Friday 6 March 2009

To the People of God - To the Laos - March 2009

Dear People of God

In my last letter, I promised to share reflections on the February meeting of the Anglican Primates (the leaders of our 38 churches around the world).

It was remarkable coming together in Alexandria, a cradle of African Christianity enjoying a tremendously rich Christian heritage though today it lies in a Muslim country. While there we participated in the dedication of St Mark's, the Anglican Pro-Cathedral. In his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us of the need to see Christ in one another, recognising that Christ alone is the foundation of our building and our work, the one who prays in and through us.

By the grace of God, and encouraged by this message, we found we were able to be very frank together about our continuing disagreements over human sexuality, and about the way we handle those disagreements. We prayed, worshipped God, and studied Scripture together, seeking to be faithful to the call of God in Christ, and to discern the Holy Spirit's leading. We felt that at heart we shared a common concern for the Anglican Communion and a strong desire to see it flourish and remain united. I offered our experiences of holding on to one another in continuing fellowship through all the pains of Southern Africa's past, as an example of hope and encouragement in our current traumatic divisions.

(The Synod of Bishops reaffirmed this message later in February. I hope you have seen the Pastoral Letter which we issued to record our meeting. If not, it is online at Please pray for Dean David Bannerman as he prepares to be consecrated Bishop of the Highveld.)

At the Primates meeting, we found a fresh spirit of open, respectful dialogue, engaging at a new and deeper level, and we unanimously agreed that our Communiqué should be entitled 'Deeper Communion: Gracious Restraint'. We approved various measures for going forward, including professionally mediated conversations to try to heal our most painful divisions. We also affirmed the continuing development of an Anglican Covenant through which we can better express our mutual commitment to the 'bonds of affection' between us. To sum up - our differences remain, and are serious, but we are determined to tackle them together as far as we can.

We also discussed many other issues that concern the life of Anglicans within our world, among them the situations in Sudan and Gaza, coordination of Anglican relief and development bodies, and the importance of good theological education that helps us live faithfully to the gospel in our many different cultures and circumstances. But at the top of the agenda was Zimbabwe. We issued a strong statement in support of the people and churches there, and urged President Robert Mugabe to respect the outcome of the elections of 2008 and to step down. We called for the implementation of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic processes. We decided a special Representative should travel to Zimbabwe to exercise a ministry of presence and show solidarity. We also proposed various ways of engaging politically with SADC and the African Union.

The world-wide Anglican Communion joined our Province in observing Ash Wednesday as a special day of prayer for Zimbabwe. Thank you for sharing in this. The Archbishop of Canterbury has also launched a worldwide appeal to facilitate aid for Zimbabwe. As I said in Alexandria at the time, 'If we don't intervene we will be failing God in terms of "when I was hungry you fed me and when I was poor you cared for my needs".' (See Mt 25:31-46.)

These verses from Matthew's gospel were also in my heart when I visited the scenes of fatal flooding in Soweto, and met some of those whose lives had been turned upside down. Flooding has also caused deaths in KwaZulu Natal - and who knows what other disasters may occur before this reaches you. As I said in my messages of support to the Bishops of the affected areas, those who can give practical assistance must do so in response to Jesus' command; and all of us must pray. We must also take responsibility - as democracy invites us to do - to hold our governments to account in pursuing policies that are environmentally sensitive, and which do not exacerbate the effects of bad weather (for example, through the draining of wetlands, or allowing inadequate urban development); as well as on wider issues of preventing global warming. God gives us the gift of free will in choosing how we treat our world. We must do so wisely, and hold it in trust for the generations that will come after us.

Here in South Africa, we pray for 'gracious restraint' as we approach April's General Election. Across the country, encouraged by civil society groups in which the churches play a leading role, political parties are signing codes of conduct: a promise of respectful behaviour towards one another, in word and action. I hope that Anglicans in South Africa will do what you can to help promote political tolerance and a better understanding of democracy. And may the whole Province join in praying that these elections will be free, fair and peaceful; and that we will elect true and honest individuals, who will dedicate their lives in the service of everyone who lives in this land. We pray also for Mozambique, which is preparing for elections later this year.

'Deeper Communion: Gracious Restraint' would also be a good slogan for our Lent and Easter observances! Through 'restraint' - stepping back from distractions and complications into a simpler way of being - we can make more space for God in our lives. Penitence and fasting (from anything from food to television!) can help us recognise with greater honesty, and with greater discontentment, how bad it is for us to live without God. For then we have a greater appreciation of, and desire for, how good it is to live with God! And in this way we can be drawn into deeper Communion with him. So may I encourage you to 'press on' towards Easter, 'with eager faith and love'. I pray that you may all be caught up more fully into God's love for us, shown in Christ's self-giving on the cross for the sin of the world, as we look forward to celebrating the joy of his resurrection and triumph over evil and death.

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town

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