Friday, July 10, 2009

To the People of God – To the Laos - July 2009

Dear People of God

Last month I wrote directly after returning from the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica, on which I have now had some time to reflect.

The ACC is one of the Anglican ‘Instruments of Communion’, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Lambeth Conference. Every 3 years, a bishop, priest or deacon, and lay person from each of the larger Provinces, and 2 representatives from smaller Provinces, meet to review our common life. We consider how to promote cooperation, including through the Communion’s many networks, and we review developments in mission and in relations with other Christian bodies. I attended in the place of the late Bishop David Beetge, long our episcopal representative, together with the Revd Janet Trisk. Unfortunately Nomfundo Walaza had other, unbreakable, commitments.

It was a great joy to be in Jamaica, a Diocese of the Province of the West Indies. On our first Sunday, all the local churches cancelled their services, and joined us for a remarkable shared celebration. The following Sunday, ACC members divided ourselves among parishes, to see the mission of the church in Jamaica first hand. It was an enriching encounter, especially so soon after the Lambeth Conference challenged us on the role of Bishops as leaders in mission.

I found it hugely energising to hear reports from the Communion’s networks, which include Women, Families, Youth, Interfaith, Colleges and Universities, Peace and Justice, and the Environment. There is a huge breadth of activity, mutual support and learning – and we must look at ways of sharing this more widely in our Province, and raising the profile of the Southern Africans involved.

It is also greatly encouraging to consider how much our relations with other Churches and Christian bodies broaden and deepen – often after centuries of division and mistrust. Congratulations to my researcher, the Revd Sarah Rowland Jones, for compiling the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations’ report of nine years work, in ‘The Vision Before Us’. I commend this as a comprehensive handbook on the Anglican response to Jesus’ prayer that his followers ‘might all be one, so that the world may believe’. (As some of you know, it was through IASCER that Sarah met the late Bishop Justus Marcus – who mentored a lot of us – moving to South Africa when they married, and taking up the post of Archbishop’s researcher on his death. She is one of the important staff members at Bishopscourt, who are invaluable in making an Archbishop’s life possible – do please keep them in your prayers.)

Of course, one key matter was the proposed Anglican Covenant in its third, ‘Ridley’ draft. We decided more work was still required, and sought comments from Provinces. If you want to know more, your Bishop’s office has copies of the draft. Please send views, by mid-August, via your Diocese or directly to peoadmin[at]anglicanchurchsa.org.za. We shall look at this at Synod of Bishops and PSC in September. You may have seen reports that this delay favours one or other ‘constituency’ within the Communion – my view is that there was ambiguity within the draft that must be clarified. I can also report that, whatever the press and bloggers say, there was a very warm and cooperative atmosphere at the meeting. This is not to deny that divisions, especially in some Provinces, are very deep and serious, but they do not bring everything else to a halt. Please continue to pray our Communion may be ‘faithful and obedient’ in following God’s call.

On my way home, I visited New York, holding discussions with The Episcopal Church, particularly on their mission partnerships with us, through our Anglican AIDS and Healthcare Trust, Hope Africa and directly with a number of dioceses, and in supporting various individuals. We thank them for labouring with us in the vineyards of the Lord in this way. While there I was privileged to receive an honorary Doctorate from the General Theological Seminary ‘in recognition of outstanding service to the Anglican Communion’. As I said then, I feel this degree is for all Southern Africans who were denied access to education by past circumstances. Many of you, I know, would have loved to have been able to study, especially to study theology, and could not. Nevertheless, God’s Holy Spirit guided and strengthened the churches in our efforts to bring an end to apartheid and build a new reality in Southern Africa, through justice, peace and reconciliation.

This new reality means we must continue deliberately to share God’s love, walking with all who are in need in today’s broken world. Recalling Jesus command that we love our neighbours as ourselves, we must each ask ‘Who is my neighbour?’ and then treat every member of our global community in ways that uphold the sanctity of life, the dignity of humanity in all our differences, and the integrity of creation. These are our touchstones as we follow God’s call for social justice here and now – whether the urgent demands of poverty, hunger, malaria, HIV and AIDS, and TB, or the adverse affects of global warming. God’s loving concern for human well-being is best revealed through the attitudes, words and deeds of Christians acting together as the body of Christ, especially concrete cooperation, as we all walk more closely with one another on our common journey.

There is a similar spirit behind the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s call for a global Mandela day on his birthday, 18 July. They want everyone to spend 67 minutes ‘doing something that would make a difference in their communities’, and so recognise the 67 years Mandela spent fighting apartheid. I should like us all to take up this challenge, and not only act individually, but also with others, and especially in ways that bridge or break down the old divisions. For the genius of Nelson Mandela is that he inspires us not only to be the best that we can be, but also to bring out the best in one another, for the healing of the soul of our nation. For my part, conscious of the need for the healing of our very land, I shall plant an olive tree in the grove I have created in my garden to off-set the carbon footprint generated by the travel that my responsibilities entail. And of course, I shall take time for prayer: to thank God for the gift to us and to the world that Nelson Mandela has been, to seek his blessings of peace and contentment on Madiba in his retirement, and to ask that we may all take to heart the lessons we have learnt from this remarkable man and so, by God's grace, dare to dedicate our lives to the betterment of our planet and of all who live on it. I encourage you to spend these 67 minutes doing good to all, especially to those of the household of faith.

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town