Lynn Lantz: Finding a Ministry in the Holy Land

By Jeannie Babb

“Put your feet in the land. I think the most important thing that can happen in the Holy Land is to maintain a Christian presence.”

Lynn Lantz had just completed a four-year course with Education for Ministry (EfM, a program of The Beecken Center at The School of Theology) and was praying for the Holy Spirit to guide her in finding her ministry when she made her first pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

That first pilgrimage, about four years ago, challenged her expectations about the place and the people. “I did not expect the wall to be so high and so long. I didn’t expect the majority of Christian holy sites to be in the West Bank, or that it would be so difficult to get there. I didn’t expect to feel so safe in the West Bank. As a neophyte, I thought Israel was a Jewish and Christian nation. I had no idea the Christians in the Holy Land were Palestinian, and suffering the same lack of rights as Muslim Palestinians.”

Lantz says the dwindling Christian population in the Holy Land was another revelation. She found the Christian minority surprisingly cohesive, with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem involved in a tremendous amount of humanitarian and educational work together with all Christian denominations and other faiths. These ministries are open to all. The hospital in Gaza, operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, serves anyone who walks through the door.

After visiting Arab Evangelical Episcopal School (AEES) and Episcopal Technological and Vocational Training Center (ETVTC), Lantz was so impressed she joined American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ) as a missioner, and began to arrange pilgrimages for others. She now serves on the Board of Trustees as well.

“EfM was the catalyst for finding this ministry,” she says. “It was no accident.” Lantz is now taking year three of EfM for a second time, in order to experience the new Christian history curriculum featuring the work of Diarmaid MacCulloch. “I love reading the book. He refers to places I’ve been, and I can visualize familiar locations. The curriculum is reiterating what I know and integrating my travels with the history of our faith.”
Lantz encourages Christians from all walks of life to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A pilgrimage is not a tour. As the Very Rev. Dr. Graham Smith, dean of St. George’s College, says, a tourist walks through the land, but the land walks through a pilgrim.

Lantz emphasizes that she is not a travel agent and is not paid for the pilgrimages she arranges. As a trustee and missioner, she is committed to the humanitarian efforts of AFEDJ. The pilgrimages are part of her ministry, arising from Lantz’s belief that when Western Christians “put their feet in the land,” they, too, will develop a connection with and commitment to Palestinian Christians.

Palestinian Christians support the visits and pilgrimages of U.S. Christians, because they want the world to understand the situation. Lantz says Arab Palestinian Christians want Western Christians to join them for meals, to see how they live, and bear witness to the situation in the Holy Land.

“They trust that we will remember. We will go home and tell their story—that they are not at war with Muslim Palestinians. That they are not Israeli citizens. They want to maintain a presence. They want peace, and they want to enjoy the rights that Israeli citizens enjoy—to get a building permit, to work, to travel, and to experience freedom.”

Lantz explains that there are three areas of occupied Palestine. Area A is all Arab (PLO.) Area B is joint rule. Area C is all Israeli. She says the Palestinian areas are cut up and cut off from one another “like a checkered scarf or a piece of Swiss cheese.” Jewish hilltop settlements throughout Palestine, accessed by roads only Israelis may access, further limit and cut off Palestinians in the area.

Some Israeli Jews protest Israel’s use of force against Palestinian—just as there are Palestinians calling for peace. Lantz says Palestinian Christians are the most solid voice for peace, because they have nothing to gain from war. “There is no hostility between Muslims and Christians in Palestine,” she says. “Christ taught love, healing, and peacemaking.” For this reason Lantz suggests Western Christians have a calling to bear witness to the suffering of Palestinian Christians and to support their peacemaking efforts in the land.  She asserts that a Christian presence—both indigenous and local—is key to promoting reconciliation in the region. 

Lantz says the Christians in Palestine work and worship easily together, regardless of denomination. “I was there for Lent one year, working in the school. For Lent, all the churches combine weekly Lenten services—Greek Orthodox, Melkites, Episcopal, Roman Catholic. I think their position in society has pushed them to be more ecumenical. They have a way of being able to put theology aside when necessary.”

She describes a time when all Christian leaders paid a visit to the Dome of the Rock, prayerfully and publically hoping it would remain Muslim. Christians in Palestine know what it is like to be excluded from their holy sites, since they are subject to the same travel restrictions as Muslims.

Lantz says, “One of the issues is that Palestinians who live in the West Bank must have permits, and the number of permits depends on the aggression level. Collective punishment is common.”

For example, she says Israel responded to the murder of four rabbis by demolishing family homes of the suspected assailants, then tightening security for all Palestinians. Palestinian violence usually comes from individual young men with no organizations taking credit; yet, punishment is often leveled against whole regions.

Lantz personally knew two young men who died from Israeli gunfire while protesting. She says live gunfire is not allowed to be used against civilians, only rubber bullets. One of the young men was a student at a Christian school where Lantz volunteers.

“Was the young man Muslim? I couldn’t tell you. At school we do not allow religious jewelry or clothing. I’ve always seen him in a chef’s outfit.”

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