Tuesday, 13 April 2010

To the Laos - To the People of God, April 2010

Note - the To The Laos letter for February was inadvertently not posted onthe blog earlier. It follows on below this month's letter.

Dear People of God

Alleluia, Christ is risen – We are risen, Alleluia! I wish you all a blessed and joyful Easter!

Easter is of course not just one day of celebrating how Christ was raised for the dead for our salvation, but the Great Fifty Days of Easter, which runs through the fifty days between the Jewish feasts of Passover and Pentecost (which literally means ‘fiftieth day’), from Jesus’ resurrection to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yet alongside this season within the Church’s liturgical year, there is a sense in which we are called always to be ‘Easter People’, stepping from the shadow of the cross into the light of the resurrection, and extending a hand – the hand of Christ – to others, to help them do the same.

The challenge to us, which we are to share with the world, is to ‘choose life’ in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. And in order to choose life, it may be that we have to let go of something that is holding us back – something that may have been a comfortable or even necessary part of life beforehand, but which now keeps our feet in the grave. It may mean anything, for example giving up an old habit, old attitudes, old ways of doing things, old priorities – any part of life that has outlived its usefulness, or its appropriateness within the changes of our own lives and societies, and now is more a source of diminishment and stagnation rather than life and growth. It may mean having the courage to step out and take on something new.

New life is also the promise of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God’s Spirit not only sustains all of creation in being, but also indwells all the daughters and sons of God within the body of Christ. It is the Spirit who leads us into all truth, and who opens our eyes to see God’s vision for the life to which we are called. As we pray for grace to ‘choose life’ we should also be consciously aware that this is a challenge to have our eyes opened, and see possibilities for new life, where we had not previously recognised, or perhaps not been willing to recognise.

In the Collect for Pentecost, we ask God to ‘inspire our hearts and set them on fire with the Spirit’s joy and power, and send us out as witnesses to the wonder of your love’. This year, I should like to invite you all to continue to pray this prayer through to the holding of Provincial Synod, from 29 September to 2 October, at the Kopanong Centre in Benoni. Pray for all of us who will meet there – especially those who have been elected to represent your own Dioceses. Pray that as we come together and take counsel in the presence of the Lord, desiring to discern his will for us and to translate it into the processes and procedures of our Church’s life, that our hearts will be set on fire with love for God and his world. Pray that we will indeed be inspired with God’s vision for our Province – the ‘Vision 2020’ process on which we have been working.

Last year Provincial Standing Committee affirmed the work we had done so far, and proposed that at Provincial Synod we look more deeply at our calling to be ‘Anchored in the love of Christ – revealed in Scripture; Committed to God’s mission – with compassion and joy; and Transformed by the Holy Spirit – through discipleship and worship’. As we have been taking forward this work on our Vision and Mission statement, we have begun looking in more detail at eight priority areas through which to give these expression: liturgical renewal for transformative worship, theological education and formation, leadership development, health (including HIV and AIDS, malaria and TB), the environment, women and gender, protection and nurture of children and young people, and public advocacy. There are in addition two further themes – evangelism and reconciliation / transformation – which inform and influence all of these areas. For this reason, we decided not to list them alongside the eight priority areas as this would risk separating them out from other areas of our common life, in which they should rather be an integral part. I intend to devote parts of my next few letters to saying a little more about each of these priorities.

Of course, there is much other business for the Synod to conduct, to shape our common life, and there is still time for motions for discussions to be put to us, through the appropriate channels. Please do keep our preparations in your prayers – especially the work of the Provincial Executive Office. The Revd Allan Kannemeyer, formerly Archdeacon of Hennops River in Pretoria, who has joined the office as ‘PEO Intern’ to work alongside the Revd Canon Robert Butterworth through to Synod, with a view to taking over from him thereafter. Also at Bishopscourt, last month saw the retirement of Mrs Cynthia Michaels, after many years as our receptionist. She has been succeeded by Miss Sisanda Majikazana, whose voice will now greet you when you telephone here. We wish Cynthia every blessing in this new chapter of her life, and warmly welcome Allan and Sisanda into our team.

Other ‘family’ news within the Province that I would like to share for your prayers is, first, that on 20 April there will be an elective assembly for the new Bishop of Mpumalanga, following Bishop Les Walker’s death last year. Then, on 24 April, Bishop Mazwi Tisani, currently the Suffragan Bishop of Pretoria, will be installed as the First Bishop of the new diocese of Ukhahlamba. He was appointed by the Synod of Bishops in February, after the Elective Assembly referred to them the decision. Thank you for upholding our Church, and its role within the countries of our Province, in your prayers. I was acutely aware of being sustained by the prayers of others, as I attended the funeral of Mr Eugene Terreblanche last week in Ventersdorp.

Let me end by returning to the morning of our Lord’s resurrection. Mary in the garden did not recognise Jesus as she did not expect to see him. Let us pray that our eyes will also be opened to recognise our risen Saviour where we do not expect to see him – so that, like her, we may then ‘go and tell’. May God bless you as his Easter people, making you a blessing to others.

