Review of ‘The Episcopal Church and the Middle East’ by Charles Bridgeman

The Episcopal Church and the Middle EastThe Episcopal Church and the Middle East by Bridgeman, Charles Thorley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(This review originally appeared in St Francis Magazine.)

This is a short volume, and one that is not very easy to find. My library in San Antonio, Texas, was able to get a copy through Interlibrary Loan (ILL) from the University of the South in Sewanee, itself an Episcopal institution. In spite of the difficulty in locating a copy, the book is interesting and useful given its brevity.

Bridgeman is one of the few chroniclers of Episcopal mission in the Middle East, itself a rather recondite topic. The multifaceted efforts of the groups associated with the Church of England, like the Church Mission Society (CMS) and the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the London Jews Society (LJS, but now know as the Church’s Ministry to Jews or CMJ). The less widespread and comparatively meager contributions of the American Episcopalians has not been a topic of research by and large. Bridgeman, who in addition to this short book published articles in the Historical Magazine of the Episcopal Church and Anglican and Episcopal History, was himself a missionary in the Israel-Palestine for many years. In addition to his articles in those two journals and the book being reviewed here, he authored Jerusalem at Worship (Jerusalem: Syrian Orphanage Press 1932) and Ancient Christian Churches in the Near East (New York: Near East Society 1951 or 1952) and Religious Communities in the Christian East (Cairo[?]: Nile Mission Press 1940[?]). He held the position of residentiary canon at St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem and was Archdeacon in Syria and the Lebanon. Thus he is well-suited to be one of the few voices, albeit not a recent one, contributing to scholarship regarding Episcopal mission in the Middle East.

As a person who lived in the diocese of Jerusalem for roughly five years and who has written both on the history and the present realities there , one of the most striking features of this short book is the sense of how he is writing about a church in an in-between stage. The archbishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East was still, when he was writing, British. But the first Arab bishop, Najib Cuba’in, had recently been ordained as bishop of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Indeed, one of photos contained in the book is of Archbishop MacInnes, wearing his mitre and holding a crosier, holding the hand of the newly consecrated Cuba’in in front of St George’s Cathedral.

Bridgeman shows us a church that is becoming indigenous, that is the process of shifting from being foreign led to being led by indigenous pastors.

The ecclesiastical structure that Bridgeman new is also different than the present arrangement (as of 2011). Bridgeman describes to us a curious structure wherein the bishop in Jerusalem is the metropolitan or archbishop, with regional bishops serving under him in Cairo, Sudan, Iran, Cyprus and the Gulf, and Jordan-Syria-Lebanon. As of 1974, Sudan was not even part of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, rather it became a province within the world-wide Anglican Communion. Also, the ECJME no longer has a metropolitan or archbishop. Rather, the office of presiding bishop can belong to any of the four diocesan bishops. Presently it is Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, the bishop of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa who is presiding bishop. Before him it was Clive Hanford, who from 1996 to 2007 was bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf. Finally, the diocese of Jerusalem once again includes all of Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The situation is not ideal because Syria and Lebanon do not acknowledge the existence of the State of Israel. Practically speaking, the only place where all the clergy can meet together is Jordan. Members of the church with Lebanese or Syrian citizenship may well live their entire life without being able to ever visit the diocesan cathedral. Finally, if the bishop is not of Israeli citizenship, then there is always the possibility that the Israeli government will deny him the needed visa to enter Israel, and by consequence the contested area of Eastern Jerusalem where the cathedral is located.

Bridgeman was also writing well before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, which led to the decimation of the diocese of Iran to the point where it is, today, barely in existence at all. Bridgeman is able to report, correctly, that Iran, in all the Middle East of his day, was the one place where significant numbers of Muslims converted to Christianity, and we are treated to a photo of ‘Iranians of Moslem and Zoroastrian background at worship in C.M.S. Church, Isfahan’ (34). One’s attention is immediately drawn to the several Persian carpets on the floor of the church. Indeed, the inclusion of various pictures, like All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral in Cairo and Emmanuel Church in Tel Aviv, is of particular value. The cover of the book has a photo of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, but before the entire area around the church in East Jerusalem had been built up resulting in the congestion associated with that part of the city today.

The book makes no claim to be an exhaustive piece of scholarship, and Bridgeman approaches the various missionary strategies used by Anglicans and Episcopalians without much criticism. Rather, the books purpose seems to be to acquaint the average Episcopalian with the connections between his church and the Anglicans of the Middle East. With this goal in mind he provides a short history of how the Anglican churches came into being in the Middle East, and then provides us with a tour of the different dioceses and regions as they existed in the late-50’s. He mentions on several occasions the importance of the Good Friday offering, gathered on Good Friday of each year in the congregations of the Episcopal Church of the USA, the funds are used to support the Middle Eastern churches. He is showing people what they are getting for their money, to put it bluntly, and while he does not make a hard sell, he implies that more is needed.
View all my reviews

This is also available through Academia.edu

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Author: duanemiller

I was born in Montana and grew up in Colorado and Puebla (in Mexico). I completed a BA in philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and then an MA in theology at St Mary's University (also in San Antonio). Later life took me to Jordan where my wife and I studied Arabic, to Israel where I helped found a seminary, and to Scotland for doctoral work, among other places. I'm highly interested in the interactions of Islam, Christianity and secularism in modern contexts. My main areas of research for my PhD in divinity were religious conversion from Islam to Christianity, contextual theology, and the shari'a's treatment of apostates. I've also published research on global Anglicanism and the history of Anglican mission in the Ottoman Empire. I've had the pleasure of teaching in many places over the years: from Costa Rica to Turkey, and Kenya to Tunisia. Presently, I live in San Antonio where I am lecturer and researcher in Muslim-Christian relations at The Christian Institute of Islamic Studies (ticks.org), and sometime adjunct professor of theology at St Mary's University. Visit my blog (duanemiller.wordpress.com) or academia.edu page for more information or to have me speak at your church, university or seminary.

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