Uniting Christians in the Holy Land, Middle East Council of Churches
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) is a council of church bodies throughout the Middle East: Lebanon, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. In some ways, it’s like an extended family gathering. In fact, the MECC is organized around four families of churches – Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical/Protestant. Together, these churches are working to support each other and build bridges between people and groups in the Middle East.
MECC was founded in 1974 as a collaboration between the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Protestant churches of the region. The Catholic church joined in 1990 as a fourth tradition on the council. Each of these four “ecclesial families” is represented by a president and members on MECC’s executive committee. Working as an ecumenical group is not always easy, and building a consensus among the different churches can be a long process. But the result is that MECC can offer powerful statements that carry the weight of their shared deliberation. Fr. Michel Jalakh is Secretary General of the Council, with the headquarters located in Beirut, Lebanon.
The Council’s mission is to build bridges, and the inclusion of churches from diverse traditions is just one part of their endeavor. In addition to bringing together the churches of the region, MECC strives to build bridges with Christians in the West, and with people of other faiths. In Lebanon, for instance, the Council has programs that promote dialogue and bridge-building among youth. A recent program targeted societal divisions across several lines, working to overcome tensions between national (Lebanese and Syrian), religious (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and other Christian groups; Sunni Muslim, and Shia Muslim), and gender identities. Another current project is bringing together youth from Muslim, Druze, and Christian backgrounds. The program focuses on working together towards common goals, and in the final phase, small groups will plan activities and projects in their communities. In a recent webinar hosted by Churches for Middle East Peace, MECC’s Secretary General Fr. Michel Jalakh, described how the Christians and Muslims he works with are often united around the same causes, in opposition to the injustice they see in the world. “This is a big opportunity to live together, to share the same values, to share the same vision, for our society and for our future,” Jalakh said.
MECC is also working to connect with Christians in the West. The Council is developing a Christmas project that will feature short documentaries showcasing the liturgical diversity of the Middle East. Each film segment will highlight a particular celebration of the birth of Christ. In total, MECC plans to film documentaries at 12 different churches across five countries. The goal of the project is twofold: to strengthen the unity of the churches in the Middle East, and to open the eyes of Western Christians to new facets of their faith and perspectives that they may not have seen before. It is important for Western Christians to realize that their perspectives are not the only Christian viewpoint, and that those Christians living in the land of Christ may in fact have very different perspectives. This has immediate relevance: just last week, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While some American Christians supported this and saw it as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, many Christians in the Middle East strongly opposed it. We must listen to our spiritual brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and let their testimony inspire action, from the way we vote to the policies we encourage our elected officials to support.
MECC’s work doesn’t come without challenges. As a representative body for its member churches, the Council is involved in the hopes and struggles of Christians throughout the region. For some, this is a struggle for equal rights in their own societies, while others face violent persecution at the hands of militant groups like ISIS and al-Nusra. All of them are caught up in the struggle to build freer societies across the Middle East. In the midst of these challenges, MECC supports the Christians of the region in several ways: providing tools for dialogue and peacemaking, uniting the churches in deliberation on various issues, and as a unified voice bringing awareness of the challenges faced by Middle Eastern Christians to the global community.
CMEP hosted an Advent Webinar featuring MECC’s Secretary General Fr. Michel Jalakh. Watch it here.
Dear God, we pray for the churches and Christians in the Middle East, that they would be able to live in peace and security. Strengthen them as they build bridges with their neighbors and give them hope even in the midst of conflict. As Western Christians, we ask that you would help us to see beyond our own cultural assumptions, and to intentionally seek out viewpoints different from our own. Help us remember that our political decisions often reverberate far beyond our own borders, affecting the lives of those living in the Middle East. As Advent leads us closer to the birth of your son, the Prince of Peace, let us work with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East to pursue peace for all in the region.
Featured Photo: Greek Catholic Basilica of Saint Paul in Harissa, Lebanon; taken by Bahador, used by permission under Creative Commons License.
Story by Michael Santulli, a research intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
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