Theology for a harsh world: Summer School in Beirut 2021

The Diocesan Summer School this year became the largest gathering across the diocese since the start of the pandemic. It is a course for those training for ordained or lay ministry in the diocese. It took place in Beirut in Lebanon at the NEST (Near East School of Theology) from 22-29 August.

Beirut port one year after blast.
Beirut port one year after blast.

A topic considered… Who is Christ for us today?

This is just one year after the explosion in Beirut laid waste to the port killing more than 200 people. Even today the sight of the damage, most of which is not yet repaired, brought home the horror of that day to everyone who witnessed it. Those who lived through it now relive the events daily as they try to rebuild their lives in a city that is in serious decline, with only two hours of government electricity a day, fuel shortages that result in kilometre-long queues, resulting in the inability therefore to run generators, a lack of mains water, rubbish uncollected in the street and an economy that is close to total collapse.

The whole city population is almost in a state of post-traumatic stress and thousands are leaving daily, many of them the very people needed to rebuild the country when the political will, both local and international, is found. Streets of shops are boarded up, empty homes and crumbling infrastructure are widespread and it all adds to the general feeling of malaise, desperation and anger.

House damage one year after blast
House damage one year after blast

It was into that context, that students and staff gathered in Beirut from all across the diocese for the Summer School. The aim of the school is to augment study through the year with a focused time of learning and fellowship. This brings expert teachers from many traditions to study the Bible and to worship together. By facilitating people from all across the diocese this also helps to highlight diocesan solidarity, and encourage students to become reflective theological practitioners in their own right.

As one of the students, Stanley Alfred Muthoti, put it, ‘The Summer School program was so well designed to give participants the real-life experiences. There was a depth in every subject chosen to take us deep into them and live them for a moment. The whole new experiences of Reflecting Theology through poetry, music, art and exposure visits were so new and it thought me to be focused as there is so much around us in our daily which we can look at and learn which will help us enhance our spiritual and physical life. The exposure visits were heart touching moments.’

Summer School 2021 Class
Summer School 2021 Class
Tree of remembrance.
Tree of remembrance.

Another topic… Reflecting with Art

The Rev’d Dr Rima Nasrallah van Saane, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology, and her husband the Rev’d Dr Wilbert van Saane, worked hard under these very difficult conditions to organise these ‘exposure trips’, to give everyone a picture of Lebanon’s troubled past and present.

The Armenian Genocide Museum, a former orphanage for children of the genocide, brought awareness of the first genocide of the 20th century in which millions died in a forced migration: The photographs and mementoes are a record of a terrible time. In the 21st century, the Armenian population of Lebanon, once thriving, is now diminishing as the economic disaster forces them once again to migrate for survival.

A trip to an art gallery, north of Byblos, demonstrated how art can be used to express anger, grief and hope. One particular artwork, a pair of slippers, revealed the horror of murder camps during the genocide in which the number of those killed was calculated by the number of slippers remaining at the end of the day. Dr Rima gave a thoughtful lecture on how art and Christianity are closely linked.

 

Another topic… Finding Christ in the Stranger

One of the passages studied in the Summer School was the Syrophoenician woman from Mark 7. This chapter from the Gospels is set in Tyre, in the south of Lebanon, and that became the destination for the final trip of the summer school.

Driving down the coastal highway, Hezbollah flags flying either side of the road, and the closeness of Israel from where artillery rounds were rained down during the 2006 war, brought the news reports into sharp focus. To think too that Jesus himself walked on this very land made the visit very special and the ancient ruins in the town where the woven cloth was dyed made for a fascinating at wonderful trip.

This was the last summer school to be organised by the Rev Dr John Holdsworth before he retired as Director of Ministry.  The final weekend he handed over that role to Archdeacon Christopher Futcher.

 

Slipper artwork
Slipper artwork
Slipper artwork
Slipper artwork

Another topic… Finding Christ in the Stranger

One of the passages studied in the Summer School was the Syrophoenician woman from Mark 7. This chapter from the Gospels is set in Tyre, in the south of Lebanon, and that became the destination for the final trip of the summer school.

Driving down the coastal highway, Hezbollah flags flying either side of the road, and the closeness of Israel from where artillery rounds were rained down during the 2006 war, brought the news reports into sharp focus. To think too that Jesus himself walked on this very land made the visit very special and the ancient ruins in the town where the woven cloth was dyed made for a fascinating at wonderful trip.

This was the last summer school to be organised by the Rev Dr John Holdsworth before he retired as Director of Ministry.  The final weekend he handed over that role to Archdeacon Christopher Futcher.

 

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