Monday 25 October 2010

The Kay Barron Address - Anglican Women's Fellowship

This address was delivered on 21 October at the biennial Anglican Women's Fellowship Provincial Council Meeting, which was held from 18 to 24 October 2010 in Lesotho.

Dear sisters in Christ of the Anglican Women’s Fellowship; dear Bishop Taaso, our host; dear Bishop Bethlehem, the outgoing Chaplain; dear President of the Mothers Union; dear Mrs Vidal, our Australian link; dear clergy and dear freinds – it is a privilege to deliver this Kay Barron Address. Let me express my thanks for the invitation, and for the joy of participating in this Provincial Council Meeting – as well as my wider appreciation for all that the AWF is and does.

Ray [Overmeyer] – particular thanks to you, as you end your term as Provincial President. During your time in office, the AWF has grown and strengthened across the Province, and expanded its activities in a great variety of ways. Thank you for your leadership, and thank you also for your openness to learn and grow, in knowledge and love of God, through your experiences and the challenges you have faced. We wish you every blessing in whatever you turn your energies to next – and we also pray for God to bless and strengthen and guide your successor as she takes up the reins of office. Our prayers are with you, Pumla [Titus-Madiba] as you take on this new role. And let me also offer my thanks to the whole AWF Executive, in all you have done for our Province. Thank you also to Lucille [Henneker], Provincial Secretary, who does so much for the AWF. To Pumla I also offer my particular gratitude for organising the complicated travel arrangements not only to bring me to Maseru but also to get me from here to our brand new Diocese of Mbashe for their very first elective assembly, which begins tomorrow morning. Please do keep them in your prayers as they choose their first bishop.

Whenever I prepare to speak at an event like this, one of the first things I do is go to the lectionary, and see what readings are given for the day. It is remarkable how often the set passages of Scriptures offer some key insight into whatever the occasion might be, and so set me thinking about what God might be calling me to say within that setting. God certainly richly blessed and guided the work of the lectionary compilers. Yet when it came to preparing for this address I was at first a little bit taken aback. For today’s gospel reading, from Luke 12:49-53, speaks of Jesus having come to bring division, ‘mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’. It is hardly the sort of ethic which the AWF seeks to promote!

So then I turned to the other passage set for the Eucharist, from the letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 3, verses 14 to 21. It includes a wonderful prayer of St Paul to his readers. I’m sure you will recognise it. Let me read it to you:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (14-19)

It is as if St Paul is just overcome, right in the middle of his letter, with an overflowing love for his readers, and cannot help bursting into this beautiful prayer for them. As I read it, it seemed to me also to be a beautiful prayer for the AWF, with its strong resonances with your own aims: of prayer and worship; fellowship and study; mission and witness; and service and stewardship.

Our Context – God’s Call

What I want to do this morning, is to look at the wider context in which you live out these aims – painting a fuller picture of the life of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, and especially as it now stands following our Provincial Synod at the beginning of the month. As you know, the question of a vision has occupied our hearts and minds for some time – and I am also aware that you have already done some work in reflecting on synergies between the AWF’s priorities and those of the wider Province. But let me reflect on where we are now, and how we might go forward from here, now that, at Provincial Synod last month, we affirmed the Vision we believe the Lord is putting before us.

The Vision

The Vision is threefold, as Bishop Bethlehem said last night, and as was stated in the President’s Report. First, we are to be Anchored in Christ – as revealed to us in Holy Scripture. Jesus Christ alone is Saviour and Lord, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is not na├»ve to say that, to a very great degree, Jesus truly is the answer to all our central questions of life: whether we live in rural Mozambique or inner city Johannesburg. In Christ, our diverse Province finds its unity and identity. For if you are ‘in Christ’ and I am ‘in Christ’, then it is inevitable that we are members together of his body, the Church.

Second, we are Committed to God’s mission. Whatever God calls us to do and be, our answer should be ‘Here am I, send me; here we are, send us.’ Third, we are to be Transformed by the Spirit. Through our openness, our willingness, to be transformed, God will equip and empower us to embody and proclaim the message of his redemptive hope and healing for all people and for creation.

Anchored in Christ; Committed to God’s Mission; Transformed by the Spirit. A, C, T – in other words, ‘Anglicans ACT’. When I look at the AWF, and your track record, I know that this is certainly true. Throughout the time that I have had knowledge of the AWF, I have always been struck by your practicality and your professionalism – always ready to take concrete action to tackle specific problems and provide tangible solutions. Thank you, AWF, that you are such an example to us all of what it means to be Anglicans who ACT!

