter or Paul, God brought windows of opportunity and each one of them took a radical step of faith.  And that radical step of faith meant that if God didn’t show up then Peter was going to fall through the waves or Paul, when he returned after persecuting the Church, was going to die.

Every person’s life that is greatly used by God, that experiences God in powerful ways, takes great risks. When we have great faith we are able to do great things. We can think great thoughts; we can pray great prayers and dream great dreams. We’re not just talking about calculated risks, because let’s face it we all like opportunities that come with the word ‘guarantee’ attached to them. That way we feel safe and satisfied with our decisions. I can think back to the time when I told people I was going to go skydiving and people were worried about the risks, but it was a calculated risk, the equipment was checked, the experts had done it thousands of times before, the step I took to allow myself the liberating and exciting feeling of flying into the vast chasm of the sky had been carefully weighed.

Sky Diving View

Not a bad view from up here!

However, one thing that risk takers have in common is fear; fear of what might happen.  Those emotions that you feel and think, risk takers all have as well, they fear what might happen.  I can tell you, at least my own personal experience, the greatest steps of faith I’ve ever taken I was scared to death, and it’s okay to be afraid.  It’s not okay to allow your fear to paralyze you from taking the step of faith. But you have to have faith to step out in spite of your fear.

God tells us time and time again, ‘Do not fear, do not be afraid, I am with you’, and he equips us as we heard today; ‘put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us’.

The other day I came back from our study group quite buzzing. There had been a sense of excitement, a desire to engage with new ideas, of wanting to do something. We’ve been studying John Pritchard’s book, ‘Ten Reasons why Christianity makes Sense’ and we’ve talked about reasons why we should believe in God, the problems people have with faith, how to enliven our faith and the values we need for the church of today and tomorrow.  Above all the need to be communities where a holy fire and passion burns fiercely at its centre because this is what attracts people. We have to take risks, but as we’ve said risk looks very different in different people’s lives.  Often when we think of risk or faith, we always think it’s stepping out. Yes, sometimes we need to leave things behind and sometimes we need to remain and get stuck in to confront and change things, it’s still stepping out – of the security of our comfort zones.

Change is always a risk –  the risk of alienating people, driving them away, the risk of failure, not being able to deliver on the vision.  But not doing anything is like planting that talent into the ground. As Pritchard says, ‘Change is the way of institutions […], and we have to know when to let time-expired practices go. .. the human institutional life of this community has to be kept under constant review if it’s to be a travelling company of spiritual seekers rather than a secret society of defensive administrators.’

The good thing is sometimes even if you take a risk and fail, you end up winning anyway, because you learn valuable lessons in the process and stretch your abilities. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that you dared and went for your dream against all odds, whether you succeeded or not. Regret of never trying is usually much harder to live with than failure.

Paul reminds us that we belong to the day – to things of light – We shouldn’t be afraid of sharing our faith, of talking about Jesus. After all ‘he was a man who inspired countless millions to change their lives and the lives of nations. His values were flawless; authority secure yet humble; judgement spot on. His teaching radical and enthralling; decisive, amusing, demanding and encouraging, filled with humanity yet left people aware they had spent time with God. Why wouldn’t we want to point people to this astonishing figure?’

And we need to continue to make links between Sunday and Monday. I could honestly say that 99.9% of the people who are part of this church, regularly make that link. But we’re going to need a robust, whole-life discipleship if we are to stand up to the secularizing pressures of the day. A Christian living his or her faith in an informed, open, clear-eyed way with wisdom and integrity is a hugely attractive witness to the King …  So let’s all take those risks and ‘encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing’


Peter takes a Risk

If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat – Peter takes a risk

Day Seven – Antiquities and Art


‘Turning the World Upside Down’ by Anish Kapoor, 2010


Any trip to a famous city would not be complete without a Sunday afternoon browse around a museum, especially if it houses particular treasures. Of course all art is subjective, but there are some things you really have to see and others that just catch your eye and imagination.

IMG_7541The Israeli Museum sits below the watchful eye of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament and the site is spread over some 12 acres, so with limited time it was important to choose which exhibitions to visit.

