Kevin Cable on moving to Jaffa

The Middle East has seen a rapid decline in the number of Christians in recent years. Yet in Jaffa in Israel, St Peter’s Anglican Church is ready to be reborn, for resurrection to take place in a building whose doors have been closed for over 70 years, and for the gospel to be lived and shared in word, sacrament, and action. This vision to re-open the church will be challenging, but we trust that God will provide and we long to see the church in Jaffa, the launching point for Peter’s mission to the Gentiles, once again experience a new beginning.

Given my personal background in Judaism, I’d always thought that at some point I might end up living and working in Israel, but neither my wife and I felt that this call would come so soon! We had an inkling of this while leading a parish pilgrimage to Israel in November 2018, with the strong conviction felt by both of us that the Holy Spirit was speaking to us. I have led many pilgrimages to the Holy Land over the years, but this time something was different, and the sense of being “home” was much greater than I had ever previously experienced.

It’s fair to say looking back that perhaps neither of us should be surprised. About two years ago I felt called to get my Modern Hebrew back up to speed and work towards fluency, something that puzzled me at the time given the fact that hardly anyone I know in the UK speaks it! When my wife returned from Israel with me in November 2018 and said she felt called to learn it too, I knew something was on the horizon. Fast forward to October 2019 and sitting in the office of the Archbishop of Jerusalem’s office in Israel, and hearing Archbishop Suheil say he believed my wife and I were being called by God to lead the re-opening of the Anglican Church of St Peter in Jaffa, and at that point what God was saying became pretty clear!

However, one does need to discern things properly, and having returned from Israel, my wife and I submitted ourselves to a rigorous discernment process with the Church Mission Society to explore this calling, and to explore partnering with them as Mission Partners. Clergy readers will be familiar with the discernment process for priesthood culminating in the infamous Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP), and the process of discernment with CMS was remarkably similar to this, the difference being that this time my wife found herself going through it as well! We both though valued the experience, and it was the right thing to do to open ourselves up to God in this way, especially giving the life changing mission that is about to begin.

St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa has been closed since the Arab–Israeli War of 1948, lying damaged and disused. However, in recent years both locals and the diplomatic and expatriate communities have been increasingly calling for an Anglican presence and worshipping community. Archbishop Suheil has a personal connection to the church, as his father served at St Peter’s until its closure, and he and the Diocese of Jerusalem have been working towards and praying for many years for the church to reopen.

Jaffa is a place of great biblical significance. It is the historic Joppa: the place from which Jonah attempted to sail to Tarshish, the port where the cedars of Lebanon arrived to build the temple in Jerusalem, and the place Peter received his vision to go and preach to the Gentiles. Situated near the historic port, the church is ideally placed to be a witness to Christ in the cosmopolitan community that makes up modern Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called the re-opening of the Anglican Church in Jaffa a “story of hope” and “a symbol of renewal and life’”. In the face of great challenges to Christianity in the Middle East, this is the chance to tell a different story – one of new life and rebirth. CMS links to the church date back to its beginnings, as CMS missionary Constance Newton gave land to build a church alongside her work building a school for boys and a clinic.

The vision of the Diocese of Jerusalem and ourselves in respect of the re-opening of the church is threefold:

• To engage with those local Anglican Christians who have been asking for the church to be reopened and to form a congregation that will serve the local community

• To engage and minister to the large diplomatic community in Tel Aviv, and the Ports of Jaffa and nearby Ashdod (Israel’s largest port)

• To strengthen the presence of Christ in the Middle East.

As can be seen from the photographs, the church is in need of much renovation before we arrive, and is essentially empty apart from some pews from the time of its closure in 1948. We have already secured an altar, vestments and some other liturgical items for worship, but there is much to do, and we will have little resources materially or financially.

Jesus words to the rich young man come to mind, when he said ‘go and sell all you have and come and follow me’. Although neither my wife or I are in any sense rich financially, it feels very much at this time that we are being called to do just that. We will be selling our house, and probably a fair amount of other things, and will I suspect arrive in Jaffa with very little. The re-establishing of this church will take many years, and we have committed to be there for as long as the Lord calls us to be. It is an exciting step, and we feel honoured to have been asked to undertake this huge task. 

We both believe that for the Christians in the Middle East, the symbolism of this church re-opening its doors will be enormous. This really will be a living symbol of resurrection and hope, and although my wife and  I both know we have a huge mountain to climb, we do so willingly, and with the faith and belief that the Lord really will go before us. We already have made some connections in Jaffa with the Lord putting people in our path, and although we will be sacrificing much to go, we fell truly blessed to be serving the Lord in this way. We will be leaving our parish at the end of this year, before moving to Israel shortly after three months residential training with CMS in Oxford that begins in January 2021.

Understandably the COVID outbreak has put some hurdles towards our fundraising. The position of Priest in Charge of St Peter’s is unpaid, and we will be entirely reliant on those who support us in prayer, practically, and financially. Perhaps having read this you might feel that God may be calling you to support us and the mission of this church financially. If you can support us in this way, then please visit our page on the CMS website, or contact them directly. 

My wife and I would be happy to come and visit your church if your church family would also consider supporting us, or if we are unable due to the COVID situation, to Zoom, Skype, Facetime or record a video for your congregation about the mission. We really do need all the support we can muster!

Finally please do pray for us, for those faithful local Christians who have been praying for the doors of this church to reopen, and for the Christians in the Middle East. Prayer is the bedrock of all things, and we certainly need yours over the coming months and years!

Fr Kevin Cable is Vicar, St Katharine with St Nicholas, Southbourne