Yours in the Service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

To the Laos - To the People of God, February 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are barely six weeks into the year, as I write, but the good rest of the Christmas and New Year break is beginning to seem rather distant already!

The theme that has come to dominate the start to my year arose from reflecting on Jesus’ healing of the deaf mute man (Mk 7:31-37). All of us need his healing touch, unstopping ears and opening mouths, to hear what he is saying, and then declare his truths to his world. God, it is said, gave us two ears and one mouth, with the intention that we should spend twice as much time listening, as talking! In this way, first we receive, and then we are to share.

I began the year with a consultation of Christian leaders, an informal gathering from across the whole body of Christ. We felt a strong conviction God was urging us to pursue greater unity and cooperation, with Jesus Christ at the centre. For it is as members together of the body of Christ (rather than united around some external issue like apartheid or poverty) that we belong together. Having had our ears opened in this way, we aim to come closer to each other, and hope we will go on to speak more effectively – demonstrating unity in Christ, even in our diversity. Fundamentally, it is of course Jesus himself whom we most need to receive, and in turn must share with the world.

I had a different experience of listening and speaking when the electoral assembly of the new Diocese of Ukhahlamba (created from the northern part of the Diocese of Grahamstown) decided to ask the Synod of Bishops to make an appointment. Sometimes, deciding to do what seems to be ‘nothing’ takes considerable courage. It is a reminder to unstopped ears that God’s voice is often still and small, and may say ‘Wait’. We must learn to listen carefully, and not be afraid to share that ‘wait’ with others, when it comes.

Later that same week I joined other faith leaders to bless the Cape Town 2010 Stadium. Religious communities share so much in common, especially as we join in addressing increasing secularism. Yet inter-faith events also require careful listening to how our Lord would have us speak. I was glad to be the Christian voice in the Stadium’s opening, and unashamedly asked God’s blessing, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit. We should not be afraid to make clear our distinct belief in the God who is Trinity, and the salvation and redemption that come through the cross and resurrection. My particular prayer is that in 2010 God may bless all who compete and who spectate; and inspire us all to reach for excellence, to promote fair play, to share in team spirit, and to enjoy together the great gifts that sport offers humankind.

More listening and speaking followed at the end of January when I travelled to Switzerland, for the annual meeting of global leaders in the World Economic Forum at Davos. I am glad to say that faith leaders are increasingly seen as having a vital contribution to make to this gathering. Many of us were discussion leaders in various sessions, and some contributed essays to a report circulated to participants, on ‘Values for the Post-Crisis Economy’. The crisis of values and ethics in global economic policy-making has brought new possibilities for the voice of faith in the public arena – do pray that Christian leaders, not least our own highly respected Archbishop of Canterbury, will use these well.

Last week, I joined the Chief Rabbi in giving what we termed a ‘Moral State of the Nation Address’, each from the perspective of our own faith community. My hope is that this might become an annual event, with other religious leaders also participating. I argued that ‘morality’ is a word that describes how the whole of life is lived, and concerns the totality of what it is to be a human being and to flourish. As I have done before, I underlined the three key areas of what this means, which we learn from the story of Noah: the sanctity of life, the stewardship of creation, and the dignity of difference.

I am sure the audience were wondering whether I’d comment on the news that President Jacob Zuma has fathered a child outside marriage! I hope I made my views clear when I said that promiscuity, unfaithfulness, adultery, unprotected sex that risks spreading HIV or resulting in unwanted pregnancies and appallingly high numbers of abortions – all of these are offences against the sanctity, the sacredness, of life. They are acts of emotional violence and physical peril, and demeaning to the human dignity of all involved. Of course, sex is wonderful – it is one of God’s best gifts to humanity. But the greatest gifts are open to the worst abuses, and therefore we must use the gift of sexuality wisely and well. The full text is available on my blog (http://archbishop.anglicanchurchsa.org), on the ACSA website (www.anglicanchurchsa.org), and from Diocesan offices.

Many of us have been concerned to listen and speak, and also act, well in our response to the disaster in Haiti. We need to listen to what is most needed – whether in urgent disaster response, or the long reconstruction process. I was glad to endorse the ‘Africa for Haiti’ Campaign launched by Mrs Gra├ža Machel. Our continent has received so much support over the years. Now we must stand in solidarity with the Haitians, and do what we can – including urging our leaders to make tangible and generous commitments. This requires careful, respectful, listening to Haitians themselves, about their priorities for their own future. We can also listen and speak, in solidarity with their pain trauma. Through joining in lament, we can both allow ourselves to be drawn into their tragedy, and share in proclaiming that God listens to all who suffer. Weeping with those who weep is a holy way of listening and speaking in response to disaster.

Finally, may I thank you for your continuing prayers and support (including many messages of congratulations on my PhD – thank you!) for my ministry, and for our Church. Please do hold the Diocese of Mpumalanga in your prayers, following the death of Bishop Les Walker last November, and the Diocese of Ukhahlamba as a new Bishop is chosen (the Synod of Bishops will be meeting as this letter goes out to you all). And may our Lord bless you richly in the year ahead, and make you a blessing to others.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

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