I have been living in the Holy Land for over six months now. Half of that was in Bethlehem, and the other half was in Jerusalem. Anyone who has spent any time here recognizes how much holy space there is. It is referred to as the “Holy Land” after all. There is no shortage of places with religious and spiritual significance.
I've been to many of these sites, and while I find places like the Holy Sepulcher, the Mount of Olives, or the Church of the Nativity powerful and meaningful, there is a small church somewhat off the beaten path in Jerusalem I enjoy much more. This church, Saint Anne's, is to me the most holy and sacred space I have encountered in all my travels in the Holy Land.
It is a relatively small church from the Crusader period, built by the pools of Bethesda. It has quite a bit of history, but what it is most known for is its INCREDIBLE acoustics. One of my favorite things to do in Jerusalem has been to visit St. Anne's. As you sit in the church, it is often silent and empty. The quiet peace is a shock and welcome break from the conflict and noise of life everywhere else here. The best part, however, is when there is singing.
As one sits in St. Anne's, Christian tour groups come in from all over the world. When you close your eyes and listen as one of these groups begin to sing, the whole church amplifies and carries the song, making it sound like all the heavenly choir is joining in. The music permeates and penetrates every part of the building and every part of your being. It almost takes on a life of its own. The melody almost seems to lift you up and carry you. What is more, there are so many different songs in so many different languages. Listening in St. Anne's for an hour gives me one of the greatest senses of peace I have ever felt, and I think it is a taste of what worship on the New Earth will be like. Every tongue, tribe, and nation, singing praises to God as they are echoed and carried upward and all around. This is the source of my love of St. Anne's.
Why am I talking about Saint Anne’s? Two reasons. Number one is that if you join the Christ at the Checkpoint Student Delegation, there is a very good chance you will be able to see it for yourself. The student delegation goes far beyond the conference itself. It includes several days of activities and trips. You will see the beauty of places like Saint Anne’s, but you will also be exposed to the darkness of places like Hebron. As I said last time, this is not just a cute field trip.
Reason number two is that I believe that the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference will also provide participants with a taste of that global Church I have experienced at Saint Anne’s. You will be at an ecumenical conference where people are coming from all over the world with a great variety of backgrounds and Christian denominations. Many tribes, tongues, and nations will be represented and all will worship God together in Bethlehem.
Finding Hope in the Midst of Conflict. That’s the conference theme this year. That is what I have often found inside of Saint Anne’s. Christians are coming to this event to honestly engage with one another in the midst of a difficult situation. We are engaging with a tough, deep, and controversial conflict. This is right where the Church should be and, if I may be so bold, so should you.