Sunday 23 August 2009

Resolution of the Diocese of Cape Town on Ministry to Gays and Lesbians in Covenanted Partnerships

The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town agreed on August 22 to a resolution asking the church’s bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for gay and lesbian members of the church living in “covenanted partnerships,” taking into account the mind of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Synod of the Diocese also resolved to ask Archbishop Thabo Makgoba to appoint a working group, representing church members of varying perspectives, to engage in a “process of dialogue and listening” on issues of human sexuality. This is in line with a “listening process” which is being pursued throughout the Communion.

The resolutions were passed in a session of the Synod, which was held at St. Cyprian’s Church, Retreat in Cape Town from August 20 to 22.

The resolution on pastoral guidelines was proposed by the Revd Terry Lester, sub-dean of St. George’s Cathedral, who said the parish had come to be seen as “a safe space, a sort of liberated space” for gay and lesbian Christians in Cape Town.

He said the cathedral needed guidelines to help it provide pastoral care to gay and lesbian members in “faithful, committed” same-sex partnerships.

In a meeting earlier this year, the Anglican Consultative Council, which represents Anglican churches around the world, reaffirmed a moratorium on what it called “authorization of public rites of blessing for same-sex unions.”

The original text of the synod resolution included language which some members of the Synod said would lead to the blessings of same-sex unions. This, said the Revd Dr James Harris, “will bring us into conflict with the wider Anglican Communion.” The language was later dropped.

The Revd Sarah Rowland Jones successfully proposed an amendment to the resolution which provided that the pastoral guidelines which the Synod requested should take “due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.”

Speaking after the Synod ended, the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba said:

“In Bible studies and discernment sessions during the Synod, I felt the people of the Diocese were committed really to wrestling with the Scriptures and with what they meant in our context.

“I was very encouraged by the way in which the Synod was sensitive both to the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian couples and at the same time affirmed the stance of the wider Anglican Communion, not charging ahead and doing our own thing but rather committing ourselves to a process of listening and dialogue on how to move forward.”

The full text of the resolution on gays and lesbians in committed partnerships reads:

This Synod,

Affirming a pastoral response to same-sex partnerships of faithful commitment in our parish families;

Gives thanks to God for:

--The leadership of our Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and his witness in seeking to handle these issues in a loving and caring manner; and

--The Bishops of our Province for their commitment to the unity of our Communion and Province, working together seeking God’s way of truth and reconciliation;

Notes the positive statements of previous Provincial Synods that gay and lesbian members of our church share in full membership as baptized members of the Body of Christ, and are affirmed and welcomed as such;

Affirms our commitment to prayerful and respectful dialogue around these issues, mindful of the exhortations of previous Lambeth Conferences to engage with those most affected;

Asks the Archbishop to request the Synod of Bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for those of our members who are in covenanted partnerships, taking due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.

Friday 21 August 2009

Thursday 20 August 2009

Statement from the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town on Statement from the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, on H1N1 ‘swine’ flu

A number of clergy have asked how we should respond to the outbreak of H1N1 or ‘swine’ flu, especially in the light of the recent statement issued by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, which recommended the suspension of the sharing of the chalice at communion. This followed advice from the UK Department of Health to the British public not to share ‘common vessels’ for food and drink.

Within the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, we should observe prudence in maintaining good hygiene and in taking care to reduce exposure to infection.

There has been legitimate alarm around this pandemic, at least 6 people have died from swine flu. All of life is sacred and we regret the loss of this precious life. Yet we should not panic, but rather be prudent about our health. If you are not well, it makes sense to behave as you would with any of the other strains of flu that we experience each year. We should take care not to expose others needlessly to the virus, and to remember the tried and trusted practices of covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands regularly and so forth.

I have spoken on the phone with Prof Adrian Puren, an Anglican who is a virologist and a professor at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. He has confirmed all the above. Thus, we are encouraging prudence, and asking those who may have swine flu (or indeed, normal winter flu) to take special precautions, to reduce exposure to others, and to take proper account of adverse weather.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

To the People of God – To the Laos - August 2009

Dear People of God

Throughout our Province we observe August as ‘The Month of Compassion’. Of course, we are called upon to share compassion throughout the year, but this month we take time to pause and reflect on the compassion we have received from God, and how he calls us to share it with the world around.

