Friday, 29 January 2016

To the Laos - To the People of God: Tensions in the Communion?

Dear People of God 
Addressing a news conference in Canterbury.

Welcome to 2016! My focus in this letter is on the meeting of Primates from across the Anglican Communion which we held in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral this month, and on the communiqué we issued afterwards, dealing with a number of issues but attracting most attention because of the differences among us over our teaching on matters of human sexuality.
    Context is always important in comprehending text. The communiqué was penned after a rhythm of morning and evening offices coupled to daily Mass and the sharing of meals together. We were constantly reminded of where we were by the intermittent chiming of the cathedral bells. All of this was accompanied by the robust reflections we exchanged in plenary meetings and in small groups.
    There was consensus in the meeting that the resolution on Human Sexuality which was adopted at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 is not contested—especially that part of it which requires that we minister pastorally and sensitively to all people, irrespective of sexual orientation. (You can read the full text of the resolution on the Anglican Communion’s website.) Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people are God’s people, present in all Anglican Provinces across the world, and we are to be just and caring towards all. I shared with my fellow Primates that we have numbers of LGBT people in the Province of Southern Africa and that although different countries in the Province have different laws, in South Africa there is legal provision for same-sex civil unions.
    On the issue of human sexuality, the questions at hand in Canterbury were these: When the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in the United States last year authorised new rites allowing same-sex marriages in church, did it do so ignoring the Communion-wide moratorium on the issue and in breach of Catholic unity? If it did, what consequences if any should there be for The Episcopal Church? Our answer was that the church had decided to walk alone and our recommendation was that there must be consequences for doing this. These are outlined in the communiqué. Our recommendation was made to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who will act with the Anglican Consultative Council, a Communion-wide body representing lay people, priests and bishops from every Province in the Communion, and with the next Lambeth Conference.
    No written text and no individual can convey fully the meaning and feelings involved in the proceedings of our meeting or its culmination. We were deeply conscious of our need for sufficient grace from God as we decided on the recommendations. In our own Church, when I conclude a synod and promulgate its Acts, I am always torn by the prayer which implores that “no harm should befall God’s church because of our decisions.” In that spirit, and in the presence of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church—who shared with us his pain for the Church and his love for Catholic unity—we offered to God the consequences of how we chose to order our common life.
    Of course, each of you will have different views and feelings, different conclusions based on what we discussed or should have discussed. At this stage I don’t wish to comment on these, save to reflect on the tensions that I think are at stake here. After the meeting I drove to Heathrow Airport with the primates from Scotland, the Middle East and Horn of Africa, New Zealand, Brazil and Australia. We shared diverse views, during which more tensions came into play, and I wish briefly to share these:

•    Unity and diversity: Our recommendation on The Episcopal Church appears to have “punished” diversity at the expense of ensuring unity at all costs. It would seem that for the sake of holding onto unity, we were content with playing a zero sum game. What are your views on the degree to which sacred law and doctrinal statements can be altered? Who should alter these and how should we go about doing this? Are doctrinal formulations to be agreed upon once and for all, or may Jesus the Holy Spirit reveal new truths and formulations? If we accept that there are such revelations, how are we to decide to receive—or not to receive—them in such a way that the unity of the church catholic is not compromised. Is this a matter for the Anglican family only, or do we need to consider the whole church catholic? Immediately after the meeting, I came home to meet with fellow South African church leaders in an ecumenical think tank. There I was struck by the fact that all the churches, including the Zionists, are wrestling with the challenge of same-sex civil unions, and we are all trying to work it out separately, operating in silos and in fear. Although one South African church has moved ahead to accept same-sex marriages and another took the matter to the secular courts, we agreed at least in the ecumenical Southern African context to walk together, and to hear the experiences of LGBT people as we seek clearer revelations on doctrinal matters.

•    Interdependence and autonomy: The Anglican Communion is made up of 38 unique, interdependent bodies, viewing itself as being bound together by unwritten, invincible bonds. We cherish our polity, in which we hold in tension both our autonomy as Provinces and our interdependence. How do the Primates’ recommendations respect this polity? Since our polity also allows individual Dioceses within Provinces considerable autonomy, the Primates’ recommendations have far-reaching implications for the limits, or lack thereof, that a Province can impose on a Diocese. There is no single Communion canon law; rather our communion-wide canon law is the sum of the canon law of the individual Provinces and the exercise of “jurisprudence” on the basis of mission realities. Do our recommendations imply a move in the Communion towards centralisation of authority, and therefore towards imperialism or the kind of autocratic leadership we see in the secular sphere in some of our countries? Within our own Province, these questions arise all the time in litigation over the implementation of our disciplinary canons, resulting in the formation of a standing committee called the Canon Law Council to advise us on them. As the Church in Southern Africa, we have canons which spell out consequences and disciplinary action for infringements relating to doctrinal and moral matters. We don’t have those at a Communion level. The question our communiqué seeks to address with respect to The Episcopal Church is whether the extension of such provisions to the Communion is desirable.