The Mission Statement

Alongside our Vision, we also have a Mission Statement – and this too is threefold. Well, it is well-known that Anglicans love the Trinity! The Mission Statement says this:

Across the diverse countries and cultures of our region, we seek:

• First, to honour God in worship that feeds and empowers us for faithful witness and service

• Second, to embody and proclaim the message of God’s redemptive hope and healing for people and creation

• And third, to grow communities of faith that form, inform, and transform those who follow Christ

Like the AWF, we start with prayer and worship – for all of life must be lived in grateful response to God who first created and then redeemed us. And it is this which feeds and strengthens us so we can live the life to which we are called: a life of faithful mission and witness, service and stewardship – as the AWF would put it.

We are seeking to live out this through eight key themes, committing ourselves at Provincial level to the following priorities: Liturgical renewal for transformative worship; theological education and formation; leadership development; health, including HIV and AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis; the environment; women and gender; protection and nurture of children and young people; and public advocacy. Two further themes – transformation, and holistic mission rooted in a full commitment to evangelism – run through and undergird all these, rather than being matters to address separately. We must also keep in mind the imperatives of justice and reconciliation, gender equality, poverty, and youth.

It is important to stress that all this is for us to do at Provincial level. The Vision, Mission Statement, and priorities are to be placed alongside those of dioceses and parishes. They are not intended to displace them, nor to impose any framework ‘from above’ on the grass-roots life of our Church. Rather, they identify issues that are best addressed at Provincial level, to encourage, strengthen, and support what is being done in these areas at parish and diocesan level. For we know that each Diocese has its own particular context, its own challenges, and therefore its own priorities for tackling these, according to the grace and calling of God. It is not the role of the Province to tell Dioceses what to do. But it is our job to support them, across this whole diversity – sharing in common what can be done at that level, even if the particular expression of each theme finds different form according to specific context.

And I am sure that this is a very similar approach to that which you follow – sharing principles across the Province, but acting locally in accordance with particular tasks on the ground. This is very clear, from reading the Report that was submitted to Provincial Synod, with its references to prison ministry; to skills development; to caring for the aged; to addressing the needs of those infected or affected by HIV and AIDS, or of child-headed households, or of voluntary testing and counselling – and much more besides.

Looking Ahead

What we shall be doing now is preparing for a formal launch of the whole Vision process. The ideas for this are still very much at an initial stage, but we are also looking at making 30 November – the feast of St Andrew, the patron saint of mission – a day for the whole church to focus on the Vision, and how it can be used to strengthen our common life, and our faithfulness to God’s call. We shall also be appointing task teams, where they do not already exist, to take forward the work in each of the eight areas, in line with strategies affirmed at Synod. So let me turn now to these eight priority themes, and offer some initial reflections on how I see them connecting with the AWF.

Liturgical renewal for transformative worship

As with the Vision and the Mission statement, and as with the aims of the AWF, liturgy and worship is always our starting point. Now is the appropriate time to say a tremendous thank you to you, Bishop Bethlehem, for your time as Chaplain to the AWF. Your deep desire that we should all live in faithful obedience, with holiness of life, is always both a challenge and an encouragement to us all, and we are deeply grateful for all you have done. So now I hand the AWF into the care of Bishop Ossie.

We must not underestimate the importance of liturgy and worship, for, unless we faithfully uphold daily Morning and Evening prayer, unless we root ourselves in Scripture, unless we feed regularly on the body and blood of Christ, unless we rely only and always upon God’s leading and God’s strengthening, we are no better than any secular organisation. For even in tasks of compassionate practical service, our calling is to be channels of the transcendent power of God: his healing, his hope, his redemption, to his world. Only those who are truly Anchored in his love, and Committed to his mission, can be agents of his Transforming promises.

Theological Education and Formation; Leadership Development

Our second theme is theological education and formation – closely echoing the AWF’s second aim of fellowship and study – and our third, leadership development. In both ordained and lay life, we must nurture not only people with academic understandings of theology, but who can model the Christian life – growing and maturing in faith, applied in ethical living throughout society, at home and work, in every area. We need people who can be mentors of the next generation, both within the church, and within wider society.

