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Good Friday Concert is a Twist on a Century-Old Tradition

A Good Friday concert of sacred music, conceived during a time of relative calm, has taken on an urgent mission in the face of a horrific war.

At 3 p.m. (Eastern) on Good Friday, March 29, the Episcopal Church will livestream an hour-long video featuring hymns and anthems recorded at a Virginia church. It will also include a message of gratitude from Archbishop Hosam Naoum, primate of the Anglican province known as the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.

“Our hope is that people maybe can find a quiet place to sit and listen to it, because the way the music has been done is extraordinarily beautiful,” said the Ven. Paul Feheley, the Episcopal Church’s Middle East partnership officer.

Continuing a century-long tradition, congregations are asked to designate their Good Friday offerings for ministries in the Holy Land. The initial offering was in 1922 — more than two decades before borders were first drawn for the State of Israel and the Gaza Strip. Great Britain led the conquest of the Palestine region in World War I, and factions were jockeying for control of what was known as the British Mandate.

From The Living Church, April 1, 1922

An ad in the April 1, 1922, edition of The Living Church exhorted congregations to “Give your Good Friday offerings to the Jerusalem and the East Mission,” and added: “The needs are great for relief and maintenance.”

The needs are far greater now.

“We will not forget our siblings in Christ who cannot worship God freely,” wrote the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, in his last Good Friday message as presiding bishop. “We will not forget those caught in the crossfire between warring factions in the land where our Lord walked.”

Funds raised through the Good Friday Offering are passed along to the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, which has churches and institutions in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Cyprus, and several primarily Muslim countries in the region.

The dozens of ministries supported by the Good Friday Offering include:

  • Al Ahli Arab Hospital, still open in Gaza City despite the war;
  • St. George’s, the only Anglican church in Iraq, which offers worship, schools, and medical care;
  • Christ Church in Aden, Yemen, the site of Ras Morbat Eye Clinic in a war-torn country; and
  • The Christian National Kindergarten at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Nablus, in the West Bank.

All of these organizations provide services without regard to nationality or religion.

Paul Feheley

Feheley said Al Ahli has remained open throughout the war, even after hundreds of people sheltering in the parking lot were killed in an October 17 explosion. Israel and Hamas each blamed the other for the blast, although American intelligence agencies and Human Rights Watch concluded it probably was a misfired Palestinian rocket.

Last year’s Good Friday Offering raised about $250,000, Feheley said.

This will be the first concert held in conjunction with the annual offering. Discussions about a concert started well before the Israel-Hamas war began October 7, “but they took on a whole new sense of urgency after that,” said the Rev. Noah Van Niel, rector of Christ & St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk.

It all got started when Christ & St. Luke’s was hosting a meeting of the Church Center’s Office of Global Partnerships last summer, and people were brainstorming about how to energize the annual Good Friday Offering.

The idea of a concert came up, “and it just so happened, they were meeting in a church that is quite telegenic,” Van Niel said with a smile. “And we have a music program that is quite well known and renowned.”

Organist and Music Director Kevin Kwan can muster a choir of 50 singers if everyone shows up, but “the type of music that really evokes the pathos of that day tends to be a little bit smaller and simpler,” Van Niel said. So most of the concert features an octet of current and former choir members singing four-part harmony a cappella, although the organ accompanies some of the pieces.

The concert was recorded February 5, just before Ash Wednesday, so the altar area had to be stripped of all decoration to create a Good Friday ambiance. Then it was restored to normal for the last Sunday of Epiphany.

Here’s a taste of it:

“Certainly we hope it raises some money,” Feheley said. “But it was primarily to say, Good Friday is a significant day in the church here. And, you know, as people are able, we trust that they’ll give.”

He continued: “We tend to always separate everybody in the Middle East. But the institutions simply see humanity and deal with what is presented to them and what the needs are. And so I think the money that we do collect is performing a significant piece of ministry, in a place in the world that has some really high needs right now.”

Christ & St. Luke’s Church is a financial supporter of The Living Church Foundation.

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