Sunday, 1 October 2017

To the Laos - To the People of God – October 2017


Dear People of God

I am writing this as I prepare to travel to Canterbury, where I will attend a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion over the next week. Following that I will chair a meeting of the Lambeth Design Group, a body which oversees planning for the next Lambeth Conference, to be held in 2020. Our Province is committed to faithfully showing up and participating in these key meetings of the Communion, doing so because our reward is to be faithful servants of God and God's witness and mission in the world. Please pray for both meetings.

The Communion meetings follow a busy week of debates and decisions, first at the second session of the Synod of Bishops this year, then at the annual Provincial Standing Committee (PSC), at which bishops, clergy and lay representatives from every diocese in the Province are represented. The Dean of the Province, Bishop Stephen Diseko, “embarrassed” me, almost marketing my new book to both meetings by congratulating me on it. I appreciated it but as you all know me, I always try to push attention to Jesus, the church and not me. 

The bishops dealt with a wide range of important issues, including the election of a new bishop for Mthatha, the situation in the Diocese of Umzimvubu, the future of the College of the Transfiguration and the Archbishop's Commission on Human Sexuality. You can read the details in our Pastoral Letter.

At PSC we also considered in detail a very wide range of questions ranging from theological education and the environment to how we should organise our youth work and our role in combating substance abuse. Of particular note was the statement we received from the special conference marking the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests in ACSA, which was held at the same venue and simultaneously with the Synod of Bishops. At the end of their conference, we all celebrated a special Eucharist with arriving members of PSC.

While those who met in conference celebrated the 1992 decision to ordain women as priests as “a victory over exclusion, inequality, and injustice in the church,” they said these features continued in our leadership, structures and practices. They called for a series of changes, including the election of more woman bishops. You can read their statement on the ASCA website, as well as a pledge to which they committed themselves.

Apart from the challenging task of presiding over the deliberative bodies of the Province, the life of an Archbishop is also taken up with difficult pastoral issues. Before the recent Provincial meetings got under way, my ministry and that of a number of my fellow bishops in a number of dioceses in the Eastern and Western Cape were overshadowed by tragedy.

Firstly, I had to preach and preside at the funeral of a senior priest, Archdeacon Lunga Vellem, in Kokstad in the Diocese of Umzimvubu. As someone who held an MBA, he was a valuable asset to the Diocese but was killed when he sustained head injuries in a car accident. Then in Cape Town we had the sudden death of the Revd Mark Abrahams, Rector of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Heideveld. He died just after undergoing an operation and only a week before his 54th birthday. Large numbers came both to the Church of the Resurrection in Bonteheuwel and to Holy Spirit to commemorate his life and ministry.

Soon after that, I buried a young priest in the Diocese of Mthatha, Archdeacon Sibulele Njova, his wife, his son and his younger sister. They all died in a head-on collision with a van which was allegedly forced out of its lane by a taxi – which then sped off without stopping, apparently realising what it had inflicted on this young family. As we lowered the four coffins into the grave in Mqandule in rural Transkei, not far from the picturesque Wild Coast resorts of Coffee Bay and Hole-in-the-Wall, the wailing of the mourners seemed – very painfully – to be matched by the sound of the sea. After the funeral I went to Mthatha Hospital with the Dean to visit the two surviving daughters, aged 11 and four. The 11-year-old was battling with her injuries but the four-year-old could hold a conversation with me and even gave me a high-five. She was happy that we were in cassocks because we reminded her of her dad. But she had not yet been told her parents had died and thought they were arriving back from a conference later that day. I suspected she must have sensed that her parents had gone – she was, after all, in the car with them – and I felt that I was betraying her by not saying anything. But I was on my way back to Cape Town, so I resisted the temptation to tell her and then to leave her and fly off. If her sister pulls through, they will both be orphans. Their grandparents are ageing, so they will have to stay with an aunt in conditions far inferior to those of a rural Anglican rectory.

As I reflected on the lives of these three clerics and their families, I thought of the Gospel assurance that “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4) – but also of the Psalmist's words: “Why are you so full of heaviness, my soul: and why so unquiet within me?” (Psalm 46) We all have finite lives, and as St Paul says to us, “We do not want you to be uninformed... about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (Thessalonians 4:13) Well done, good and faithful servants, and may you enter into your Father's rest.

Fortunately I can end this letter to the laity on a note of hope and new life. On my return from the Communion meetings, Bishop Martin Breytenbach of the Diocese of St Mark the Evangelist will marry Colleen Thomas of Cape Town. After they both suffered the loss of their spouses in tragic circumstances in recent years, we celebrate and rejoice that they have found new happiness and give thanks for this life-giving sacrament, marriage. God be praised!

God bless,

†Thabo Cape Town

2 comments:

  1. What an eventful and somewhat painful feedback. We hope that the sisters will have the psychological support and comfort having been witnesses to the accident that took away their loved ones. We will keep them in prayer.

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  2. Than you for this letter, Arch. It is particularly special to me, being on this tiny island so far away. I am SO glad about Martin and Colleen Both Mary-Jean and Liz Thomas had alerted me to the romance. I pray that the Primates will be able to find a loving path through the anxieties of difference to godly affection and cooperation. I so clearly remember +Tom Stanage, telling me (in connection with the ordination of women to the priesthood), "I will never agree with you, but I want you to know that I love you." Our prayers follow you and your brothers.

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Thanks for your feedback! Archbishop Thabo