But there was definitely one that I was not going to miss the chance of seeing – The Shrine of the Book



The Shrine of the Book contains the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947

The white domed building was originally built in 1967 to house the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947. It shapes represents the shape of the lids of the jars in which they were found, and is constantly sprayed with water from the fountain to keep the dome and the rooms beneath it cool.


Inside the cave-like building, in dimmed light are examples of the texts dating from the third century BC to the first century AD, most of which are written in Hebrew, a few in Aramaic and Greek. Most of the texts were written on parchment and only survived as fragments, but despite this scholars have been able to reconstruct about 950 different manuscripts. One manuscript, the Isaiah Scroll (Manuscript A) written around 100BC  is the only biblical scroll from Qumran that has been preserved in its entirety – 734cm long, and a facsimile is displayed around the centre. Toward the end of the First Temple period, the Jewish people began to shape their ancient traditions into holy scriptures and thus became known as ‘the People of the Book’.

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Isaiah 2:3

Outside is a model of Jerusalem recreating the city of 66AD, at the time of the Second Temple at the height of its glory, on the eve of the great revolt of the Jews against the Romans.

From antiquity to modern art, I made my way through some of the outdoor sculptures



‘The strange loop you are’ by Mike and Doug Stern 2015

Created from bamboo poles and multi-coloured climbers ropes, in the Billy Rose Garden





IMG_7549However, I think my favourite piece is the sculpture that heads this blog. The piece was commissioned in memory of Theodor ‘Teddy’ Kollek, the founder and father of the Israeli Museum and Mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, a tribute to his vision for the museum. Under his tenure as mayor, Jerusalem developed into a modern city, and he was once called ‘the greatest builder of Jerusalem since Herod’

Made out of stainless steel there is a warning not to touch the piece, indeed the heat could be felt just by standing near to it.

Inside the Fine Arts exhibition there was one picture that really caught my eye, not necessarily because of its content, but the amazing green sheen that the artist had created for the dancer’s dress.


‘Salome’ by Egardo Sambo, 1920

Another favourite section was the Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei’s ‘Maybe, Maybe Not’ exhibition. Weiwei was imprisoned without trial in his native China, and his movements were restricted by the government due to his political activism and outspoken stance on human rights and freedom of expression. Bearing this in mind, his decision to hold this exhibition in Israel caught many of his supporters by surprise. However, at its opening in June he told the crowds:

My voice should be heard. … I have to make the argument [and not say],
‘OK, let’s boycott it’ and ‘It’s nothing to do with me.’ I think that’s too easy.


I had already spotted one of his pieces outside, ‘Iron Tree’ which is a cast iron copy of the ‘Tree’ sculptures that are assembled from the dry, dead branches, roots and trunks of numerous species of tree, such as camphor, cedar and ginkgo, that Ai Weiwei gathered from across mountainous southern China. The sculpture mimics the form of a real tree, although the cuts and joins are left visible

Also inside is his infamous ‘Sunflower Seeds’ (2010). When it was originally exhibited at Tate Modern in 2010 you could walk across the 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds, each one painstakingly sculpted and painted by hand. However, this constant disturbance created a health risk from the dust that was kicked up. Here in the Israeli Museum the installation was still vast even just walking around the edge.


 At the end of the room was the triptych ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’ (2016). In 1995 Weiwei took a 2,000 year old Han dynasty vase and dropped it deliberately, referring symbolically to Mao’s destruction of China’s historical traditions, when temples and antiquities were routinely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution


 He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house,
and all the houses of Jerusalem;
every great house he burned down.
2 Kings 25:9

The medium chosen for the image however was Lego Bricks. When Weiwei decided to use Lego bricks he received a letter from the company refusing to sell them to him because they were unwilling to collaborate in a political work, therein demonstrating that censorship was alive in the West as much as in China, through large corporations undermining individual freedoms. However, after posting their response on his Instagram thousands of people from all over the world send him small individual supplies.

Of course there were a million other things I could have taken pictures of but time was running out and a one point I did find myself walking in and out of so many different galleries trying to find the exit that they became a bit of a blur – such is art.




Day Seven – A Day of Rest


Sunday sees us dispersing ourselves to various churches in and around Jerusalem  After so many new sights and sounds over the last week it is nice to be doing something familiar, although not quite as familiar as it would seem. The group being made up of Anglicans, Methodists, Church of Scotland, Free Church and Salvation Army representatives we each choose different ways of celebrating our Sabbath.

