I’ve fallen back into old habits. Years ago when our family lived near here, we regularly attended services at St. Andrews (Church of Scotland). Now I find myself strolling that way again. Apart from the rich history of the building, there are good reasons to align with the work: the church plays in active role in ministering to the financially disadvantaged, they operate an English speaking school for the children of Jews/Christians/Muslims, and they market craft goods made by local women who have creative, but limited skills.
Of course, if you go, you can also hear some wham-bang pipe organ music (was that a Mendelssohn?) and a good sermon too. Chances are the sermon will be text-based and remarkably free of illustrations, jokes, and other trivial fog that obscures many a good message at home.
Folks are always kind when I stop by. And, of course, I wonder where else can you hear a list of announcements delivered in a warm Scottish accent, especially one for a “highland dance” on Wednesday night? “Bring yer kilt!”
The building itself is stately. It is a relatively modern structure (built in the late 1920s), but has the blunt force of a Crusader chapel. It is truly a memorial chapel by design, but not to or for Crusaders. It was built to honor the Scottish soldiers (particularly those numbered among the “Black Watch”) who fell in battle here during WWI. Their sacrifice brought an end to the Ottoman empire and ushered in a troubled period in the region known as the British Mandate. The leader of these Royal Highlanders was General George Allenby. If you look when you go up the stairs to the front door you can see that the good Lord (Allenby!) himself actually laid the foundation stone in 1927. If you miss the inscription when you enter the chapel, you won’t miss his portrait in the fellowship area downstairs. There he is, looking all spit and stiff, like he just marched through the Jaffa Gate!
In the dark days of 1967, the church of St Andrews hunkered down on the front line between Jewish and Palestinian forces. According to reports, the minister continued to ring the bell and offer services, though the bullets were whizzing about him. Some of those missiles left marks in the stone that you can still see today.
One last thing. You should have seen it coming. Immediately beside the chapel, are a number of Second Temple period (NT period) tombs. These follow the ridge (sometimes called the ketef or “shoulder” of Hinnom) running up to and under the church. From the front door, you can peer toward the walls of Old Jerusalem, just across the Hinnom (Gehenna) Valley.
In one of these tombs immediately below the St Andrew’s stairs, a remarkable artifact was found. It was a tiny silver strip all rolled up and about the size of a cigarette butt. On it was scratched a portion of the priestly benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. As it turns out, this artifact may be the oldest bit of Scripture found by any archaeologist to date!
Interesting. This past Sunday, Reverend George Shand raised his arms at the end of the service and sent us home with these words: “May the Lord bless you and keep you …”
Of course, hearing those words in this place was special. Hearing it in Scottish brogue iced the cake.