•    Individuals and the Communion: In trying to balance the tension between concern for the lives of individual Christians and the interests of the Communion, my sense is that we as Primates elevated issues of doctrine, rules and polity above those of love and of respect for the uniqueness of individuals within the body of Christ. Why did we do that? What should we have done? What are our limits as a collective in such matters? When can we err together for the sake of our traditions? When can we trust God the Holy Spirit to take charge and not control everything, including doctrinal matters? Might the Pauline understanding of rules, the law and the Body direct us as we further reflect on future consequences and doctrinal matters, especially in the area of human sexuality? No one has triumphed from the outcome of our meeting in Canterbury; we finished our meeting limping together towards God in Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit, needing to have our feet washed and to wash our neighbours’ feet. The issues around human sexuality have been with us and will remain with us for a long time; there is no cut-and-dried solution and we should not try to advance a technical solution. People on both sides of the matter are pained, and we must journey together, deciding on a path which will order our journey.

    I have received calls and written messages from LGBT clergy and laity, pained by our indecision. I have received notes from others who differed from them. All have humbled me as they have assured me of their prayers for this journey. I have received requests from the media to comment on the matter but have felt constrained in doing so—I don’t comment well whilst in desolation.
    The rhythm of the Primates’ meeting, the ecumenical think tank at home, and the funeral service I attended upon my return, for 20-year-old Njabulo Mathebula, who took his life last week, reminds me of the fragility of life and how we are all carried by grace as we wrestle with the question: what is the goal of life in Jesus Christ in the here and now? The Synod of Bishops, which meets in February, and Provincial Synod, which meets in September, will guide us on these matters, and on other missional issues that the Primates meeting discussed: climate justice, extremism and the sustainable development goals. I look forward to your responses and reflections on our draft ACSA pastoral guidelines.

    God bless you, 

    †Thabo Cape Town

LATE UPDATE: In the Diocese of Niassa, in northern Mozambique, the Elective Assembly for a new bishop has, after 21 ballots over three days of voting, delegated the choice of a bishop to the Synod of Bishops in terms of Canon 4(12)(i).

The Niassa Elective Assembly.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Communiqué from the Primates in Canterbury

Communiqué from the Primates

Walking Together in the Service of God in the World

The meeting of Anglican Primates, the senior bishops of the 38 Anglican Provinces, joined by the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America, took place in Canterbury between Monday 11 January and Friday 15 January at the invitation of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first morning was spent in prayer and fasting.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

An appeal for prayer from Canterbury

From the meeting of Primates of the Anglican Communion:

I am still standing after just over three days of our meeting in Canterbury. I am well and am thankful for your prayers.

In our time together here, I have witnessed the power of prayer and movements of the Holy Spirit. We have wrestled with love and discerned together, digging deep into our spiritual wells and consciences, as well as seeking conversion as we made tough calls.

Coming from our diverse Province, my heart goes out to all our people. Again, thank you for your prayers and once again I ask for continual prayer as we go through today and part of tomorrow. We are walking together as a Communion, and limping to God in Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit, as God waits to burst out again in our lives and in our church.

+Thabo Cape Town

Canterbury Cathedral 


Thursday, 7 January 2016

Archbishop on same-sex civil unions

Anglicans in other Provinces of the Communion sometimes display a tendency “to use African Christians as proxies in their own culture wars,” Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has said.

Global prayer for Primates Meeting

Archbishop Thabo will be one of those attending this meeting, together with other archbishops from across Africa and the Communion:

[Anglican Communion News Service] Christians around the world are praying for next week’s Primates Meeting taking place in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral.

The Primates Meeting is one of the Anglican Communion’s four Instruments of Unity and provides an opportunity for the leaders of the independent but interdependent Anglican Churches to gather for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.”

A prayer from the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon accompanied the invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to his fellow archbishops and presiding bishops. And a litany for the meeting was published in November with an invitation to Anglicans and other Christians to “pray daily” for the meeting.

This week, Archbishop Justin issued a video message asking people to pray for “wisdom and love” and a special Primates 2016 website was launched with a page dedicated to prayer for the meeting.

The Anglican mission agency Mothers’ Union, which works to support family life in 27 Anglican provinces, invited its members to pray daily for the bishops and archdeacons attending the meeting.

