What follows is, more or less, what I said to the Presbytery of Edinburgh on October 4 and later repurposed, with appropriate tweaking, for the International Presbytery in Lausanne on October 8. My thanks to both presbyteries for their warm hospitality.
Moderator, let me bring greetings from the Presbytery of Jerusalem.
Not quite so large as this distinguished body, we think of ourselves as small but perfectly formed. We have two ministers and two elders.
I bring greetings also from our partner churches in Israel/Palestine: the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its archbishop, Suheil; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and its bishop, Munib.
I should also say thank you, for it is thanks to this Presbytery that St Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church exists.
Two days after General Allenby entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate on December 11 1917, Ninian Hill, an elder in Murrayfield Parish Church, where I was preaching on Sunday, rose in the Presbytery of Edinburgh to urge that funds be raised to build a Scots Kirk in Jerusalem. The Presbytery concurred; after that, the Assembly was a pushover; in 1930, the Scots Memorial was opened; and Ninian Hill became its first minister.
We have a small local congregation, swollen most Sundays by pilgrims, and other visitors. But twice a year, our church is full to bursting.
Our Christmas Eve service is standing room only, but most of those attending aren’t Christian. They’re secular English-speaking Jews who have grown up with Christmas carols; they like to sing them with us, and I get a chance, for five minutes, to tell them the good news of the incarnation.
Equally packed in our St Andrew’s Day service at the end of November. We invite locals and expatriates, Christians, Jews and Muslims; the Latin scouts from the Old City bring their bagpipes; and we sing Carl Daw’s hymn (CH4 339):
Sing of Andrew, John’s disciple,
led by faith through ways untrod
Last year, I based my sermon on the closing lines of this hymn:
So may we who prize his memory
honour Christ in our own day,
bearing witness to our neighbours,
living what we sing and pray.
I understand that you are focusing on mission in your local context and encouraging your congregations to do the same. In Israel/Palestine we do this too.
Why is the Church of Scotland in Israel/Palestine?
The first ministers we sent out in the late 1830s – Alexander Black, Alexander Bonar, Alexander Keith, and Robert Murray McCheyne – were incapable of answering this question realistically.
Caught up in a fantasy about the return of the Jews to Israel, the conversion of the Jews to Christ, and the imminent return of Christ to Jerusalem, they were incapable of seeing the land, the inhabitants of this land – or for that matter themselves – as they really were. They looked at 19th-century Palestine, and what they saw was the land as described in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Nowadays, we try hard to see our neighbours as they are and to witness to them in the land as it actually is.
Two key texts shape our work – one a verse from a Jewish prophet: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love compassion, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8), the other a contemporary prayer, or injunction, from a Palestinian Christian that I first heard a quarter of a century ago: Pray not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli, but pray rather for yourselves, that you might not divide them in your prayers but keep them both together in your hearts.
Put these together, and mission in our context means three things: clear thinking, a passion for justice, and empathy for all who suffer as a consequence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We have always had close ecumenical relationships with churches of other traditions, many of them older than we are. But my predecessor Colin Morton, who went up to St Andrew’s in 1988, the year after the start of the first intifada, realized that ecumenism had to mean more than that: it meant solidarity with the Christian community in Palestine – and indeed the whole Palestinian community.
His wife Carol started Craftaid on the premises of St Andrew’s to help Palestinian self-help groups market their products. This continues today in the form of Sunbula, still on our premises as well as in east Jerusalem, and of Hadeel, next door to 121 and also online.
That was when we began to see more clearly that our mission in Israel/Palestine turned on our commitment to doing justice in an unjust land.
This requires us to be clear about why there is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Going round Scotland, I’ve argued that the conflict is rooted in a double original sin.
For centuries Christian Europe was unwilling to treat the Jews of Europe as human beings. Even after Jewish emancipation spread across the continent in the 19th century, many Europeans were unwilling to accept their Jewish neighbours as equal citizens. Emancipation in many places created a vicious backlash in the form of modern, racist antisemitism – an antisemitism that culminated in the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews at the hands of Hitler’s Germany.
The Austrian journalist and playwright Theodor Herzl invented political Zionism because of his experience as a Jew in 19th-century Europe. In 1897, he convened the first Zionist congress in Basel, Switzerland, with the aim of establishing a state for the Jewish people in Palestine.
He argued that Europe would always hate the Jews, and that Jews, therefore, had no other choice but to go somewhere else and create a state of their own. He was wrong about that, in my view, and it is part of our calling as Christians and as a church to prove him wrong, but he certainly had his reasons.
The trouble is, when you go to Palestine to create a state of your own, you run into the problem of the Arab Muslims and Christians who are already living there.
What was for the Jews of Israel the war of independence in 1947-48 was for these Palestinians the Nakba, the catastrophe, in which at least 700,000 of them lost their homes and possessions, ending up in an exile from which they have yet to return – they and their children and their children’s children.
And so it has continued to the present. Good news for the Jews has been bad news for the Palestinians. Today, it isn’t even good news for the Jews.
Christians say our God is an unbiased God who cares for all of us without discrimination; Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; we love, however imperfectly, because God first loves us.
If we are commanded to love compassion, it is this reckless, indiscriminate divine compassion we are called to love; and yet we are also commanded to do justice.
Holding together these two of Micah’s requirements, while walking humbly in a land in which we are guests, is, it seems to me, why we are in Israel/Palestine.
The Church of Scotland has a school in the Holy Land – Tabeetha School in Jaffa, down by the Mediterranean sea. It is, in my view, the best thing that we do there.
In a land as divided as Israel/Palestine, it includes everyone. The teachers and the local students are Christians, Muslims and Jews; one in five of the students are from abroad. Inside the school gates, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is put to one side: students and teachers get on with the proper job of a school – to live and study and work together.
Inside the school gates, we model the kind of community that we would like Israel/Palestine to be and we hope it one day will be. A community where Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis, may live as equals. A community where everyone is treated as a human being.
When Ninian Hill first proposed the building of St Andrew’s, he said that to Scots visiting Jerusalem the absence of such a shrine was responsible for a feeling of loneliness. Well, you don’t need to be lonely now. We’ll be happy to welcome you any time and to introduce you to our friends.
 Walter Dunlop, Faith Rewarded: The Story of St Andrew’s Scots Memorial, Jerusalem (Peterborough: Fastprint, 2014). Copies available from the World Mission Council, 121 George St, Edinburgh EH2 4YN
 Michael Marten, Attempting to Bring the Gospel Home: Scottish Missions to Palestine, 1839-1917 (London/New York: IB Tauris, 2006)
 Read with care: Wikipedia entries on Israel/Palestine are an ideological battleground
 Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Original Sins : Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel (New York: Olive Branch, 1993)
 Jacques Kornberg, Theodor Herzl: From Assimilation to Zionism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993)
 The same caution applies (see note 3)
 Walter Dunlop, Faith Rewarded: The Story of St Andrew’s Scots Memorial, Jerusalem (see note 1)