When Rev. Angela Zimmann, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress this year, told her congregation on Sunday (Dec. 9) that she was leaving to take a job in Jerusalem, some were concerned about her moving to the Middle East.
“The congregation I serve is very small and very rural. They’re thinking, ‘Well Jerusalem is where Jesus was killed. Bethlehem is where he was born. And there’s a lot of violence in the Middle East.’ That’s probably the sum total of what most people would say,” Zimmann said in an interview.
But she told the folks at Trinity Lutheran Church in Riga, Mich., that Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and that acts of violence are “very rare” there because “you’re going to hurt your own most holy site no matter what faith you’re coming from,” she said.
Jerusalem is about an hour and a half from Gaza, where a truce was called earlier this month after fighting had raged between Palestinians and Israelis.
In comparison, Trinity is an hour from Detroit, Zimmann reminded them, and the violence that city is infamous for doesn’t affect the daily lives of the people in Riga.
She will be working as special assistant to Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and also the Lutheran World Federation. The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition, founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, now representing 143 member churches in 79 countries and 70.5 million Christians.
Her husband, Rev. Martin Zimmann, will be pastor of the historic English-speaking Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem.
The Zimmanns and their two biological children, Seth, 13, and Chelsea, 9, will live in a house on the Mount of Olives.
“The timing worked out really well because our last foster child went home in March and we didn’t take any more placements because the [congressional] campaign was too intense for that,” she said.
The overseas job possibility came out of the blue about a week after Zimmann, a Democrat, lost her bid for a seat in Congress in November. Incumbent Republican Bob Latta won 57.2 percent of the vote.
She said running for congress helped her develop a skill set that will be helpful in her new position. She is believed to have been the only female pastor who ran for Congress in 2012.
“It takes a lot of self-discipline, self-control, fortitude and strength to be in that situation. Grace under pressure is the buzz word,” Zimmann said.
Officials at the ELCA headquarters in Chicago were watching closely.
“They liked the way I lost,” Zimmann said with a laugh. “It’s funny but it’s true. You can lose well or you can lose poorly, raging and looking bad.”
The job is for four years, with two stints of 22 months in Israel followed by two months in the United States.
Zimmann, 39, has a doctorate in rhetoric and has taught writing at Bowling Green State University. She gave up her BGSU job to run for Congress but continued serving as pastor of Trinity, which has about 100 people on its rolls and Sunday attendance of between 40 and 50.
She said she is thrilled at the prospect of working in Jerusalem.
“I’m very committed to working for justice, which is what compelled me to run for Congress. … When the call came, it all just sort of fit together. I thought, ‘This is perfect. This is where I need to be. Working for justice whether domestically or internationally, it’s all the same piece as far as I’m concerned. I’m thrilled to be going where the need is and where my gifts fit the position.”
Zimmann said she plans to write about her experiences in Jerusalem and hopes she can educate Americans about the Middle East and dispel misunderstandings and stereotypes.