Organisations such as the AWF, with so many of your members across all walks of life, truly have remarkable opportunities to be God’s salt and light in the world – in government and the public sector, in business, in the media, in schools, colleges and academia, in civil society – as well as throughout the very varied communities from which you each come. And where we do not provide you with the theological and spiritual resources to be that salt, that light, in the contexts within which you find yourselves, you must challenge us to do better! Input like this will help our task teams focus their efforts where they are most needed.

I am reminded of a challenge I once offered to the AWF in Grahamstown Diocese. One Ash Wednesday, without much thinking about it beforehand, I proposed that each member save up one rand a day for the whole of Lent. Well, I rather forgot about it – until a considerable sum of money was handed over, and the Bishop Thabo Makgoba Bursary Fund was set up. I thank the AWF for your own bursary fund and the support it gives to women ordinands. We have now supported 3 or perhaps 4 women through training at COTT. This is a very practical way of supporting theological education and formation, as well as leadership development within the church. Perhaps other Diocesan groups would like to consider similar initiatives.

Health, including HIV and AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis

Our fourth theme is health – and, as Provincial Synod pointed out, this is not just a matter of HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. There are other issues which also are of great concern, including, for example, diabetes and obesity.

A fortnight ago, I was privileged to co-host with Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the South African Minister for Health, a Conference on Religion and Public Health. Our concern was to look at ways that the faith communities can support government – both here and elsewhere in Southern Africa – in tackling the huge health burden, especially in relation to primary health care. It is not our job to do governments’ work for governments – but, as Dr Motsoaledi readily admitted, the task is too great for governments alone.

When it comes to primary health care, education is key. Too often communities are sadly ignorant about basics, including the essentials of hygiene and nutrition. Faith communities have a reach across communities that I am sure governments envy – and our ability to communicate with people can be harnessed to ensure that such information is readily shared, though we must ensure that we too, clergy and people, are well-informed. We have worked hard at this in relation to HIV and AIDS – ensuring people, including young people, have access to the facts, and know how to share them persuasively. Through the Siyakha and Siyafundisa programmes, we have trained large numbers of adults and young people – perhaps, with the completion of these programmes, that training can be put to us, and redirected to broader primary health concerns. Whether from pulpit or pews, we need to ‘gossip the gospel, the good news, of good health practices’!

The Environment

The environment is our fifth theme. We cannot effectively care for God’s people if we do not care for God’s planet, our environment. We need to do this ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’. By top down, I mean taking every opportunity to encourage governments and decision-makers to act boldly, decisively, committedly. Next year South Africa will host ‘COP-17’, that is, the 17th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is the world’s opportunity to rise to the challenges before us – we truly cannot afford to do otherwise. And as hosts, South Africa must give a strong lead. South Africans must persuade our leaders to have the courage to do so. Dear sisters in Christ, please take whatever opportunities come your way, to speak persuasively about this.

I also look to you to give a lead in the ‘bottom up’ activity. I am afraid I must admit that around my house, around my office, and when I see what is happening in churches, it is the women who are making the difference. You spot things that I just fail to see – and I am sure that far too many other men do the same! Saving paper, changing light-bulbs [globes], recycling more than just the obvious items: you have an eye, and imagination, for these things. Make us men do them – in churches, in work-places, as well as in homes.

I hope you know about Mary Honeybun. She discovered that the tiny plastic tag that seals a bag of bread can be recycled, so she started collecting them and getting friends to collect them. It takes 270kg of tags – about 800,000 – to raise enough money to buy a wheelchair. But the network she initiated has bought over 30 wheelchairs – and others are now doing the same elsewhere in the country. Everyone who buys bread can join in! Of course, we must also think much more laterally to avoid creating waste for recycling, to avoid using energy and resources, in the first place. My belief is that society must pay more attention to women in this, since, in so many walks of life, in the home and beyond, it is you who are the ‘hands on’ people, with a practical eye for what can and ought to be done.

Women and gender

Sixth on our list – though we stress that they are in no order of priority – comes women and gender. As I said at Provincial Synod, women constitute the majority in our pews, but the reverse is true at every level of leadership, lay and ordained. We wholeheartedly passed a motion calling for the church to ‘do better’! You may have seen that I let slip when I gave my charge, ad libbing from my written text, that one of my dreams is to consecrate a woman bishop for our Province – and I got a round of applause! But I am also concerned about gender equality throughout our church and our countries, at every level. We are particularly blessed that so many women make a disproportionate contribution, as individuals, lay and ordained, and through bodies like your own, and also of course, the Mothers’ Union. I hope that stronger, complimentary synergies can be developed between the MU and AWF.

