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SummerFall 1999
Volume 4 Number 2


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By Krystin Granberg and Graham Robinson

In 1991 Mr. and Mrs. Thomas G. Cousins, Presbyterians from Atlanta, Georgia, made a generous gift to Princeton Seminary designated for The Pastor's Study Tour of the Holy Land. This gift has made it possible for three groups of PTS alumni/ae pastors (from the Class of 1991 in 1996, the Class of 1992 in 1997, and the Classes of 1993 and 1994 in 1999) to travel to Israel with PTS faculty members for two weeks of study and touring.

 

In the spring of 1999, twenty-nine Presbyterian alumni/ae who are serving in local congregations as pastors or associate pastors traveled to Israel with Dennis Olson, PTS associate professor of Old Testament, Scott Sheldon, program director for congregational life of the Center of Continuing Education, and Richard Whitaker, PTS information research specialist (and his wife, Anita) to "walk in the footsteps of Jesus."

 

Krystin Granberg, interim associate pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, and Graham Robinson, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut, offered to write about the trip for inSpire. Krystin, PTS's photographer during her student days, took the photographs and wrote the personal reflections.

"Don't look at me, turn and look." These were the words of Wayne Bogue (Class of 1994) as he led devotional time at Mt. Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee. He said, "Turn. Look out there. Look away from me. Listen to the words of Psalm 104." As we traveled through Israel, "turn, look" were words we would hear again and again.

 Israel1.jpg (25948 bytes)Frankly, most members of the Classes of 1993 and 1994 would have looked elsewhere for continuing education because of the cost and time associated with such a venture. But Tom Cousins challenged Princeton Seminary to turn and look to Israel. Now, the way we turn and look to our stories of faith, as individuals and as a community, and to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, will be changed forever.

At Princeton on the eve of our departure, Dr. Richard Whitaker reviewed the history of Israel, explained the differences between modern and biblical times, and gave us an orientation to the political geography. He also warned us when he said, "The goal is not to get to a particular place, the movement from point A to point B; the trip itself is a journey. Sitting on the bus, hiking the paths, taking a morning run, everything you do is part of your experience." There was nothing we were not to receive as a gift of the trip. Certainly part of that gift was the wonderful leadership of Dick and Anita Whitaker, Dennis Olson, and Scott Sheldon.

As we traveled from Dan to Beersheba, Meggido to Masada, Golan to Qumran, and attempted to leave no "tel" unturned (one archaeological site we tried to visit was actually closed!), we found ourselves surprised, nurtured, disturbed, and inspired. We visited locations of historical and archaeological significance, learned about the mikvah and purification rituals, saw the places where Jesus walked, shared communion near one of the sites claimed to be the garden tomb, hiked the desert trails to monasteries built into the cliffs, passed by military bases and witnessed Jewish school children guarded by soldiers with guns, listened to stories of Palestinian Christians, and watched as Palestinians had identification cards checked on the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. israel2.jpg (43495 bytes)

The profound effect these experiences had on us was focused by Mark Thomson during his devotion near trip's end. He compared our journey to the experience of Jacob striving with the angel. Jacob's wrestling with the angel became an archetype for our own struggles and our being blessed in Israel. Much like Jacob, we wrestled in the night with the religious and political struggles that plague the region and with the implications of Zionism and of the Palestinian state. We wrestled with the question of religion and faith; with church structures built on "holy sites" strewn with incense, gold, and myrrh; with the intersection of three main religions while we claim "Jesus as Lord"; with the reality that a Muslim holds the key to the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to keep peace between the numerous Christian communions inside. We had difficulty finding a name for the division we witnessed in Jerusalem and in Jericho, in Galilee and in Samaria. In this wrestling we were wounded. We were wounded by the joy and the suffering, the laughter and the tears, and the injustice we witnessed.

And though like Jacob we left Israel limping, we knew we had been named for we are new people in and through the time we spent together, in our own personal struggles and questions, and in our quest to be engaged by and to engage God. As Mark aptly said, "In many ways, like Jacob, we have been ambushed by God with questions we never thought would be raised in our excitement to 'see' the Holy land. If we wrestle it will be painful, we will limp, but we will be blessed." Sea of Galilee.jpg (22502 bytes)Yes, and through it all, we had a sense that we had been led and blessed by the one who had walked there before us.

Naturally, being a group of PTS ministers, theological differences were not scarce. But those differences were held in the broader context of our common commitment to being ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Here, too, we were "ambushed by God," offering new friendships, cementing old ones, hearing new words, seeing the world through the eyes of others. As one member of the group commented at the beginning of the trip, "considering my friends from Seminary and the people I hung out with, this wouldn't have been the group I would have chosen!" We had all laughed, for it was the same thought for many of us. By journey's end, he said, "Even though it wasn't the group I had chosen, it was clear that God had. I could not imagine a different group."

Throughout the entire trip, again like Jacob, we were given a blessing. We were blessed with an extraordinary education and experiences to inform our lives as ministers. At the same time we were blessed with a unity that only God's Spirit can provide.


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