The word ‘compassion’ has roots that mean ‘to feel with’ or ‘to suffer with’. Compassion is not only feeling sorry for someone, but to be with them in what they face. God has compassion on all creation, especially humanity. Coming alongside us in Jesus Christ, taking human form, to experience all that we go through. As Scripture says, ‘We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who, in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Heb 4:15-16).

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see how certain circumstances drew out particular compassion in him. We read how he had compassion for a leper, expelled from society and rejected by his faith community (Mk 1:41); for the multitude who ‘were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mt 9:36); for a hungry crowd (Mk 8:2); for the sick (Mt 14:14); and for two blind men (Mt 20:34). He speaks of God’s compassion when healing ‘Legion’ (Lk 5:19); and in his parables, compassion is shown by the God-like figures of the debt-forgiving master (Mt 18:27) and the prodigal son’s father (Lk 15:20). We see compassion in Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:11); and in his raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mk 6:41) and the widow of Nain’s son (Lk 7:13). In all these examples, we see what ‘bothers’ God about humanity: our predicaments not only as individuals, but within society, in need of direction and leadership so that we can live the life to which God calls us, and which Jesus both models and offers to us if we put out trust in him as Lord and Saviour.

We see Jesus’ compassion most fully in what we call his ‘passion’. This is not about enthusiasm or desire, but the primary meaning of the word: suffering. For Jesus, in his love for humanity, shared the suffering of mortality and death, as he gave his life for us on the cross. As Jesus says at the Last Supper, ‘No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn 15:12).

God in Jesus Christ shows us what is compassionate love. It is acting. It is coming alongside and walking with. It is persevering and self-sacrificing. Love that does not take action is mere sentimentality. Love that does not come alongside is aloof and condescending. Love that does not walk with is only being patronising. Love that does not persevere is just a passing romantic daydream. Love that is not prepared to give of itself is no more than an empty pretence – or, as St Paul might say, a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. (I Cor 13:1)

How shall we show such love, such compassion, to those whom we meet? Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves, and the story of the good Samaritan, in which a despised foreigner helps the assaulted Jewish traveller, reminds us that our neighbour is anyone who crosses our path – even someone whom we might never expect to encounter in everyday life.

Sometimes what is needed is to show people that ‘we are there for them’. The Bible tells us that when Job, after losing all his children and wealth, was struck with sores from head to foot, his three friends came, and sat with him in silence for seven days. When they finally opened their mouths, they got it all wrong!! Sometimes our committed presence makes all the difference.

Last month I visited a hospital in Khayelitsha in Cape Town, where Hope Africa had donated equipment, as part of their annual partnership scheme with the South Africa Medical Foundation. So much is done by a dedicated few, with limited resources. Yet I pray that through my visit, and the lasting presence of the new equipment, we can demonstrate some measure of sustained compassion. Sustained compassion is also present in long-running projects such as soup kitchens and winter care programmes. It is in the establishment and support of foster care homes, and in home based care projects. It is in vegetable gardens and prison visiting. It is in skills training and capacity building and community development. It is in reading to the blind, or just sitting holding the hand of someone who needs to know a loving touch. It is in a million little acts of care.

Compassion can also be expressed through raising our voices – especially through Synods at Diocesan and Provincial level. I am reminded of the words of the Roman Catholic priest in Brazil, Helder Camara, who said ‘When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.’ We too must ask our governments the difficult questions of what social justice means, and how it is to be enjoyed by all. And we must be ready to be partners with our governments, at every level, to ensure that the infrastructure resources which we enjoy can be used to their full potential. Perhaps we have buildings that can be used for clinics or in other ways so that services can be delivered to those who need them.

Earlier this month I joined the Diocese of the Free State’s annual Cave Service at Modderpoort, and was touched by the Anglican Women’s Fellowship’s generous spirit. It reminded me of Christ’s compassion in feeding the multitude. May our Lord continue to bless Bishop Paddy and Kirsty Glover and their team.

In South Africa, August is also women’s month. In so many communities, women bear the burden of caring for those in need – but Jesus’ example shows that this is a responsibility all should share. Yet let me salute those women who, whether through choice or force of circumstances, expend their time, their energies, their resources, for the well-being of others. Women priest and deacons, members of the Mothers Union and the Anglican Women’s Fellowship, women lay ministers and wardens, treasurers and councillors, women who teach in Sunday School and clean and do the flowers, women who fill our pews, and the women of tomorrow who grow up among us – we honour you, as our sisters in Christ, our fellow-labourers in his vineyards, our companions on the journey, and our equals in the sight of God.

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town