Church and theological college damaged in Lebanese port blast
All Saints Anglican Church on Lebanon’s Mediterranean shore suffered “material damage” in last week’s massive explosions in Lebanon. Latest figures show that some 220 people have been killed and a further 7,000 injured by the two explosions. The second of the blasts is thought to have occurred when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate being stored in a port warehouse was ignited by flames or sparks from the first blast. The resulting explosion – estimated to have been equivalent to 1.2 kilotons of TNT – could be heard more than 150 miles away on the island of Cyprus.
The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, whose diocese includes Lebanon, has launched an emergency appeal to aid the diocesan response. “Since the explosion, we have been in constant communication with Imad Zoorob, Archdeacon over Lebanon and Syria, who also serves as the Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beirut, located about a mile from where the blast took place”, Archbishop Suheil said. “In the aftermath of the explosion, he was able to assess the status of our two resident congregations there, as well as the damage to All Saints and to our complex at the Near Eastern School of Theology (NEST).
“The good news is that no member of our congregations was killed or seriously hurt. However, All Saints' Parish Hall and Vestry were damaged, likely requiring tens of thousands of dollars of repairs. Miraculously, the stained glass in the church nave and sanctuary held firm so there is no damage there, though there is some in the sacristy. There is also no damage to Saint Luke’s School in the more distant mountains. On the other hand, many of our parishioners’ apartments suffered damage, as did our Anglican Centre at NEST.”
The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem is a co-sponsor of Lebanon’s Near Eastern School of Theology, alongside the Armenian Evangelical Church, the National Evangelical Synod, and the Lutheran Church. It trains most of the clergy in the diocese. NEST’s President, George Sabra, said that the centre had suffered more in this blast than it had during the Civil War.
The Middle East Facilitator for the Anglican Alliance, Joel Kelling, said that pretty much all the glass and doors in the centre has been destroyed. “They say the challenge is going to be finding not only the money, but the actual physical glass resources, as well as the labour to replace all the damage done, given that has affected half the city”, he said. “The staff are working to put up nylon sheeting in the meantime, having worked to sweep glass”
At All Saints Church, the church hall windows and doors were broken in the blast, “which has done material damage to the interior of the hall”, Joel Kelling said.
The Diocese’s St Luke’s Centre for Disabled Children was closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic; but suffered no damage.
“The explosion was massive. So much was damaged, not only at All Saints, but parishioners’ homes”, Archdeacon Imad said. “Thank God none of the parishioners was hurt, but I’m busy working to sort out the church and support at least 18 people affected by the explosion. I am working with the diocese to help financially and to clean their homes.
“Thank God the pupils at St Luke’s were away because of Coronavirus, and we’ve not suffered any damage there – so far.”
A member of the Parochial Church Council at All Saints, Colin Gibson, said: “the extent of devastation is shocking. There is a lot of despair. People feel at the end of their tether, with the economic meltdown, the Covid-19 pandemic – and now this.”
The economic situation in Lebanon “was already desperate” even before the explosion, Rachel Carnegie, Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance, said. “The Anglican Alliance was in touch already with the Province to hear how the local church was responding to the devastating economic crisis.
“Accounts were emerging of people in acute difficulties. Amongst these, some of the most marginalised, in this case foreign domestic workers, were being turned out of homes and left destitute on the streets as their employers could no longer afford to keep them.
“The Anglican Alliance has connected with partners in the Communion, especially Episcopal Relief & Development, to help support the church in Lebanon in helping these highly vulnerable migrants, many from Africa. The humanitarian situation has of course been rendered even more desperate by last week’s disaster.”
She said that support for Archbishop Suheil’s emergency appeal “will be crucial to rebuild lives, hope and the church institutions – some of which are being rebuilt a third time after the former years of conflict.”
Fire damages Anglican Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand
St Paul’s Cathedral in Dunedin, near Otago Harbour on the south-east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, has sustained damage to its apse roof and sanctuary after a fire broke out in the cathedral roof at 3.30 am NZST this morning (3.30pm GMT Monday 10 August).
The Dean of Dunedin Dr Tony Curtis, told Anglican Taonga that it was sad news to wake to before dawn this morning. “This was not the start to the week that I wanted. But thanks be to God no one was hurt.” he said.
Speaking outside the cathedral cordon this morning, the Dean said that although the blaze had grim potential, once the sun came up there didn’t appear to be any structural damage.
“There are holes in the roof, and the sanctuary, main nave aisle and front pews are drenched –there’s a lot of ash and water damage. There’s going to be a lot of cleaning up to be done.”
But while the fire left a mess, it’s not anything like the fires in the cathedrals of Paris or Nantes, he said, adding: “and it’s nothing in comparison to what our brothers and sisters in Christchurch have had to deal with.”
When he arrived at the cathedral at 4.20 am local time Tuesday, he found that fire crews from Dunedin City Station had already contained the blaze.
