In 2001, Bonnie Van Overbeke, who was then our pastor, traveled to Israel/Palestine on a month-long study sabbatical. While there she met Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and director of the Diyar Consortium, the mission arm of the church. Upon her return, Bonnie and a group of interested members of Memorial church began to explore the possibility of forming a partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.
In 2003, the Memorial Church Council enthusiastically approved the creation of a partnership. In the fall of 2004, the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ voted to join Memorial United Church of Christ in its partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church and in its support of the work of the International Center of Bethlehem. Now there is work for a partnership with the whole Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. We work closely with the Bright Stars of Bethlehem, the U.S. entity that supports the work of Christmas Lutheran Church.
The goals of the partnership include the following:
* educating ourselves and advocating with other about the humanitarian issues involved in the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, especially as it pertains to the Bethlehem community;
* giving financial and prayer support to the life and ministries of Christmas Lutheran Church and the International Center of Bethlehem;
* building personal relationships between people in Wisconsin and Bethlehem through travel and other communication.
We hope that through this relationship, the faith of each congregation will be strengthened and empowered to live out the commitments and dreams God has for them.
Bonnie Van Overbeke and Nancy Baumgardner from Memorial have led trips to Israel/Palestine every other year, spending significant time with our partners in Bethlehem. You can read highlights of some of the trips on these blogs:
Here is a photo essay that describes the growth of our partnership.
Action at UCC General Synod
Our partner in Bethlehem, Rev. Mitri Raheb, was one of the featured speakers at the 2015 UCC General Synod in Cleveland on June 28. Here’s a link to a report about his talk. The Synod also adopted a resolution to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation and to boycott products of Israeli companies based in the West Bank.