Jerusalem24 – Two months after her ordination as the first woman pastor in the Holy Land, Pastor Sally Azar shares with Jerusalem24 that the journey hasn’t always been easy – although she has no doubts she was called to be a pastor.
“It’s been quite challenging, and it’s been different in many aspects,” she confides. “In the [Evangelical Lutheran] church, it was very accepting to have a woman pastor. But in society and other churches it has been very challenging.”
Azar has faced some unwelcoming gestures, although she is rather philosophical about the ordeal. “During ecumenical gatherings, some don’t greet me – it’s interesting to see how people are reacting,” she says. “However, there are a lot of people who congratulate me, and a lot of positive is happening.”
“We’re called to be pastors”
Azar says that studying theology has been always a goal of hers, especially since she grew up in the church.
“I always wanted to contribute more, and change some things, to have more youth and women take roles in the church,” she says. “I don’t say that ‘I decided to be ordained’ – just because I feel like we, pastors, are called to become pastors.”
Azar grew up in the church, where she experienced a strong youth community and groups supporting each other. “This is the kind of space I want to create for the youth, as I feel like it’s been fading out.”
Following her ordination in the old city of occupied East Jerusalem this January, she was assigned to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land English-speaking congregation in Jerusalem, and has taken on the responsibility of bridging the Arabic-speaking congregation with the English-speaking congregation.
The particular situation of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in East Jerusalem under occupation adds an extra dimension to the nature of her assignment. There has been a marked rise in anti-Christian hate crimes in Jerusalem – particularly in the last few months since Netanyahu’s administration came to power – and Christian communities in Jerusalem feel as though “no one is listening to them or protecting them”.
“As Christians, being a small group, it is of great concern to me the hate crimes against Christians.” Azar says they try to address and discuss these concerns within the congregation.
During her studies in Lebanon in 2022, Azar held many discussions about women’s roles in the church and ordination. Azar also trained in a congregation in Berlin for two years, where she was trained by a woman pastor.
“The first woman ordination in Lebanon in 2017, was contributing to how much it is to have great women pastors in the Middle East,” she recounts, “and the reactions that were received then by the congregation and community are inspiring.”
Through her position as a Council Member of the Lutheran World Federation, Azar has learned from the experience of many women bishops and pastors.
“[These women] inspired me and contributed to helping me in different situations, since it wasn’t easy for them either.”
Listen to the full interview on Wake Up Palestine.