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Hello everyone:

I just wanted to post about my very unique Ash Wednesday experience this past week, and try to give a bit of information alongside it. First of all, as I am Lutheran, one can imagine that I was interested in going to the Old City’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer for services for the first time, having had class every other Sunday morning I have been here thus far. Well, as I was informed upon calling the reverend there, Pastor Mark Holman, they actually have the tradition of allowing the Danish Christian community of Jerusalem to use the church for services on Ash Wednesday. I hadn’t even been aware of such a community, but good for them.

As was explained to me, the English congregation of the church meets at the Pastor’s parsonage over on the Mount of Olives for an in-house service followed by a potluck dinner. It sounded great to me – the site was much closer to my dorms, we (Scott decided to come with me) would be able to meet people more easily in a dinner setting, and the Mount of Olives is kind of a cool place anyways, in my opinion. In order to properly prepare for this meal, Scott and I went over to the Israeli shuk and stopped at two places. Given our increasing familiarity with the shopkeeps in the market, we can truthfully say at this point: if you need dried fruit, we’ve got a guy. Or, if you prefer delicious fresh-baked pastry, we’ve got a guy. We visited our connections and went the “bring already-prepared dessert” route, because with only a stove available to us, that limited what we could cook.

Arriving at about 5:45, we were first taken aback by just how beautiful the parsonage was. Like, I have seen some nice churches around the world, and I’m sure that there are some pretty nice parsonages accompanying them. This instance, however, probably takes 1st place. The house is nestled on the side of the Mount of Olives, and it is within a grove of olive trees. It is made entirely of white Jerusalem stone, and the inside is also done in the same rough-hewn style of other buildings in Jerusalem. But the back porch, that was the real point of interest. Not too many people can go sit on their back porch and enjoy a perfect view of the Dome of the Rock and the rest of the Old City. Quite the piece of real estate.

Once inside, we were awash in a wave of mixed groups of humanity – we met everyone from a 40-person tour group of retirees from Arizona; to some people our age who are doing work at a school in Bethlehem; to a girl who works with Catholic Social Services and is transferring to Afghanistan next week (good luck to her); to a very interesting gentleman, albeit with the awful stare of someone who has been persecuted for a long time, and without good reason. Everyone was very nice, and we got to chat for a bit before the service started. It was a common Lutheran Ash Wednesday service except for three major differences. First, it was in a home, which wasn’t too bad other than the huge group of people squeezed into a moderately-sized living room. Second, they made use of something called “Taize” music, a form which focuses on the repetition of a few verses over and again, all with the accompaniment of a guitar (although some of the ladies from Arizona were quite the skilled vocalists, providing several different harmonies based off of listening to the verse once). Finally, there was the common practice of a series of prayers and intercessions, with pauses in between as per usual. The unusual part was that it wasn’t quite silent… because the direct, short distance between the back of the house and the Dome of the Rock meant that we were party to the Muslim evening call to prayers. Certainly haven’t had that happen to me at an Ash Wednesday service before, but it certainly helped secure my comprehension of exactly where I was attending church at the moment.

Finally, I was blessed enough to finally meet someone my age who is already in a very, very similar career to the one I want to get into. His name is Jarrod, and he is already finished with much of the process to become a Diaconal minister in the ELCA. I sent him an email, and hopefully he can detail some of his experiences to me regarding doing the work of God outside the church, as I understand the purpose of Diaconal ministry to be. Hopefully some more updates on that in the future.

Just a few other things I wanted to attach to this post as well. The short version about my camera and other possessions is as follows:

1) they were lost by El Al, and I have not been reimbursed
2) my parents were nice enough to cover the costs of purchasing new things to send to me (electronics here are so overpriced that it seemed more wise to get things shipped from home)
3) after talking to Hebrew University, I was assured that sending my stuff via FedEx would allow the package to get through customs without any difficulties/extra taxes (supposedly the cost of FedEx included that)
4) having been informed wrong, I now have to pay USD $125 or so more in customs taxes, plus the fee to FedEx to get through the Israeli Customs bureaucracy, which I have heard is some of the worst
5) I am told that I will supposedly receive my package in the early first half of this week, so here’s hoping and praying

Since it was really cold and rained almost continuously this weekend, and keeping in mind that I had no camera available to me, this marks the second weekend in a row where I made the decision not to go travel/visit somewhere, either within or outside of Jerusalem. That will change very soon – as I explained to a friend of mine online yesterday, later this week I plan on visiting Hell (the Christian idea of Hell is based off of a real location outside of Jerusalem, where trash and the remnants of sacrifices were burned – I will post more background and details about it while I post about it), and then on the weekend I want to go to the area where Jesus was raised, Galilee. Quite the opposite set of sites to visit in one week, huh?

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