For those of you who do not know, I am studying abroad in Haifa, Israel for this semester! While it is super exciting and such a new life experience, I was missing part of home; my church life. So, last Sunday, my friend and I decided to finally check out a local Episcopal church in Haifa, which was about 40 minutes away by bus from the University. It took us a few wrong turns, and checking in random places, but we finally found the church when we noticed a priest walking into the chapel. At first, when we arrived, we were the only two people in the sanctuary so we were a little worried this was not the correct location, but the priest and the organist greeted us warmly right away, making us feel comforted. After we took our seats, the priest came over with the English translations of the readings for that day and also the Order of the Liturgy, because the service would mainly be in Arabic, and he explained the service very thoroughly so we knew what to expect.
As more people started shuffling in, just about everyone in the congregation (25 or so) came up and greeted us, asking us questions about where we were from and what we were doing in Haifa. You could tell they all loved having visitors and were genuinely interested in our stories.
As the service started with the opening hymn, I just stood and listened to the beauty of the music and admired this quaint church. The service was interesting in and of itself because it was a harmonious blend of Arabic and English; half of the prayers were in Arabic, the other in English, we said the congregational responses collectively in both languages, and then all of the hymns were in Arabic. The organist even translated the sermon for us as it was given, so that we too could hear the priest’s wonderful message of loving thy neighbor, and putting our faith in God even through our hardest trials.
Near the end of the service, the priest actually had us introduce ourselves to everyone, and adamantly invited us to have coffee and treats with them afterwards. During the coffee hour where we filled up on delicious coffee, harissa (an Arab pastry), and cookies, the priest once again welcomed and thanked us for joining them that morning, and what he said to us next was truly heartwarming: he said that we were always welcome, that we could consider St. John’s our church home while in Haifa and they would help us with anything we needed in getting acclimated to the city. We had only spent an hour and a half with these strangers practically, yet they had opened their doors and arms to us, and made us feel as comfortable and at home as possible.
Last Sunday was such an excellent example of how to show genuine hospitality towards others, and it got me to truly think about what I think hospitality should look and feel like, and how I will show others this same kindness. I urge you all to also reflect on this, and whether you see a new or old face at church, to treat everyone with kindness and to make everyone feel welcome in our community.
Even though I couldn’t understand the service fully due to the language barrier, I knew that this church was living out God’s commandment to love thy neighbor to the fullest. It was one of the loveliest things to see, that around the world and in all types of communities and languages, God’s love continues to be shared and extends to the edges of the Earth.