Some go to St Andrew’s Memorial Church, some to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, one to the Armenian Cathedral of St James and one travels out on a bus to the Pat Ba’Melach Bakery at Gush Etzion, about 10 miles outside Jerusalem to bake bread.


A Dean Sandwich (Wakefield & Lichfield). Can’t you just tell we are Anglicans

My choice is St George’s Cathedral, and a group of us take the Light Railway to the Damascus Gate, from there a five minute walk to the cathedral. We are running a little late and arrive just as the procession is forming at the back of the church, but are shown to the spare seats… at the front.

The service is led by the Dean, the Very Revd Hosam Naoum, the very first indigenous Dean of the Cathedral, having been born in Galilee. All around us I can hear American voices, but also Arabic, and we are told that the service will be in English and Arabic, sometimes spoken in one language and then translated into the other (the sermon); sometimes starting one response in one language and then finishing with the other; and sometimes using both languages at the same time (the hymns). It sounds like a bit of a nightmare to follow, but actually it works well and I am reminded of Pentecost.

The service finishes with a voluntary, Widor’s Toccata from his 5th Symphony in F, expertly played by the cathedral’s female organist and which drew a round of applause from the 200 congregants leaving the building, then out into the sunshine. Adrian Dorber, the current Dean of Lichfield spend one of his sabbaticals in Jerusalem and offered to show us one of the hidden gems in the Old City for an after service coffee.

IMG_7520I have to say that all the time I have been in Jerusalem I have felt completely safe, whether moving through the souks and different  quarters or riding on the Light Railways, rubbing shoulders literally with people ofIMG_7591 all faiths and none. You also become used to the presence of armed soldiers on entrances and corners throughout the city However, on the way back to the Damascus gate, we passed the American Consulate in Jerusalem, a heavily fortified entrance which brings back a reminder of the tensions that exist in this region.

And then you find yourself in a complete oasis of peace and tranquillity.

Behind this very unprepossessing door is the Austrian Hospice. A slice of European elegance, built in the style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse palaces it houses its own Viennese coffee-house and terrace. Here you can sit in lush gardens and sip coffee and sample delicious pastries. The busy city is hushed and almost hidden from view.

For five shekels more you can visit the rooftop with its incredible views over the whole of the city. On this day the city shimmers in the heat and you can almost believe that the world is at peace.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14


Day Six – Pilgrim Footsteps

Nobody wants to be subjected to sitting down and looking at the holiday snaps album. However, if you would like to look at more images then do go to the Jerusalem Gallery to see the rest of the photos


Looking toward the Old City of Jerusalem over the Kidron Valley

It is Shabbat and so one of the lifts in the hotel is automatically stopping at every floor so that you don’t have to push any buttons, and the coffee machines are covered up at breakfast. The coach easily travels along the road, which are clear of traffic – that is until we begin to climb up to the Mount of Olives. Here, as we enter the Arab neighbourhood of At-Tor the streets are busy as it is a normal working day and at least it stops raining as we get off of the coach.

The view is pretty spectacular up here, looking down over the Kidron Valley, with the whole of the Old Walled City of Jerusalem on the other side. Of course the golden Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as- Sakhrah) immediately stands out, especially when the sun starts to shine. However, looking down over the wall one is struck not by ancient monuments, but by rows and rows of graves.


A prime, but expensive burial site, many Jews wished (and still do) to be buried on the Mount of Olives based on the Jewish tradition that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.

On that day his feet shall stand
on the Mount of Olives,
which lies before Jerusalem on the east;
and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two
from east to west by a very wide valley;
so that half of the Mount shall withdraw
northwards, and the other half southwards.
Zechariah 14:4

The Mount of Olives is mentioned frequently in the New Testament, Jesus often going there to teach and prophesy, with his disciples. The Sanctuary of the Dominus Flevit is a little church half way down the rather steep incline that recalls the occasion that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, prophesying her destruction because they would not recognise the Messiah.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it
Luke 19:41 


Mature Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

At the foot of the valley there is a small garden area of approximately 1200m², representative of the cultivated groves that once covered the Mount of Olives. It is within a railed area next to the busy Jericho Road, and any semblance of tranquillity is shattered by the honking of car horns. Here then is the place that constitutes the Sanctuary of Gethsemane.

