United Lutheran Seminary confers historic Doctor of Divinity degree on Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar

February 15, 2023

February 2023

As part of a trip earlier this month to the Holy Land with a group of ELCA bishops, ULS President Dr. R. Guy Erwin conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, on Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, as part of a special convocation in Beit Jala, Palestine. This is the first time the Seminary has conferred an honorary degree outside the United States.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Azar is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Bishop Azar graduated from The Evangelical Lutheran School of Bethlehem and earned a theology degree from the Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich, Germany. He was ordained as a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land in 1988 and served as pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem for 30 years. While there, he founded the Day Care Center for the Elderly.  He was elected fourth bishop of the ELCJHL in 2017, and his installation involved colleagues and friends from around the world. Many Lutheran churches around the world value their relationship with the ELCJHL.

Bishop Azar serves on the board of The Near East School of Theology, the board of the Bethany Beyond the Jordan Baptismal Site and is the President of the Lutheran Ecclesiastical Court. He also serves on The Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR) a division of the Middle East Council of Churches, and the Housing Committee of the Augusta Victoria Hospital Lutheran World Federation board. He is also aboard member of the Jerusalem Society of Berlin Missions and the Vice President of the Evangelical Lutheran German School of Talitha Kumi in Beit Jala.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church iin Jordan and the Holy Land has its origins in German missionary work beginning in the 1840s, and assumed its current institutional status in 1959. It has congregations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Ramallah, and Ammann, Jordan. The ELCJHL is one of the best-established Protestant churches in the Middle East. Its Arab Christian membership plays an important role in Palestinian society, and its educational institutions have been important in the region. The ELCJHL considers itself “a church of refugees” and is a conduit of support for refugees from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Most recently, Bishop Azar and his church have faced both praise and criticism for their ordination of their first female pastor, the first of any major Christian denomination in Palestine. In this act, Bishop Azar and his church witness to their commitment to gender justice, and to the equality of all the baptized.

Upon conferring the degree to Bishop Azar, President Erwin noted,  “For his faithfulness in service, for his caring concern for the weak and vulnerable, for his support of gender justice, for his defense of his pastors and people in a time of conflict, and for his courage in providing a progressive Christian message in an often-intolerant world, United Lutheran Seminary is proud today with this honorary doctorate to make Bishop Azar a part of our ULS community forever.”

Pictured from left: Bishop Paul Egensteiner (Metro NY Synod), Bishop James Hazelwood (New England Synod), Bishop Michael Lozano (Northwest PA Synod), President Erwin, Bishop Azar, Bishop Tracie Bartholomew (New Jersey Synod), Bishop Christopher DeForest (Northeast PA Synod), Bishop James Dunlop (Lower Susquehanna Synod), Bishop Craig Miller (Upper Susquehanna Synod)

Watch the video of the ceremony.


Posted by Linda Fiore