Historic Event at Rochester Cathedral – Jewish Disciples of Jesus Are Welcome!
On Thursday 28th October Paul Stevens, a Jewish disciple of Jesus, leader of the Havdalah Messianic Fellowship in Chislehurst, South London, and a member of the Anglican Church, was prayed for and consecrated as “A Messianic Jew with the Church”. The service was led by the Dean of Rochester Cathedral, the Very Revd Dr Philip Hesketh, with participation from Gerry Cohen, the Vice-President of the British Messianic Jewish Alliance, and music from Jonathan Newman, of the Barn Torah Group Community, Woking.
The service, prepared by Rev. Alex Jacob, the CEO of the Church’s Ministry Among the Jewish People (CMJ), affirmed the presence, gifts and calling of Jewish people who have become followers of Jesus, but see no need to renounce their Jewish heritage and identity. Rather they are to celebrate it as part of their special role within the Church and among the Jewish people. Paul gave a moving testimony to how his father, a refugee from Odessa, Ukraine, changed his surname from Shlisselman to Stevens, and Paul discovered more of his own Jewish identity when he came to a living and personal faith in Jesus as his Messiah and Lord. His own journey of self-discovery led him to the realisation that he had been entrusted with a “special ministry of reconciliation” as a member of two distinct communities that did not know or understand each other, far less see their mutual bond.
“It became more and more obvious to me that the predominantly Gentile church didn’t really see who Jesus was, nor indeed recognise the Jewish identity of the apostles and the early Christian community. To me there was something fundamentally missing from the Gentile conception of Jesus that I had known.” Paul remarked in his address.
The service recognised and affirmed this calling, as Paul has expressed it, “to witness to the synagogue that it is no betrayal of Torah or of Judaism to follow the messiah Jesus and to remind the church that Christianity is at root a renewed form of Judaism. And if true reconciliation is possible then there surely will be peace.”
The Dean called on those present, friends, family, church leaders, representatives of the British Messianic Jewish Alliance, members of the Rochester Spirituality Network and Cathedral staff, to affirm and support Paul in this ministry, anointing him with oil and praying for him:
“Most merciful God and Father, You have set your church in the world to bear a living witness to the gospel and you equip us with the gifts to do this. Forgive us when we undermine the Gospel and misunderstand your ways. We thank You for the unity within diversity of your Church and today we thank you for and celebrate the presence within the Church of Messianic Jews, that is of Jewish Believers in Jesus. We rejoice in the significance of this and the promise of blessing this brings. We pray now for Paul Louis and as I now anoint him with this oil we ask that you will anoint him afresh with your Holy Spirit. Protect, guide and empower him so that in the fullness of your plans Paul Louis may walk closely with you and bring many blessings to the Church and to the wider Jewish community. All this we ask in the Name of Jesus Messiah of Israel and LORD of all. Amen.”
The service included the saying of the Shema and the Aaronic Benediction (Numbers 6:25) in Hebrew, and a calling on those present “to root out all forms of anti-semitism from our church community and wider society.”
The service sets a historic precedent for the recognition and welcoming of Jewish disciples of Jesus within the Anglican Church. It also raises again the ongoing challenge of responding to the statues of Ecclesia and Synagoga (Church and Synagogue) that have adorned the entrance to the Cathedral Chapter Room (now the Chapter Library) since the 14th century. The two female figures represent Ecclesia and Synagoga, the Christian Church and the Jewish people. Synagoga holds a broken staff and the tables of the law held upside down, wearing a blindfold to symbolise ignorance of the Messiah. They reflect that belief that Judaism as a religion was made unnecessary after the coming of Christ. It is starkly anti-Semitic, dating from some 50 years after the Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
Can the welcome, recognition and consecration of Paul Stevens begin to make amends and put right the centuries old “teaching of contempt” that led to modern antisemitism?
Paul Stevens – – Testimony here
Service of Consecration here