An Ecumenical Month in Istanbul

An Ecumenical Month in Istanbul

January is always an ecumenical month in Istanbul. The Week of Christian Unity brings leaders and members from the wide variety of Christian communities here in Istanbul together for worship.

January is always an ecumenical month in Istanbul. The Week of Christian Unity brings leaders and members from the wide variety of Christian communities here in Istanbul together for worship. This year we had an additional ecumenical event planned to coincide with Epiphany. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew invited the brothers of the Taize community to bring a group of 100 young adults to Istanbul the beginning of January to celebrate the feast of Epiphany and to pray with the Christians of the city. Taize may be familiar to many of you. Taize is a spiritual community in a French village founded by Brother Roger in 1940. Today the community is made up of around 100 brothers from a variety of backgrounds and is dedicated to the work of reconciliation among the divisions between nations and Christians. Young adults frequently take part in meetings held at the community as well as in large European cities. The event this month in Istanbul was called a “Pilgrimage of Trust”. The group gathered to experience the ecumenical Christian community life of Istanbul. Members of the local churches hosted them. I was fortunate to have two young men stay with me, one from Poland and the other from The Netherlands.

I could understand in a vivid way part of the work of reconciliation based upon mutual understanding and dialogue. Not only did the three of us have lively discussions about Protestant and Roman Catholic theology, as well as the differences of life in Poland and The Netherlands, but also I was able to gain the young men’s observations of Christians in Istanbul. Michal and Rijs were distressed by elements of some of the liturgies they heard that “condemned those who did not believe exactly as that church doctrine stated”. Or they were not allowed to participate fully in the communion of the Orthodox. Ecumenism does not mean we water down our beliefs and ignore our differences. It means we acknowledge the role and the power of God in our lives collectively. We may need to agree to disagree. Doctrine can provide a formidable obstacle, but then there are those who reach beyond, in more profound ways. This could be seen in a beautiful church service that was held in the Turkish Anglican congregation on Epiphany.  It was a service that was conducted by the Turkish Anglican priest (Engin Yildirim) and the Suffragan Bishop of Europe (David Hamid). The local German Lutheran pastor (Ulla August) and a Dominican priest and leader of the monthly Istanbul Taize services (Father Claudio Monge) assisted with the service.  During the service a group of confirmands and a newly baptized young Turkish man were received into the Church of England. What was a beautiful moment for me as well as for the large group of young people from the Taize pilgrimage was when Father Claudio instead of receiving communion asked for a blessing from the German pastor, who is a woman. (For more about these events from the Bishop’s blog you can go to the following websites: .

I will end this letter sharing one important event from life here in Turkey. This week a very famous journalist Mehmet Ali Birand died. His courage and pursuit for justice and democracy touched the lives of many.  He compared a journalist to the sheep who lifts his head to speak out amidst the millions of surrounding sheep in the herd. I like that analogy. January 19th at his funeral, among those who attended was the President of Turkey, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as well as thousands from all political persuasions, ethnicities and religions. He was the type of individual who encouraged peace, justice and a society that was more than the sum of its parts. Mehmet Ali Birand’s last column in the Hurriyet Daily News can be read at: Journalists in Turkey continue their profession in the face of great risks of imprisonment.  We continue to pray for those who take this profession seriously for the common good. (“Reporters without Borders” ranks Turkey 148th out of 159 countries in terms of its freedom of press index where the USA ranks 47th. ) The photos are from the Taize Ecumenical worship and from the Anglican service.

So let us continue to move forward, full of the joy and hope of Epiphany, praying that our wider Christian Church may one day have its “Easter” and be reborn in Christ, no longer being so divided but may it be reconciled and a formidable force united force for peace and justice.

Selam / Shalom / Peace

Alison Stendahl

Alison Stendahl serves with the Near East Mission, Istanbul, Turkey.  She is Academic Dean of and a math teacher at Uskudar American Academy in Istanbul Turkey.