Jerusalem calls Canadian chaplain

You can’t say no to Jerusalem. It’s like saying no to your mother.

Padre John Organ celebrates early morning communion at St. George's Cathedral chapel, Jerusalem.
Padre John Organ celebrates early morning communion at St. George’s Cathedral chapel, Jerusalem.

That’s how Padre John Organ said he felt when the bishop of Jerusalem first asked him to be his chaplain in the Holy Land. On July 14 the Ottawa-based military chaplain, 55, will move to Jerusalem with his wife Irene. For the next three years they will support Indigenous Christians in the Diocese of Jerusalem.

“It came out of the blue and was totally unexpected,” said Mr. Rev. Organ of the opportunity.

He had just been considering retirement—maybe a cozy parish back home in Newfoundland, or seasons spent either canoeing or skiing.

But then mother called.

To be fair, Mr. Organ had been within earshot, taking a “Palestine of Jesus” course at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. It was his third visit and he brought his wife, Irene. He said they were already starting to fall in love with local Anglicans, the so-called “living stones,” who stay faithful in the region despite violence, political restrictions, and the mass exodus of fellow Christians.

So when Bishop Suheil Dawani asked Mr. Organ to be chaplain, he was honoured but needed time for discernment. It was summer 2011 and life was busy in Ottawa. Mr. Organ was executive assistant to the chaplain general and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were coming.

But when his schedule cleared, Mr. Organ slipped out to the Gatineau Hills and spent time talking to God.

He emerged with a “yes.” Yes to a life grounded in sacrament and word. Yes to returning to his Anglican roots after ecumenical military chaplaincy. Yes to helping local Christians communicate with the world.

As chaplain to the bishop of Jerusalem, Mr. Organ will connect international visitors with Indigenous Christians in the diocese, which spans Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. He will assist Bishop Dawani in local ecumenical and interfaith work.

Mr. Organ will also serve as canon pastor for the cathedral of St. George the Martyr, Jerusalem, where he will regularly preach and preside at the Eucharist.

He has shifted cultures before. Mr. Organ has lived all over Canada and, as a military chaplain, served in the United States, Germany, Estonia, and even Yugoslavia for six months with the United Nations.

Mr. Organ says when he travels he better appreciates Canada’s “freedom, safety, and space.”

Irene, who manages a hair salon, can’t wait to go, even though it will mean leaving four adult sons and their families in Ottawa. In Jerusalem she will connect with women’s movements and perhaps volunteer at the elementary school just beneath their apartment.

The Organs’ move to Jerusalem is one more connection that strengthens ties between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Diocese of Jerusalem. His new position is supported by both churches; the diocese is providing a furnished apartment and the Anglican Church of Canada will provide the Organs’ stipend.

Canadians’ commitment to Jerusalem was formalized at General Synod 2010 and since then, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate, has visited and a Canadian companions group is being established.

Canadian Anglicans are encouraged to use General Synod’s resources,including a new web hub, when considering a pilgrimage to Israel-Palestine. Mr. Organ may be available to help these visitors, as he understands much of the history, current life, and emotional draw of the region.

“I was adding everything up and it was 39 plus years since I started in the direction of ministry,” said Mr. Organ, “It’s like 40 years in the wilderness and finally I get to enter the Promised Land. It’s an extraordinary opportunity.”

Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .