Religion & Spirituality:Christianity
Today we sat down with two people who work for a Connecticut-based organization that works across The Episcopal Church, the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, AFEDJ. These were John Lent, AFEDJ's executive director, and Heidi Shott, their communication director.
John was appointed in June 2018 after serving as deputy director since 2016, then acting executive director after Anne Lynn retired in January 2018.John is an experienced non-profit, education and corporate leader who started his career as a teacher and worked in educational publishing for many years. He served as Executive Director of a national non-profit that recruits and trains school leaders in partnership with many of the largest urban school districts in the country and previously served as COO of an educational technology company. John is active in his Episcopal parish, where he has served in numerous leadership roles.
Heidi is AFEDJ's first communications director. She came on board in September 2018 and credits her three trips to the Diocese of Jerusalem over the past two years as playing a key role in discerning her call to work for them. Before her current gig, she served for 10 years as Canon for Communication and Advocacy in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, and before that, she was the communications director for a statewide community development loan fund. Heidi is a popular, award-winning writer whose news stories and features about the church and essays about faith in daily life have appeared in Episcopal Cafe, Episcopal Life, The Witness, Trinity (Wall Street) News, and other publications.
Our conversation started with an explanation of AEFDJ, its founding (in 1988) and its clear mission to raise money and awareness and support in the United States of the 30 humanitarian institutions in the Diocese of Jerusalem - which stretches across five countries -- and include schools, full-service hospitals, medical clinics, and centers for children with disabilities. There are only 5500 members and 27 parishes in the entire Diocese of Jerusalem. The institutions are open to and serve people of all faiths.
The institutions offer high quality care and education and while they don't proselytize, they operate on Christian values, said John and Heidi, which they said include treating people with dignity and respect, and teaching acceptance, love, tolerance, and reconciliation.
We also talked about their fundraising and some projects (including one right now to raise money for an ambulance). Later, they talked about how they were each drawn into working for AFEDJ, based on their experiences in the Holy Land and awareness of the tiny but important Christian population there.
They feel safe when they travel there, each said, and talked about additional on-the-ground realities such as how travel restrictions, or access to electricity, impacts the institutions. Pilgrimage is essential, said John, for the spiritual experience of visiting the holy sites as well as learning about life there; Heidi added the importance of experiencing their hospitality and hope.
We ended with John and Heidi sharing how this work for AFEDJ has had an impact on their spiritual lives.
There's lots more information about the organization at their website, afedj.org. including a link to sign up for their newsletters, and a list of some upcoming pilgrimages. The bishops of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, with ECCT’s “Holy Landers” Ministry Network, are also leading a pilgrimage June 9-19, 2019. More info including a video and registration form here.
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