[The Episcopal News] Several hundred members of the Order of St John, which supports community healthcare in Israel-Palestine, began an Oct. 7 celebration of their humanitarian mission with a moment of silence and prayers for peace and healing as news emerged of the Hamas surprise attack that had killed hundreds of Israelis.
“When we went to bed last night, we did not know we would turn on the news today to the news that is unfolding in the land that belongs to Almighty God,” said the Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., sub-prelate of the order, and rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.
“Almighty God, whose love and grace and mercy surround us on every side, look down on this your human family and especially those in the land we call holy this day. Be with the grieving. Be with the wounded and be with the recovering. Be with the frightened and worried. Be especially with those who tend and care and try to restore health and civility. And we pray for peace. We pray for peace,” said Levenson, who also served as preacher at the service of investiture and rededication, held at All Saints’ Church in Beverly Hills.
According to a statement on the St John’s Hospital website, “Amid hostilities, our Gazan hospital has sustained considerable collateral damage. It is non-operational and remains under severe strain.” The main hospital, which is located in East Jerusalem, is down to its most minimal service level because it is not possible for patients or staff to get there safely, according to a person who was briefed on the matter, but is not authorized to speak on behalf of the hospital or the Order of St John.
A thousand-year history of service
Known as the Priory in the USA of the Order of St John, the organization has more than 21,000 members worldwide and traces its early roots to a hospice founded around 1070 to care for pilgrims dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The priory is a public charity that supports the humanitarian endeavors of St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group, the only provider of expert eye care in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The hospital treats patients regardless of ethnicity, religion, or ability to pay. In the U.S., the group also assists disabled and disadvantaged veterans through the St John Volunteer Corps.
The order’s Oct. 5 – 8 meeting was its first-ever national gathering held in Southern California, according to Steven Leland, a planning committee chair. Weekend activities included new member on-boarding, fundraising events, a service project to benefit the Downtown Women’s Center, and the Oct. 7 service of investiture and rededication. (The service may be viewed here.)
Bishop John Harvey Taylor recently was promoted from member to officer status in the order, Leland said. Taylor was unable to join the gathering in person; retired Northern Indiana Bishop Ed Little, an assisting bishop, attended on his behalf. Others present included Her Royal Highness Princess Raiyah of Jordan, St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group CEO Dr. Ahmad Ma’ali, and Dr. David Verity, London-based ophthalmologist and surgeon and a hospital board member.
“The investiture is imbued with symbol and meaning and unfolds in a sacred place, but it speaks to the fact that we really have a sacred trust as fellow humans to live and work toward healing and reconciliation,” said order member Lynn Dodd, a parishioner of All Saints’ Church. “The daily work of the members that is acknowledged in that service and in the service awards that are given at the lunch that followed are tangible indications of the real true commitment to that vision.”
She said Ma’ali stepped out of the service in an effort to determine the status of the hospitals, its clinics, staff, and the families of everyone working with the Order of St. John. Many of those nurses and doctors are directly supported by the donations of order members who give “… to help the healing hands get to people who need it, who can be treated for totally preventable blindness,” Dodd said.
The order’s gospel focus inspired her to join, added Dodd, who is a professor of the Practice of Religion and Spatial Sciences at USC.
“All members of the Priory in the U.S. of the Order of St. John support, essentially, the free access, regardless of faith or wealth, to health care, to services that support human thriving. The OSJ’s clinics, outreach, its vans, the screening programs in schools, are made available to anybody who needs them, no matter if they are Muslim, Christian, whatever, or if they can pay or not.”
A major focus is on intervention, to halt preventable blindness, and to restore sight, she said. “My support goes to directly help people who have a real need for help. It’s also a model of the peace and healing that is needed, and now, more than ever.”
The Rev. Michael Sahdev, the order’s regional chaplain and All Saints’ senior associate rector, recalled visiting the hospital in Jerusalem earlier this year.
“I was astounded by the incredible work that the hospital group has been doing to allow people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to get medical help or healing from all sorts of eye diseases, to be able to find those opportunities and to be made well,” he told The Episcopal News.
“It goes back to our idea to help the needy, to give sight to the blind,” Sahdev said. “To see that lived out in a real, tangible way, in a place that needs so much hope, especially right now, not only as an Episcopalian, but also as member of this order, made Saturday’s service and rededication all the more impactful and important.”
The Order of St. John – formally the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, and also known as St John International – is a British order of chivalry established through a royal charter by Queen Victoria in 1888. It is represented through 11 priories, five commanderies, and 27 associations throughout the world. King Charles III is sovereign head of the order.
For more information about the Order of St John in Southern California, contact Steve Leland at email@example.com. The order welcomes donations for its ministries; for information, visit its website.