The fire had taken hold in the Cathedral’s apse roof, which is in the newer sanctuary extension added to the 1919 stone nave in 1971.
Senior fire station officer Robbie Torrance reported that when pinex-backed ceiling panels beneath the slate roof had caught alight the water needed to extinguish them had waterlogged the pinex which will now fall apart. That means the central fan-shaped portion of the apse ceiling and roof will need to be replaced.
Beneath the flaming roof, both parquet flooring and the sanctuary carpet were covered in ash and pitted with burn marks, then thoroughly waterlogged during the night’s events. At midday today, the Cathedral crypt remained flooded with water leftover from the firefighters’ work.
The Bishop of Dunedin, Steven Benford, said he was shocked at the “very sad” news. “We say that it is the community of believers who are the church, not the buildings. But these buildings are precious to us too. They look after us and we need to look after them.”
Efforts are being made to re-open the cathedral in time for Sunday, when a large celebratory service is planned. The cathedral is planning to welcome to new clergy: Dr James Harding as clerical canon and Brian Kilkenny as priest assistant; and the Dean’s daughter, Ziva, is set to be Confirmed.
“Ziva is really looking forward to her confirmation service on Sunday”, Dean Tony said. “But I’ve told her that whatever happens, we’re going to make sure she can stand up and make her commitment this week.”
North Carolina church damaged in 5.1 magnitude earthquake
A rare 5.1 magnitude earthquake that woke residents in north-western North Carolina on Sunday (9 August) caused minor damage to a church in Sparta, the town closest to the epicentre.
Senior Warden Jann Boggs told the Episcopal News Service that nobody was inside Christ Church at the time because it was closed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, adding: “so that was a blessing.”
The earthquake was the largest one to hit the region since 1916. No deaths or serious injuries were reported, though some buildings in Sparta were damaged.
At Christ Church, there was damage to the drywall seams in the sanctuary’s walls and ceiling, the well line was broken, some altar candlesticks broke when they came crashing down and “the sacristy was pretty much a shambles,” Boggs said.
“We haven’t had a chance to even get in there and do anything with it, but there’s stuff strewn all over the floor,” she said. “We have no idea what we’ve really sustained as far as damage [in the sacristy].”
Anglican Vicar in Baghdad honoured by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth
The Parish Priest at St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, Father Faiz Jerjes, has been given an honour by Queen Elizabeth II. He has been made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – MBE – “for services to the Anglican, Christian and local community in Baghdad.”
In a statement, the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf sent: “warmest congratulations from the rest of the Diocese . . . to Canon Faiz, his family, and all who worship at St George’s.”
The honorary award of an MBE by Queen Elizabeth is not the first official recognition of Father Jerjes’ ministry. In 2017, he was named one of Iraq’s “Personalities Of The Year” by the country’s Ministry of Culture and in 2018 he was honoured by the Iraqi Army for his peace-building efforts and for “his outstanding contribution to peaceful co-existence in Iraq.” At the time, the Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army, Lieutenant-General Othman al-Ghanmi, praised Father Faiz “for his courage in helping to raise awareness of issues others feared to broach.”
The Church is currently struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic which is seeing around 2,000 new cases a day in Iraq. “Most observers believe that the true number is much higher”, the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), which supports the Church in Baghdad, said. “There is a stigma around illness in some communities and this is thought to lead to a lot of under-reporting.”
FRRME funds St George’s medical centre, which was treating 2,000 patients each month before the pandemic. One of its doctors has tested positive for the virus as has a staff member of the Church. “They both went into quarantine of course”, FRRME said. “Once again this demonstrates the risks which front-line medics work under in the current health crisis.”
The medical centre has purchased a new sanitising unit that will be used by everyone entering the clinic to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The clinic is treating people with mild Covid-19 symptoms. More advanced cases are being referred to local hospitals.
Candles at curfew: Victorian Anglicans shine “lights of hope” as Covid-19 lockdown extends
New stringent restrictions limiting movement and personal interaction have come into force in Melbourne and the Australian state of Victoria. The new restrictions include a night-time curfew, which comes into effect at 8 pm each night. The Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, has encouraged Victorians to place a lit candle in a window of their home each night, as a sign of hope.
“I will be lighting a candle at my home tonight, placing it in the window facing the street on which I live,” Dr Freier said last week on the first day of the new restrictions. “I invite people across our communities to light up the windows of their rooms, apartments and houses. Together we can spread the light as a sign of hope in these dark days.”
Dr Freier added: “for Christians, lighting a candle is a symbol of God’s light piercing into the darkness of our own despair. It’s our saying that God’s hope is the power that motivates us as we continue to endure these limitations and experience the sacrifice of this time.”
People have been encouraged to share photos of their lit candles on social media, using the hashtag #CandlesAtCurfew.