Rev. Ashraf Tannous wears three hats. He is the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Sahour, the Youth Pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land and teaches religion classes at the Evangelical Lutheran School of Beit Sahour. The day I met him he had just returned from his honeymoon in Thailand.
Founded in 1901 through partnership with local church members and German missionaries, the Evangelical Lutheran School (ELS) in Beit Sahour is the second longest running school in Beit Sahour, the region of the Shepherd’s Fields in the Nativity story.
Since its birth, ELS has served both Christian and Muslim students, boys and girls together, reflecting the make-up of the community and modeling positive co-existence between students of different backgrounds. Currently, the school enrolls 439 students: 80% are Christian, 20% are Muslim; 55% are boys and 45% are girls. The highly co-ed nature of the school is unique.
Religion and its place in North American schools is controversial and I was curious to learn how things might be different in the ELCJHL schools. As you might guess there is regular instruction in religion and an active chapel life.
Pastor Tannous conducts classes that are faithful to the traditions and history of the Lutheran Church but also recognizes in a deliberately ecumenical manner the traditions of other Christian expressions. He also seeks to engage students to not only learn about their faith but also how to live it out by applying it to areas like relationships and ethical decisions.
Two periods a month are set aside where Christian and Muslim students come together to discuss their religions. This is a way for students to become confident in their faith and express it to others. It also helps them gain a better understanding of each other. After all, as Pastor Tannous says, these students may have a different religion but they all experience the same occupation, the same challenges and the same hopes for the future and they need to do it together.
He concluded our conversation by telling me why Muslim parents are keen to send their children to a Lutheran school. He said they tell him, “We send them to a Christian school because we want our children to learn Christian ethics. It is important for them to know this so they can relate to the whole community with peace and harmony.”
Tom Brook – CLWR Community Relations Director