The curious case of the Kirk's hotel in Tiberias

By Press Office
November 2, 2012

Critical Religion coordinator and Ekklesia associate Dr Michael Marten, from the University of Stirling, has been interviewed by Caitlin Smith for a BBC documentary, picking up on his research on Scottish missions in Palestine. The presenter is Angus Roxburgh.

The programme examines the hotel in Tiberias owned and run by the Church of Scotland, critically addressing current Church policies in the light of historical circumstances. 

The conversion from a guest house to a luxury hotel has long been a controversial issue in the wider Church, as this 2004 BBC article indicates.

‘A Scottish Hotel in the Holy Land’ was broadcast on Wednesday 31 October at 11:00 on Radio 4. It can be listened to online here.

The BBC spec says: In the Israeli town of Tiberias, situated opposite the Golan Heights and within range of Hezbollah's rockets in Lebanon, you will find The Scots Hotel, owned and run by that well known chain of hoteliers, the Church of Scotland.

Unlikely as it seems, one of the biggest properties owned by the Church of Scotland isn't a grand old kirk dating back to the Reformation or a manse in a well-to-do Scottish postcode, it's Israel's Boutique Hotel of the Year 2008.

Ten short years ago it all seemed so rosy; a plan to build a hotel on the site of a 19th century hospital established by Scots surgeon and medical missionary, David Watt Torrance. Then things took a turn for the worst. The Second Intifada caused widespread disruption across the region and the Israeli government stepped in to halt renovations after an ancient Jewish graveyard was found on the grounds. It opened in May 2004, behind schedule and over budget.

Back home, the Kirk held its nerve despite having to cut back on other international work such as HIV projects in Africa.The General Assembly in 2010 was presented with a stark picture of its finances; churches would have to close, services for the vulnerable would be slashed and vacancies for ministers would go unfilled.

What explains the Church's loyalty to this unlikely project? Angus Roxburgh travels to the Holy Land to explore the complex relationship between the Kirk, Israel and a local Palestinian Christian population in decline.

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