At the end of September over two hundred Anglicans gathered in the spring sunshine in Benoni for our triennial Provincial Synod. The shortened mid-term school break meant finding a new venue for our gathering, and we were certainly not disappointed by the generous hospitality (though well within budget, which pleased our Treasurer!) offered by the Kopanong Conference Centre. Its name means ‘place of meeting’ in seSotho, and it lived up to its billing as a wonderful spot to ‘come away together’ to seek the Lord’s will for our Church.
The tone was set for our meeting with our first reading at the opening Eucharist. This was taken from Habakkuk, 2:1-4, and included these words:
I will keep watch to see what the Lord will say to me … Then the LORD answered and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets ... for there is still a vision for the appointed time.
Thanks be to God, who indeed gave us a strong sense that the time had come to take forward the Vision towards which we have been working, during the last two years. After discussions in Conference working groups and debate in Synod plenary, the Vision and Mission Statement were endorsed, together with outline strategies for the eight priority themes (liturgical renewal; theological education; leadership formation; health, including HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria; the environment; women and gender; protection and nurture of children and young people; public advocacy). As we take these forward, one key tasks is to ‘make it plain’, communicating clearly how initiatives by the Province can support and encourage the priorities of Dioceses and Parishes. Synod invited us to give particular focus to the Vision on 30 November, the Feast of St Andrew, Patron Saint of Mission. Watch this space!
Of course, many other issues were discussed and motions passed. Reports of these have been posted on the ACSA website, where you will also find the statement from the Synod of Bishops meeting that preceded Provincial Synod, the full text of my Charge, and also the sermons that the Revd Sarah Rowland Jones preached at our morning Eucharists, which helped set the tone for each day’s agenda (see www.anglicanchurchsa.org). The full motions will also shortly be posted there.
These ranged from long-standing concerns for greater equality for women in the Church (there was enthusiastic support when the hope was expressed that we might see our first women bishops by the time we next meet in three years time – and disappointment that this has not yet happened, though we passed enabling legislation in 1992), through to urgent issues, including political reform in Swaziland; the long border delays for people from Lesotho entering South Africa; and the housing situation and apparent excessive violence at Hangberg in Cape Town – where we called for a judicial commission of enquiry. We also called for members of the South African parliament to vote with their consciences, should the Protection of Information Bill be brought before them, noting that free access to information is a vital foundation of democracy.
One important decision was the initial adoption of the Anglican Covenant, though this will require ratification at our next Provincial Synod for the process to be completed. As I said in my Charge, this is not a perfect document, but it certainly offers a way of affirming our desire to live together as Provinces, within our global family; a means of getting the balance right through an autonomy that is neither imposed uniformity, nor unbounded independence. My prayer is that we will now be able to share our unique experiences of letting Christ hold us together in difference, within the life of the Covenant, and help it to work as well as possible.
Reflecting the ‘bonds of affection’ that bind Anglicans together, we offered our support and prayers to Anglicans in Zimbabwe, and sent congratulations to the Anglican Church in Nigeria on their country’s 50th anniversary of independence as well as expressing shock at the bomb blasts there.
It was a great joy to have Bishop Jean-Zaché Duracin of Haiti join us both for the meeting of the Synod of Bishops and Provincial Synod. I hope that we can build on our links with his Diocese in the long, long journey of reconstruction that lies ahead of them. I am glad to report that we are establishing partnership links between schools, and have agreed to train a Haitian cleric for 3 years at COTT and a further year at the Anglican House of Studies.
It was also my privilege to invest Dr Mamphela Ramphele as a Member of the Order of Simon of Cyrene. Addressing Synod, she spoke of the radical brokenness which still characterises much of South African society – words that resonated with my own Charge reference to the brutalising effect of apartheid, including on those who were conscripted. This led to a very moving debate and Synod motion on tackling the effects, and bringing healing, to all who were involved or impacted in any way by conscription. We shall be looking carefully at how we address the emotional scars of having to bear arms, which so many people of every background across our churches, across our Province, still carry.
While we were not afraid to tackle some of the taboos of today’s society, we also took time to relax and get to know one another better across the rich diversity of our Province. We did more than just ‘break bread’ together in the Moshate Restaurant – its name means ‘royal house’ in sePedi, and we dined like minor kings and queens at the excellent buffets. And after long days of work, almost equally long discussions into the night were held, by some at least, in the Imbizo Bar! It was a time of great joy and laughter, sharing in our common life.
Our heartfelt thanks go to Bishop David Bannerman and to the Diocese of the Highveld for their warm and generous hospitality; to all of the Administrative Team and everyone else who worked unstintingly behind the scenes; and especially to our Kopanong hosts.
Most of all, we thank God for his blessing upon us, and his promises to prosper our work, as we seek to follow his will in his world. To him be the praise and the glory!
Yours in the Service of Christ
+Thabo Cape Town