Dear People of God
On the day of Pentecost, recently celebrated, St Peter recalled words of the prophet Joel, and God’s promise that where he pours out his Spirit, our sons and daughters will prophecy, our young men – and, I’m sure, young women also – will see visions, and old men (and women too!) will dream dreams. Our church structures tend to be dominated by those more likely to be older ‘dreamers’ than younger ‘visionaries’ – but of course we need both! This month, when South Africa marks Youth Day, it is timely to remember that between a third and half of our Province’s population are under 15, and, I am sure, a clear majority is under 25. God calls all his people to share in ministry together, directed by his Spirit, and while those with more age and experience have a responsibility to nurture the young, this is not a one-way street. Within the body of Christ, all must be open to learn from everyone else. There are certainly some dioceses within our Province where young people form the backbone that sustains the life of faith, and takes it forward. We thank God for all our youth.
For many young people today, the challenges are vast: poverty and its many consequences, access to good education and training, unemployment, HIV and AIDS, and the moral confusions and crises of so many of our communities. It is tough and frightening out there. Those of us who were young in the 70s and 80s will remember well how, in our own very different context, the world often seemed threatening and hostile. Yet we came through – and for many of us, the church was our haven.
Our responsibility towards today’s young people begins within the church, and extends far beyond our walls. Within the ACSA Vision, we identified ‘protection and nurture of children and young people’ as a priority for provincial action, to support and resource the objectives and priorities of dioceses and parishes. We have a wide range of structures and activities within our Province, Dioceses and Parishes, from Sunday schools and church schools, through to the Brigades and other organisations. All our young people are automatically members of the ‘Anglican Youth of Southern Africa’ movement, coordinated by the Provincial Youth Council (see www.aysa.org.za), with the work headed up by the Provincial Youth Officer, Tony Lawrence, and the Provincial Youth Chaplain, Revd. Tom Tshiponyane. We also have chaplaincies in some schools and universities, and the Anglican Students’ Federation, with president Tshepo Mokoka. We have a lot going on! The Ven Xolani Dlwati, with his team, is the Coordinator for the Vision work that supports for the whole breadth of this activity.
There is also much we can do as individuals. Perhaps we can offer financial or other support to young people attending church and youth conferences. I am encouraged that many young people have signed up for October’s Anglicans Ablaze Conference – perhaps you could sponsor someone to attend? I myself will always be grateful to the opportunities I had when young. They helped me grow in faith, and formed and shaped my character and values. Indeed, my involvement in ASF is largely what set me on the path that led to ordination and finally to Bishopscourt!
Key individuals also mentored me at various stages along the way. This is something else we can do – to ‘adopt’ a young person and make a commitment to keep walking with them over several years, on that journey each must take as they grow in faith and find their way in the adult world, and as maturing members of the church. Some may well become clergy, nuns and monks, or lay leaders. Others may find their primary calling as God’s salt and light in his world. All need our support.
One of the greatest contributions we can make is to train young people in negotiating the moral and ethical issues of contemporary society. They should not fear the secular world, but be encouraged by wise church people in how to apply living faith within the complexities of today’s world, and to pursue God’s justice in all situations. Some of you may have the capacity to mentor young people through giving them experience of the world of work. Youth unemployment is one of the greatest challenges across our entire Province. Alongside skills development, giving young people, even for a short while, exposure to what it means to be in work, developing necessary habits of self-discipline, time-keeping and so forth, as well as understanding what it means to have a work ethic, can make all the difference in giving them a solid stepping stone when applying for jobs, or to encourage them in setting up their own businesses.
One initiative that is just beginning to find its feet is ‘the Archbishop’s Global Economic Indaba’. Through local and international partners, this aims to foster a global network not only for dialogue on economic emancipation of the poor, but for practical means of empowering them to participate in economic activities, particularly through small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). We hope this will have a greater social impact, improving health, education, and access to skills, and will be of especial help to young people, who often have such great potential and initiative.
In Gauteng, we also have the Y-AGE (Youth and Graduate Entrepreneurship) development programme for training and mentoring. Our own Hope Africa is working with the Department of Economic Development and private sector partners. I encourage young people in Gauteng to consider this (see http://www.y-age.co.za/).
I am also glad to lend my support to other initiatives, such as the NGO Equal Education, which works for quality and equality in South African education, linking research and analysis with targetted activism. I am proud to associate myself, as a ‘friend of court’, to their legal action to ensure there are norms and standards for school infrastructure. The conditions under which far too many schools are forced to operate are disgraceful. I shall also be speaking at the Congress of their members next month, as they debate how best to focus energies and resources, prioritising the needs of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities and young people.
As I travel around the Province, I sometimes feel that we are on the verge of a ‘youth spring’. The challenges are great – but the energy and courage of our young is greater! Let us be energised by them, as we commit ourselves to pray for them, nurture them in the faith, and mentor and support them in whatever ways we can, so that they may fulfil their potential as children of God, living as his beacons of hope for our future.
I have just had a wonderful, joyous time sharing in the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Johannesburg. 5000 people were packed into the University of Johannesburg indoor amphitheatre, and we were forced to lay on a parallel service for the many others for whom there was no room. I congratulate Bishop Brian and the Diocese of Johannesburg on this wonderful experience – I am so proud! Please continue to pray for all our Dioceses and their structures and governance. Some face serious challenges, and the hard work of tackling these needs the support of your prayers.
Yours in the Service of Christ,
+Thabo Cape Town