I am very glad that we have now established the Gender Desk, and we welcome Revd Cheryl Bird. Please note that it is a Gender desk, not a Women’s desk. The roles of men and women alike, of every culture, were distorted by apartheid. We need to develop appropriate spiritualities for us all, for contemporary living – that are also channels of healing for the legacies of our brutalising history. At Synod I challenged the St Bernard Mizeki Guild and the Church Men’s Society to fresh reflection on what it means to be a Christian man in today’s world – especially in being actively part of the solution, to the unacceptably high levels of violence, against women and children. But I also challenge you to consider your part also, in developing contemporary spiritualities for all of us as ‘people of God’: where each individual man and woman can freely be themselves, with gender just one part of their make up and one with which we are all at ease; and a wholesomeness in our relations with ourselves and one another.

Protection and nurture of children and young people

Healthy adult spiritualities and emotional lives requires healthy raising of young people – and protection and nurture of children and young people is our seventh theme. In developing the Vision process we became conscious that we must deliberately focus not only on what we do within church, but also the care of children throughout our communities.

Preparing for Synod, I discovered that, globally, about a quarter, 27%, of the world’s population is aged 15 or under. Within ACSA, though that figure is only 19% in St Helena, elsewhere it ranges from 32%, about a third, in South Africa, rising to 46%, close to a half, in Angola. This underlines how vital their care is. Children are not merely the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today. We have challenged the Task Teams to take account of their work, in relation to young people, across the board.

Public advocacy

Finally, public advocacy – the face of the church in the world, especially in how we speak truth to power, and work so that society, government, can be as godly, as wholesome as is possible. Our calling is to help create the right conditions so that every individual, every child of God, should have the opportunity to experience the ‘life in abundance’ which Jesus came to bring. We promote good governance, honesty, transparency, justice, and the highest ethical standards, in every area of society – not only in the public sector, but across all areas of business and economics, and through civil society.

This is both the formal task of the Church – not least in the conversations, speeches and other opportunities that I and other bishops are afforded – and the task of Christian individuals in every walk of life. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury as the Second World War began, some 70 years ago, wrote powerfully about how ‘nine-tenths’ of this shaping of society would be done not by clergy but by Christian men and women through their daily lives. Many of you do this – perhaps unconsciously – through your own lives and work. The AWF as a whole does it also at many levels – including through Pumla’s participation in the International Anglican Women’s Network, which itself is an influential player at a global level, for example through some of the UN women’s bodies. Even last week, I understand, the Network was circulating a petition to put pressure on the UN Security Council to ensure that Resolution 1325, passed ten years ago should be implemented – a resolution that called for women’s full and equal participation in all elements of peace-keeping, and for greater efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflicts. Given the history of our region, we know how important this is. With South Africa now elected again to the UN Security Council, we have new opportunities to press for them to play a leading, constructive, role in this and other areas, and can harness the leverage of our international contacts to do so.

A Closing Challenge

Let me end with a challenge that relates to public advocacy in a rather more practical way, as well as to other themes which I have discussed. What legacy will this Provincial Council Meeting leave in Lesotho? It is a country of dire needs, as the Prime Minister acknowledged yesterday – in relation to poverty, in relation to health, especially HIV and AIDS. What can you do to make a lasting difference? Perhaps – and here is a ‘healing of gender relations’ idea! – you might partner with the Brothers of the SSM House, in some project. Perhaps you might sponsor a farm in a parish – channelling assistance through Hope Africa, to buy seeds, fertilizers, and so forth; and to hire a tractor once or twice a year as necessary. Perhaps in this way you can help the church in helping people to meet their own nutritional needs. Such a visible sign of commitment can also be an effective form of public advocacy – challenging others to ‘go and do likewise’ instead of ‘passing by on the other side’, to use the words of Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, and what it means to love our neighbours as ourselves.

So, dear sisters in Christ – I have spoken for long enough! May God bless you all in the years ahead, as you encourage women of God everywhere to ‘rejoice, revive, relate’ – through lives of prayer and worship; fellowship and study; mission and witness; and service and stewardship. Let me finish with the last two verses from St Paul’s glorious prayer in his letter to the Ephesians (3:20-21): ‘Now, to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

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