photo: Peter Rand (centre) with members of the Holy Land Committee and Revd Canon David Longe, Trustee

I have been asked to share my memories of the last 14 years since FHL Founder Chair, the late Dr Michael Whelan, introduced me to the Charity in summer 2009.

When I became aware of FHL, Michael and fellow trustees (all members of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem) had already laid the foundations of the Charity with FHL Parish Groups in Banbury, Kenilworth, Worcester and Wyre Forest. The strength of those foundations proved very valuable, as the then Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nicols, the instigator of the Charity following a Diocesan pilgrimage in 2007, encouraged support from Bishops across England and Wales.


I recall the scramble to produce the ‘modus operandum’, the  first promotional material and set up a  website - all before we were graced with the presence of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, who launched Friends of the Holy Land at St Chad’s Cathedral. Birmingham and at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral the following day in November 2009.

(Photo of the launch event with Pam Highton, Sean Higgins, Jim Quinn and Lyn Morris)

Establishment in the Holy Land

It was not long before we had rented a small office in Kenilworth, employed a General Manager and recruited a team of high-profile volunteers in Bethlehem from the Latin and Greek Orthodox tradition. An office followed with Nancy and Reem establishing themselves, managing applications and ensuring governance of donations from the UK. Registration followed with the Palestinian Authority and despite their rigorous controls, it has been of significant benefit in a region of constant upheaval.

FHL’s Ecumenical Roots

Then in 2011, one of the most significant developments for the Charity was when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, returned from pilgrimage and wanted to set up an appeal to help the Christian community. He was talking to Cardinal Vincent Nicols who mentioned the FHL and together they agreed this would be a wonderful ecumenical opportunity – Christians of all denominations in this country helping Christians of all denominations in the Holy Land. After all, over there, we do not distinguish between Anglicans, Latins, Greek Orthodox or any of the other 10 denominations. Indeed, because they are such a small minority, they work closely together in their communities. The journey to achieve that appears harder over here as there are so many other priorities and distractions for church leaders.  So FHL were asked to be custodians of the Appeal. Archbishop Rowan Williams launched it with a Presidential Address at General Synod in York in July, and this was followed by a major conference at Lambeth Palace later that month, attended by His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Rowan Williams.

Balancing the Books!

From the beginning, the Trustees have strived to achieve the right balance between income and overheads. Our mission has always remained to do what we can to ensure a Christian presence remains in the Holy Land and that is achieved through our objectives of increasing awareness, prayer and pilgrimage.  But practically, it requires fundraising and donations which lead to grants being made to the most vulnerable Christian families across the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan. So, ensuring that this grows to meet increasing demand, requires the gap between income and overheads to grow. But for this to happen, investment in marketing and communicating the FHL message to a wider audience is necessary. This conundrum is only matched by determining the balance of grants between emergency needs such as medications, hospital bills, water provision and putting food on the table, with sustainable initiatives such as creating employment opportunities and ensuring good education

(Photo of Sr Nabila, Head of the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza).


Highlights from the last 14 years have included a Conference when we filled Westminster Cathedral Hall, with speakers from the Holy Land, the 10th Anniversary celebrations, many National and Regional Gatherings, meetings of FHL Diocesan Coordinators and regular attendance at the General Synod of the Church of England in York.

(Photo of Peter with Jim Quinn, Chairman, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Sean Higgins)

Fondest Memories

Without doubt, my fondest memories from the last 14 years have been my 26 visits to the Holy Land and especially my visits to the homes of families whom we have been supporting. Witnessing first hand the situation in which people are living and the impact of grants that are made by FHL is very moving. Similarly, the appreciation of our local Committee, Nancy and Reem in our office, the hierarchy and parish clergy, school head teachers and community leaders is very humbling. FHL still appears to be the only UK Charity with a presence on the ground, supporting the most vulnerable Christians, with an ecumenical and non-political focus. FHL supports Christians across the region in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

(Photo of Nancy visiting ladies at home) 


Meeting many pilgrimage groups in either Bethlehem or Jerusalem has been very
 rewarding, occasionally joining them before they leave and at their reunions when they return. Accompanying them to two of our flagship projects at St Martha’s House and the School of Joy is an especial pleasure. A visit to the Holy Land for me is never complete without spending time there, laughing and dancing with the ladies and talking football teams with the young people at the School of Joy.

(Photo of Cardinal Vincent Nichols with the Westminster Diocese on pilgrimage meeting young people at the School of Joy, with Fr Mamdouh Abu Sada)


The Charity has been very fortunate to be supported by high profile Patrons, currently Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop Justin Welby, Archbishop Bernard Longley, Bishop Christopher Chessun, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, the Rt. Revd. & Rt. Hon. Dr Rowan Williams and the Rt. Revd. Dr Michael Langrish. Despite their many commitments, I have appreciated their support of FHL.

The Future

I am looking forward to continuing my support for FHL, especially in fundraising activities and am open to any invitation to speak to parish congregations or organisations, who would like to know more about the reality on the ground, the work of FHL and support our objectives.

So many ‘Friends of the Holy Land’

Finally, one of my fondest memories is working with such lovely people in this country, who share the same concerns for the Christians in the Holy Land. Over the years, the Charity has benefited from the enthusiasm and commitment of so many, whether trustees,  those employed or the many volunteers around the country as well as so many very generous donors. It is not appropriate to select any by name, but everyone has done what they can, and they believe to be best towards achieving the mission and objectives of the Charity. You know who you are! Thank you. God Bless you all and may FHL prosper and grow in the years ahead.