On this site is also the Church of All Nations, also known as the Church or Basilica of the Agony. It was built in the 1920’s with donations from Christian communities all over the world. It is deliberately kept dark inside, but there is a beautiful piece of artistic fretwork on the entrance representing the tree of life and mosaics and stained glass windows inside.



Two deer stand beside the cross on the tympanum of the Church of All Nations

A small service was being held inside and as the congregation started singing I realised it was Graham Kendrick’s The Servant King and several of us found ourselves joining in. Coming back out into the sunshine though I looked upwards at the tympanum (it’s always good to look up when you go around) and I noticed that there were two bronze deer either side of the cross. I discovered that these allude to the initial verse of Psalm 42.


As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God
Psalm 42:1


The Lions’ Gate or St Stephen’s Gate


Lions or Panthers?

We walk along the Jericho Road to the east in order to enter the city through the Lions’ Gate. The gate is so called because on either side of the entrance there are four lions in bas-relief a reminder that the reason the wall were built was purportedly because of a dream that Suleiman the Magnificent had, in which failure to build the wall around Jerusalem resulted in him being devoured by lions. However, closer inspection reveals that they are probably panthers and not lions!

This is also known as St Stephen’s gate (his church standing nearby) and is the traditional start of the Via Dolorosa, the route believed to have been taken by Christ through Jerusalem to Calvary. For many Christian walking the Via Dolorosa is a significant part of their visit to the Holy Land and I would never deny their sincere devotion in doing so. My logical brain on the other hand tells me that it would be difficult to agree on the ‘exact’ route taken by Jesus as too many different churches and factions have been unable to do just that over the last two thousand years, each one trying to take the route closer to their own particular churches;

However, as in all things historical, there are some sites that can be pinpointed as archaeologically accurate and others that have gained acceptance by the majority of pilgrims. Visiting each of the stations certainly enables you to ‘experience’ the story in an authentic way just knowing that within this city Jesus walked.


The handprint of Jesus?

There are two stations, however, that sparked my curiosity, both involving hands. The first was at the fifth station, where an unsuspecting bystander, Simon of Cyrene, was roped in to carry the cross. As Jesus stumbled he apparently rested his hand on the wall in order to keep his balance and an imprint was left. The touch of centuries of pilgrims has smoothed out the stone and made the depression deeper.

The second is at the eighth station where Jesus came upon a group of weeping women, and told them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children. The station is marked by a stone embedded in the wall with the engraving IC-XC NI-KA , which translates as  ‘Jesus Christ conquers’.


There is a large hole at the bottom of the cross, and as we stood looking and hearing about the station I noticed several women, who appeared to be local, deliberately going over to the stone and placing their fingers into the hole and making the sign of the cross themselves. Perhaps the women of Jerusalem still heed Jesus’ admonition.

The last few stations are actually situated within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; a place where Christ’s crucifixion and burial is said to have taken place. I would think that it should be a place of utter reverence but as always it turns into an ‘unholy scrum’ of people, pushing and shoving, camera’s flashing and fleeting glimpses of these sacred spots. I must admit that this was the place I was most reluctant to visit, for those very same reasons (I had the same feeling about St Peter’s in Rome). However, I cannot be too ‘holier than thou’ as I did take a couple of photographs inside, and a person’s personal response should not be held up against our own reservations. Perhaps I might say that it should not be the commercialism of the sites, and the fact that these things are extravagantly venerated that bother me, but my own expectations of what I want to experience and which I didn’t encounter.

IMG_7496From there we made our way down and through the Jewish Quarter where we found a remnant of the British Mandate of Palestine from the early 20th century on to a remnant of even greater antiquity, the remains of a wall dating from the reign of King Hezekiah (late eighth century BC). It is called the Broad Wall because it is broad and it is a wall… it is a massive defensive structure, measuring some seven metres wide and was approximately eight metres high. No picture because I am sure you can imagine a broad wall.



Finally, we move down and round to a viewpoint over the Western Wall. The sun is beginning to set and its rays once more hit the Dome of the Rock. They are also reflected off of the wall where prayers continue to ascend and the Jerusalem stone glows as if alive.

The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world;
it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven.
Benjamin Disraeli




Jerusalem Gallery

Click on any of the photos to see an enlarged image and caption