The Very Revd Canon Richard Sewell 

I Belong to Jerusalem: When Jerusalem Becomes Your Home

St George’s College Jerusalem is the Anglican Centre for Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. It was founded in 1920 and was intended to operate as a theological college for the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. This vision was never fully realized and so in the 1960s the College developed into a study centre for clergy. From that time clergy from around the world and later lay people came to the College to visit the Holy Land to learn about the holy and historical sites and better to understand the peoples of the Land. In the last thirty years we have become more of a pilgrimage centre where engagement with the Land, the history and the people are taken more seriously than in many pilgrimage organisations and companies.

I have been Dean of the College for almost five years and during that time I have come to know the Holy City of Jerusalem well and it has become home for me and my wife, JulieAnn. Jerusalem is one of the most contested places on earth and sometimes even temporary residents talk as if the city belongs to them. They possess it. I prefer to see myself as belonging to the Holy City; it possesses me.

We are part of the Anglican Christian community of the city as I serve as a Canon in the Cathedral and the Cathedral is my spiritual home here. As Anglican Christians, we relate closely to the wider Christian community by participating in church events in the city, such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (always a special highlight), the Palm Sunday walk of witness down the Mount of Olives and many other events.

In the College we enjoy good relations with a number of religious institutions around the city and with Jews and Muslims who together form the vast majority of the people of Jerusalem. Christians represent just 2% of the city’s population. Tantur Theological Institute and the Swedish Theological Institute are both friends of St George’s College and we value our collegial and friendly relations with both. We also have good relations with the Waqf (governing religious authority) of Al Asqa which enables us to have some privileged entry to visit the holy sites of Al Aqsa compound beyond those which Christian pilgrims are usually granted access. We regularly have Muslim and Jewish speakers addressing our pilgrims so that St George’s pilgrims get a broader view of the character of the city than many pilgrims do.

Jerusalem is a fascinating city to live in; it is steeped in several millennia of history, much of which is still in view. The College is located a short distance from the Old City where most of the holy and historical sites are located, so it is very much part of our daily lived reality. While it is wonderful to live in such an historical place imbued with profound religious significance for Christians, Muslims and Jews, it can be a difficult place. I once heard a young Armenian man who had lived in the Old City all his life say that ‘Jerusalem is hateful place to live’. It hurts to hear such painful testimony. Conflict never seems to be too far from the surface and things can blow up here into clashes and violence at a moment’s notice. That tension is an inevitable part of our context even as we go about shopping for daily necessities. Heavily armed Israeli soldiers are visible everywhere in and around the Old City. It is vital to remember that Jerusalem is a divided city even though there is no wall or border to mark the split, as there is around the West Bank and Gaza. East Jerusalem has been illegally annexed by Israel since 1967 and so Palestinians and many others understand and experience East Jerusalem (including the Old City) as being under military and civil occupation.

Having said this, many pilgrims and other visitors do not necessarily notice the harsh realities. Life continues on a day-to-day basis, with relative normality. Only those well acquainted with the city will sense the underlying tensions until something erupts, which it does quite regularly. The Damascus Gate is our nearest entry point to the Old City and it is the main thoroughfare for Jerusalem Palestinians. It is also the most common flashpoint as it is the place where young Palestinians congregate and socialize. The overbearing presence of Israeli soldiers is provocative and often leads to low level aggression and sometimes more.

Having said all of that, the city retains a magnetic draw and an engaging mystique which can be intoxicating. I deeply enjoy showing people around the city and its religious sites but also its wonderful restaurants, cafes and quiet spots. It can be a very confusing place to make sense of but with a well-informed guide (or friend) its charms and riches can be generously revealed. It is a city I am privileged to call home.


The Very Revd Canon Richard Sewell

Dean of St George’s College Jerusalem

March 2023

Pictures Courtesy of St George's College, Jerusalem