Earlston Parish Church is to twin with a Presbyterian church in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in a show of solidarity with Christians in the war-torn Middle East.
The formal twinning arrangement – already approved in principle by the Earlston Kirk Session – is due to be sealed in September when Pastor Rola Sleiman of Tripoli’s National Evangelist Presbyterian Church visits the Borders.
The move has been spearheaded by Tom Burnham, convener of Earlston’s Mission and Outreach Committee and a member of the Church of Scotland’s Middle East Committee of the World Mission Council.
Last year Tom, accompanied by Earlston minister Rev Julie Rennick, visited Tripoli to discuss the twinning, and he returned to the city in February to witness the ordination of Pastor Sleiman as the first female minister in the Arab Christian world.
“This was an historic event – the first time that the male monopoly of clergy in eastern Christian churches has been broken,” said Tom.
“Rola’s church falls under the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon [NESSL] – the equivalent of our Church of Scotland – which has around 7,000 members roughly split between the two countries.
“Although surrounded by armed conflict and unbelievable privation, these members have formed tight-knit and dedicated communities, offering succour and education to refugees while bringing up their own children in the faith.”
Tom has since received a letter from the Rev Dr Joseph Kassab, general secretary of the NESSL, endorsing the twinning arrangement.
“Our long historical partnership and common heritage must be cultivated and nurtured through relationship of the level of grassroots and leadership as well,” wrote Dr Kassab. “God bless your efforts in strengthening the Christian ties between our two churches.”
Steering groups had now been set up in both churches to organise a partnership programme which will “strengthen the faith, spirituality and understanding of its participants for at least one generation”.
“There will be regular visits from one church to the other and simultaneous acts of worship, with worship sheets in both English and Arabic,” revealed Tom. “We will have a joint Facebook page and send each other quarterly newsletters.
“The important thing is that the twinning is sustainable and to that end I’m delighted we have four Earlston High pupils on our steering group.
“We hope the link and mutual understanding between our schools will flourish in the years ahead.”