Jerusalem is my hometown. In 1981, the Israeli government invited my dad, a Pentecostal pastor, to plant a church in Jerusalem. This was unprecedented. Until I was 12, I grew up skateboarding the streets of Jerusalem, adventuring through old army bunkers, and scaling abandoned water towers with the 30 feet of rope my dad gave me as a gift.
I can’t say that there wasn’t anything difficult about growing up in Israel. I was the only “blondini” Gentile in my Hebrew public school class, but I hardly noticed. On rare occasions, I would be called a dirty Christian, but for the most part I was embraced, loved, and raised as “one of them”. Through the public school system I was steeped in the Jewish culture, liturgical calendar, and language (including the bad words that my parents didn’t know about!). I sang all the naughty songs on the school bus and my days were full of field trips, trouble making, friendship and joy. I have too many wonderful stories and memories.
Of course, violence has always been part of the backdrop. At school, we would have regular air raid drills and would rush down to the basement to hide in the school’s bomb shelters. I once got off a city bus that later blew up a few stops down the line. These things are tough. Still, my parents had me continue to travel by bus because we wouldn’t be bound by fear. This is the Israeli way.
When I am in Israel I am ‘at home’ in my own culture. The fact that I’m not Israeli doesn’t come up, unless I mention that I’m a priest. Even then, your average secular Israeli doesn’t care. I guess I am what they call a “third culture” kid. It is North American culture that I have more difficulty navigating. Luckily, I have my wife – who introduced me to Anglicanism – to do the culture-interpreting for me. She lets me know when people say, “Can’t you stay a bit longer?” they really mean, “I want you to go now.”
I have a wonderful Pentecostal heritage on both sides of my family. My dad’s dad, Homer (wife, Shirley) Cantelon, was the equivalent of a bishop in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. He served small rural parishes in the prairies of Canada for most of his ministry. My mom’s parents, Howard and Kay Kerr came to faith during the Pentecostal tent revival meetings of the 1920s. My grandmother was flown to Argentina on her 90th birthday to be honored for her and my grandfather’s catalytic pastoral investment in the Argentinian Revival of the 1950s. On my dad’s side, I am the 21st preacher in a long line of preachers. This dates back to my great, great uncle’s coming to faith after stumbling to his hotel, drunk, discovering a Gideon Bible in his room, and committing his life to Christ that night. I am so grateful for this rich heritage and for God’s faithfulness to my family for generations.
Fresh out of college in 2000, Erica and I felt called to serve a little Anglican church in Toronto as youth pastor for four years, but I never sought ordination. Erica’s family was deeply involved in the Anglican realignment in Canada, and so, I attended “The Way Forward” conference in Ottawa in 2004 (which essentially gave birth to the Anglican Network in Canada). At that time, I felt strongly called to this Anglican movement, and yet I was confused because Erica, our little boy, and I were already moving back to Israel to minister with the Pentecostals. Because the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) and the Anglican Church in North America were just beginning to be born, it seemed to be God’s timing for us to go back to Jerusalem and minister with the church where I grew up. We thought that perhaps we would return later to someday minister with the Anglicans in Canada. Never did I imagine that my Anglican calling and my calling to Israel would unite.
In 2008, I was ordained a transitional deacon in the Anglican Network in Canada and served my curacy at Christ Church Jerusalem. In 2010, we returned to Canada and began church planting with ANiC. And now, after more than 7 years away, including an intense and fruitful season of church planting in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, I can hardly believe the time has come for me to return to Jerusalem to pioneer an ANiC and the Anglican Church in North America work in Israel.
I have grown to love the Anglican Way. Erica, my wife, and I realize that our respective heritages have blessed each other and our ministries. Holy Spirit-filled entrepreneurial evangelism, meets a deep love of the Word, an anchoring liturgical calendar, and a sacramental life. These approaches to Christianity have deepened our knowing Jesus in a big way. Anglicanism has also made my faith, surprisingly, feel more Jewish, and thus feels like home to me.
Some of the most valuable aspects of my Christian faith I learned from the Jews. I feel that I know Jesus, the Jewish man, very well. Of course, living in Israel as a family, for a long time, we followed the rhythm of the Jewish liturgical calendar, which our Christian calendar complements beautifully. Today, with my own kids, we do an inauthentic version of most Jewish holidays and especially enjoy our Goy-version of Shabbat (Sabbath). Whether we are in Israel or elsewhere, every Friday night as a family we light candles, sing around the table, bless wine and then bread, and welcome twenty-four hours of Sabbath rest. It is a wonderful tradition, and our kids always look forward to it.
Many factors had to fall into place in order for my family and me to return to Israel. We are a family of seven now, and we do not travel as slowly as Jacob did with his family, but an international move with a company such as ours, is not a small deal. Through a series of quite miraculous events, the Lord said “now,” and so we are going.
In 2016, during a three-month sabbatical, I produced the pilot season of the Israel Video Project: “This is Israel.” It was used as a resource primarily in ANiC and the Anglican Church in North America as well as some interdenominational churches. This second season I have called “The Road to Jerusalem” because of my own journey back to Jerusalem, but also because it coincides with the Global Anglican Future Conference’s 10-year anniversary as we are also on the road to Jerusalem together as a Communion. It is a wonderful coincidence that has my family on the road to return to Jerusalem at the very same time the Anglican Communion finds itself on the road to Jerusalem for GAFCON 2018. While I am going to pioneer an ANiC and Anglican Church in North America work, Gafcon is also pioneering the way forward for a global Anglican realignment. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the strong leadership of our Gafcon primates and how much I am praying for them.
The road to Jerusalem, for Jews and Christians alike, has always been a journey of prayer and a journey of repentance.
As I am at a pivotal point in my own life, praying and repenting with my family as we go to Jerusalem, I am using the Israel Video Project to document this journey. I invite my fellow brothers and sisters in North America, and beyond, to pray with me through this video series as we approach such an important meeting for the future of Anglicanism.
As our communion has been shaken, and as orthodoxy is being forgotten across denominations, the absolute best thing we can do as a Church is return to the basics of the faith, to the very heart: to Jesus, to Jerusalem, and to the cross. It’s important not only for the present and future within our communion, it is important for our brothers and sisters around the world who will follow our lead, and it is important for our villages, cities, and countries all across the globe.
It was in Jerusalem that our sins were first forgiven. It was in Jerusalem where we were first filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. And, it was to Jerusalem first, where we were called to share this life-changing gospel. I love that sharing this glorious gospel is what defines us as a movement. And, what better place to return to than Jerusalem, to remember the basics, and to remember Jesus. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
You can learn more about the Israel Video Project at: http://www.israelvideoproject.com/
The Rev. Jess Cantelon is a clergyman in the Anglican Network in Canada.