Faith amidst chaos: Janet Maher’s story of resilience in Gaza

A mother sits on a low rock and kisses a small boy on the cheek.

Harrowing journey with children and grandparents reunites family with husband. In lieu of peace, Palestinian Christians sheltering at Orthodox and Catholic churches grow increasingly desperate.
Janet Maher is out of Gaza.
The Palestinian wife of the Egyptian former pastor of Gaza Baptist Church had been sheltering in the Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church with her three children and 350 others—but not her husband. Two weeks before the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, Hanna Maher had traveled temporarily back to Egypt, where he had to remain after the war broke out.
Despite the horrors of suffering 43 days of bombardment by herself, as CT previously reported, the family separation is the reason why Janet and her children are now safely in Egypt, reunited with Hanna. But first they had to undergo a harrowing journey that began with tearful goodbyes to a hallowed community.
“I spent weeks with these people and am broken by the experience,” Janet said. “But everyone pleaded: If you get out, tell the world about our situation.”
The death toll in Gaza exceeds 11,000, including more than 5,000 children, according to statistics released by the ministry of health in the Hamas-run enclave and last updated November 10. But save for the shrapnel and scattered remains of human carcasses flying over the walls of the church compound, little of this was known to the Christians inside.
With no television or internet and only intermittent connection to the cell phone network, Janet and her fellow sheltering Gazans knew only the daily reality of war. Most of the day was spent trying to figure out how to procure food, with the young men tasked with trips outside to the local market.
Most often, the day would begin with bombing—sending the people scurrying away from windows and doors to the center of the room. Three times a week, the priest would lead morning prayers. Frequently, they would …Continue reading…

Decoding the Christmas musical ‘Journey To Bethlehem’

An advertisement screen for the musical Journey to Bethlehem is shown.

(REVIEW) “Journey To Bethlehem” is a musical heavy on cheesy jokes, but
lacks the heart that we expect from a family Christmas movie, including the
sacredness we expect from a film about Jesus. Of course, this movie is not
without controversy.

A look at post-pandemic church attendance trends

The stadium-like interior of a mega church is shown filled with people.

New research shows disagreement over COVID-19 policies drove changes in attendance, but “a lot of it is a mystery.”
After a few hard pandemic years, Paul Seay is happy to see more people coming to the two Methodist churches he pastors in Abingdon, Virginia.
Still, he can’t help but wonder, What happened to the people who never returned?
“Some had been very involved—and they’re just gone,” said Seay, who leads Charles Wesley United Methodist Church, a historically Black congregation, and Abingdon United Methodist Church, a large red brick church down the road.
At a low point, Charles Wesley had about six people in attendance. Things didn’t get quite that dire at Abingdon UMC, which had about 180 before the pandemic. But it also really struggled with the impact of COVID-19.
They weren’t alone. According to a new study on the impact of COVID-19 on the American church from ChurchSalary, a sister publication of Christianity Today, more than one in three churches saw attendance decline between 2020 and 2022. And while many, like Seay’s congregations, have seen growth since the darkest days, they still seem to be missing people.
“It was not uncommon in discussions with pastors,” the researchers found, “to hear stories of ‘a third’ or ‘half’ or ‘20%’ of a congregation not coming back once the doors reopened.”
Charles Wesley now has about 20 people on a good Sunday, and Abingdon UMC has grown to around 200. But Seay still notices the people who aren’t in the pews anymore.
“The pandemic,” he told CT, “really zapped the congregation.”
There doesn’t seem to be a single clear explanation for this. The survey of 1,164 Protestant pastors, followed by 17 focus groups and nine in-person case studies, found varied and …Continue reading…

From positivity to hope

Sun is seen shining through a line of very dark clouds.

It is a struggle to maintain a positive attitude, this was especially true during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when personal losses and sadness consumed so many. Molly Cahill reflects on how she …

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The impact of church attendance on spiritual beliefs

A white church with a steeple and surrounded by trees is seen across a green lawn.

Regular church attendance holds a paramount position in shaping and deepening one’s religious beliefs and spiritual understanding. In a manner akin to the importance placed on attending academic classes for knowledge acquisition, consistent attendance at …

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