History of Living Stones

Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust emerged out of conversation between two academic colleagues, Duncan Macpherson and the late Fr. Michael Prior.[1] They were mulling over their experiences of leading student groups to the Holy Land. Michael, who was Biblical scholar, had also just returned from a year-long study sabbatical at the world leading École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem. Inspired by a moving homily on the current situation and significance of Christianity in the Holy Land from the Greek Catholic Melkite priest and later Archbishop, Elias Chacour in Ibillin,[2] they decided to establish an ecumenical organisation, ‘Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust’, to promote friendship and cooperation between Christians in Britain and Christian Churches in the Holy Land, including with the wider Middle Eastern Christian Churches and communities of the region. 

The next step along from Michael and Duncan’s discussions naturally evolved into an application to The Charity Commission in the UK to apply for charitable status for the organisation in 1984.[3]  ‘Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust’ soon gained ecclesial recognition for its work including the support of two Church of England bishops[4]; one Roman Catholic bishop[5] and one Greek Orthodox Bishop[6] in the UK and, especially significantly, the support and spiritual patronage of representative Church Leaders in Jerusalem and beyond[7]. A collaborative and ecumenical instinct has been at the heart of the work of the Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust which has sought to gather together a wide range of Christians, from across all churches, who had a concern for the Christianity in the Holy Land and the Middle East. 

Prior and Macpherson[8] organised a series of ecumenical pilgrimages with the assistance of the late Naim Tarazi, an Arab Eastern Orthodox choir leader and founder of the Universal Tourist Agency.  After Michael Prior’s death in 2004, a Memorial fund was established through the generosity of the Prior family. This fund has enabled Living Stones to sponsor an annual Michal Prior Memorial Lecture, to grant scholarship to Palestinian Christian students and others engaged in Holy Land Studies and, in general. to help fund other academic work of the Trust.

A Living Stones Newsletter was established, books were published, and conferences were organised to which notable Christian leaders from the Holy land, Europe and North America were invited as speakers. The importance of the scholarly work on the modern history and contemporary situation of Christianity in the Holy land has from its beginning been recognized by the Trust. In 2012 Leonard Harrow[9] and Professor Mary Grey,[10] President of Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust, founded ‘The Yearbook of Living Stones’ which was dedicated to exploring and encouraging theological, ecumenical, dialogical, modern historical and political reflection on Christianity in the Holy Land and the Middle East today.  The Yearbook of Living Stones, now in its seventh year has become a unique forum in which both younger and more senior scholars and church leaders exchange their research work and ideas on Christianity in the Holy Land and the Middle East.

In 2012 Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust, committed to a high level theological and scholarly exchange, created a Theology Group which has a wide ecumenical membership of committed researchers who have been at the heart of this academic outreach.  The Chair of the Theology Group is at present Fr. Robin Gibbons, a Greek Catholic Melkite priest and Theologian at the Department of Continuing Education, University of Oxford.[11] The Theology Group worked closely with the community of researchers associated with the Centre for Eastern Christianity (CEC) at Heythrop College, University of London until its closure in 2018, with which it shared many academic interests and concerns. To continue this academic and scholarly liaison Anthony O’Mahony,[12] who had been Director CEC with a long-established interest in Christianity in the Holy land and the wider Middle East, was appointed Research Consultant in 2020 by Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust.

The Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust is now firmly established over many decades as a leading ecumenical body committed to understanding and supporting the Christians of the Holy Land and the Middle East, especially at this time of great upheaval which challenges the very presence of Christianity in the lands of its origins. 

[1] Michael Prior (March 15, 1942 – July 21, 2004) was a priest of the Vincentian Congregation, professor of biblical theology at Saint Mary’s College, University of Surrey, and a liberation theologian. He was the author a numerous scholarly works Paul the Letter-writer: And the Second Letter to Timothy (1989), Bible and Colonialism: A Moral Critique (1997), Zionism and the State of Israel: A Moral Inquiry (2005).

[2] Fr Chacour, who has been nominated for numerous peace prizes for work on reconciliation in the Holy Land is the author of two bestselling books, Blood Brothers and We Belong to the LandBlood Brothers covers his childhood growing up in the town of Biram, his development into a young man, and his early years as a priest in Ibillin.

[3] The founding committee included: the late Alistair Duncan of the World of Islam Festival Trust; an Israeli writer and a human rights activist, Uriel “Uri” Davis, a Church of England vicar, Reverend Tony Crowe plus both Michael, and Duncan.

[4] Peter Stephen Maurice Selby (1941-) at that time Bishop of Kingston and later Bishop of Worcester, and Bishop Anthony Charles Dumper (1923 – 2012) Bishop of Dudley.

[5] Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (1932 –2017), Archbishop of Westminster at that time Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.

[6] Leading Eastern Orthodox academic theologian and church leader, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (born Timothy Richard Ware (1934–)

[7] See list of current Spiritual Patrons on this website 

[8] Duncan Macpherson, taught theology for many years at St. Mary’s University, and has written on preaching and pilgrimage including Pilgrim Preacher: Palestine, Pilgrimage and Preaching (2004) and was for many years chair of the Friends of Bir Zeit University. He is also a Knight of The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (1847) which is dedicated to supporting the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Christian presence in the Holy Land. 

[9] Leonard Harrow, a publisher (Melisende) and academically trained scholar of the history of Iran and Persian culture who has published several academic contributions including ‘Notes on Catholic – Shi’i relations during the Safavid Period’, in: The Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Vol. 63, no. 1—2 (2011), 99—121.

[10] Mary Grey is currently a professorial research fellow at St Mary’s University, Twickenham; previously she had been a professor teaching pastoral theology at the University of Wales, Lampeter and author numerous works including – The Advent of Peace (2010); The Resurrection of Peace: A Gospel Journey to Easter and Beyond (2012); with Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Debating Palestine and Israel (2014); The Spirit of Peace: Pentecost and Affliction in the Middle East (2015).

[11] Robin Gibbons, Ecumenical Canon at Christchurch, Oxford, writes on liturgy and the Eastern Christian perspectives on the environment. His publications include: House of God: House of the People of God (2006); The Eastern Churches (2006); For the Life of the World: An Eastern Christian Approach to Nature and Environmental Care (2019).

[12] Anthony O’Mahony, Reader in the History of Christianity, Heythrop College, University of London between 1999-2018 and Director for the Centre for Eastern Christianity since 2009 – 2018.   Research Interests, in which he has published widely, include modern history of Eastern Christianity; Ecumenical dialogue between Eastern and Western churches; Christian-Muslim-Jewish relations; and the religious and political history of Jerusalem.