The call to pray has been echoed by many Anglican primates.

Archbishop Brown Turei is one of three primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. He won’t be in Canterbury for the meeting, but says that “all three of us, as primates, speak for each other – and so Archbishops Winston and Philip carry my voice to Canterbury and I wish to hold them in prayer with the work they have to do.”

“The fact that the invitation to Canterbury was to all three of us as Primates demonstrates an appreciation of a model that reflects diversity, and so I hope that can emerge from Canterbury in the next week,” he said.

A series of collects and a form of intercession has been published for use in the province to help people pray for the Primates Meeting.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said: “I look forward to being present with my fellow primates as we gather for prayer and conversation and as we support each other in ministry.

“I invite Episcopalians to join me in prayer for this gathering, that God will be fully present with us and that we may follow our Lord Jesus in the ways of His love and in so doing be part of God’s blessing to the world.”

In November, in an address at the first group of sessions of the new five-year General Synod of the Church of England, Queen Elizabeth II commented: “I am sure that members of the Synod will pray earnestly that the gathering in January of the Primates of the Anglican Communion will be a time when, together, they may know what is God’s will.”

Many local churches are holding special prayer services for the Primates Meeting. Among them is St Luke's Parish Church in in Kingston upon Thames, South West London, where the Primates Meeting was the focus of their Hour of Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament last night (Wednesday) and again next Wednesday.

“I grew up with a love and appreciation for the witness of the world wide Communion,” the Vicar of St Luke’s, the Revd Martin Hislop, said. He was ordained as a priest in Australia, and says that his home province “has greatly benefited from its participation in the Communion and it tears at the heart to see division and disunity within the family of Anglican Churches.

“At St Luke’s as we recall the wish of Our Lord that ‘we may all be one.’ We pray that the chief shepherds of the Communion will heed Our Lord’s cry and remain faithful to the Faith delivered to the Apostles.”

Another church praying regularly for the Primates Meeting is All Saints’ Parish Church in Durbanville, Cape Town, South Africa, whether the gathering is being prayed for at Sunday and midweek services.

“The concluding prayer to the Litany is being prayed 24/7 by our prayer chain,” the Very Revd Bruce Jenneker, Rector of All Saints’ said. “Our hope is that the Spirit will strengthen the bonds of trust and unity by an outpouring of gentleness, tolerance, acceptance and love.”
  • To help you pray for the Primates Meeting, prayers will be published daily on the prayer page of the special Primates2016 website.

Friday, 25 December 2015

'Corruption has infected government in epidemic proportions'

From St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, Esley Philander of the SABC reports on the Archbishop's Christmas homily:

South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba delivered a sobering midnight mass sermon at the Saint George's Cathedral in Cape Town on Thursday night warning that corruption has infected government in "epidemic proportions".  (full text follows video clip)


Full text report:

'Corruption has infected government in epidemic proportions'

South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba delivered a sobering midnight mass sermon at the Saint George's Cathedral in Cape Town on Thursday night warning that corruption has infected government in "epidemic proportions".

Makgoba added that the firing of former Minister of Finance Nhlanla Nene was ‘reckless’ and that it failed to consider the needs of the nation, and especially the poor.

The Archbishop says the levels of discontentment continue to grow in the country.

Makgoba suggested that it would be difficult to celebrate Christmas in 2015.

"It is not easy tonight to bring good news of great joy or say, without inhibition, "Happy Christmas". Many are asking: Where is the joy? How can we put aside our daily cares to celebrate the birth of Christ,Growing, deepening discontent is palpable in South Africa."

"A discontent that is causing even the most beautiful of days to be invaded by the pervasive smell of the rot which is being spread by the moral pollution of our public life ."

He says the Fees Must Fall Campaign is the natural result of growing inequality.

"The #FeesMustFall campaign reflected the dark clouds of restless unhappiness, frustration and rebelliousness against the increasing inequalities that contaminate our daily lives. "

"But whether or not you agree with the government's response to that, at least it was rational. The sheer recklessness of the firing of Nhlanhla Nene, the failure to consider the needs of the nation, and particularly the needs of the poor, was staggering."

Makgoba says the key challenges facing democratic institutions should be addressed. "Let us not make the mistake of thinking that the solution to our problems lies simply in replacing one leader with another. The new struggle is about values and institutions rather than about personalities."

"When church leaders went last week to see President Zuma, we said we agreed to work with the Presidency to restore trust in government. We know that the abuse of our institutions for political reasons did not begin with President Zuma's incumbency, so whether or not he is replaced before his term ends, we need to build strong systems and institutions."