TRIPOLI, Lebanon (PNS) Though we often hear only the dark and disturbing stories coming out of the Middle East, on February 26 there was an historic moment of celebration. The Presbyterian Church in Tripoli and the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) ordained the Rev. Rola Sleiman as the first Arab woman to serve as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.
After graduating in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in theology degree from the Near East School of Theology (NEST) in Beirut, Sleiman moved to the Bakaa Valley in Lebanon to serve as a Christian Educator. In 2001 she returned to Tripoli to work as a Christian Educator at the Presbyterian Church and taught ethics at the evangelical school.
But in 2006-2007, when the pastor of the church immigrated to the United States, Sleiman was appointed by the synod as the unofficial pastor at the congregation’s request. She received her preaching license from the synod in 2008 to make the appointment official and has carried out all the duties of a pastor except for baptism, communion and performing marriages. Now she can carry out the full duties and responsibilities of a pastor and is well received among her colleagues—both Christian and moderate Muslim. She continues to work towards completing a master of divinity degree.
“This has been a long and slow conversation,” said Sleiman, “and this is good, because everyone has come to see over the years that this gentle way of opening up a new practice has made for a more peaceful acceptance.”
Sleiman was born and raised in the Tripoli Presbyterian Church. She graduated from the Evangelical School in Tripoli when it was still located in the old quarter of Tripoli down the street from the church. The school is well known and loved by both the city’s Muslim and Christian residents. Many of its Muslim graduates have gone on to serve as moderate political leaders, taking the lessons they learned in school about peaceful and respectful co-existence and seeking to embody that in the political landscape of Lebanon.