By Michael Craske
The last remaining Anglican church in Iraq has praised the level of support it has received from the Anglican Communion and wider faith communities and has appealed for further assistance to meet its immediate needs and future goals.
St George's Memorial Church in Baghdad, part of the Anglican Congregation of the American Embassy Chapel, is an important centre for the Iraqi Christian community - with some 300 regular worshippers - and has become a focus for the work of the wider church in meeting the humanitarian needs of the parish. In a letter to the Anglican Communion Office, the church staff have reported that their initial appeal, started in November of last year, has greatly enhanced the church, which was founded in 1936 but forcibly closed for 10 years under Saddam Hussein
Since the appeal, the church has been able to buy a power generator - to enable the use of air-conditioning units - and has put up 75 perimeter security barriers around the church, as parishioners had been concerned about safety. In addition, deliveries of relief goods have now started to arrive via the US Army Chaplain's Office and are being distributed to the community, both Christian and Muslim. Also, one parishioner, a young boy named Yousef, has been able to get medical treatment in Amman and return to Baghdad with medical supplies through the church's work. Before re-opening, St George's was looted in 2003, with all its furniture, including the church organ, stolen. It was also badly damaged by rocket fire and still currently lacks plumbing, pews, a constant budget, and a full-time rector.
"Without you, St George's would not have been able to meet any of those critical needs," said the letter to those who had donated. "But as you can imagine, there is much more to be done...the most critical requirements are those which address the needs of the parish (security and medical care), the habitability of the church building (heaters) and other recurring costs..."
The ongoing project has been overseen by the Most Revd Clive Handford, the Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf - in whose province St George's is located. The Revd Canon Andrew White, the Director of the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral in the UK, has played a leading role in the project and in raising the Church's vital profile in Iraq and beyond.
"For our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of denomination, we appeal to you to come to the aid of an embattled congregation," the letter continued. "Our shared mission is to spread and sustain Christ's message of love and reconciliation, in showing our brothers and sisters that we acknowledge their suffering and want them to succeed
"For all who seek to work for peace and harmony amongst people of all faiths....the seeds of hope can be planted here."
To send financial assistance to St George's, cheques made payable to Coventry Cathedral ICR (IRAQ), can be sent to St George's Baghdad Relief Fund, c/o The International Centre for Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral, England CV1 5AB, UK
For those wishing to donate via the US, cheques should be made payable to St John's Church, and sent to St George's Baghdad Relief Fund, c/o St John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, 1525 H Street, NW, Washington DC 20005, USA
All donations are being processed and sent to St George's without overhead.
The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East covers Jerusalem, Iran, Egypt, Cyprus, and the Gulf. The Jerusalem bishopric was founded in 1841 and became an archbishopric in 1957. Reorganization in January 1976 ended the archbishopric and combined the Diocese of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria with the Jerusalem bishopric after a nineteen-year separation. Around the same time, the new Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf was formed and the Diocese of Egypt was revived.