Tuesday 30 August 2011

To the Laos - To the People of God, August/September 2011

Dear People of God

I am writing at the tail end of August, with the Cape Town Diocesan Synod just over, and the Provincial Standing Committee lying ahead in late September, so please excuse me if I roll two letters into one. I also apologise that because of travel and other busyness, I did not find an opportunity to write to you in July.

In my Charge to the Cape Town Diocese, I took as my theme The Good News of Faith and Love. This reflected St Paul’s words to the Thessalonians that he had been greatly encouraged to hear of their faith and love from Timothy (1 Thess 3:6-7). The faith and love of Christians are always good news, building one another up in Christian maturity, and shining as a beacon of light and hope to the surrounding community. The best good news is that both start with the God who is love, the God who is faithful, with overflowing generosity. All of us need to discover God’s love and faithfulness towards us, for ourselves, and keep on growing in them throughout our lives. This must be our top priority – for it is only through God’s overwhelming generosity that we find our worship invigorated and ourselves enabled to live out our other baptism promises of witness and worship.

In this season of Synods and Committees, we need to remember to root and ground ourselves in God’s love and faithfulness, and allow him to shape and fuel our lives, even as we grapple with the sort of managerial and financial questions that tend to dominate our agendas. We should not despise such work as ‘less spiritual’ than other aspects of church life. Rather, it is an aspect our calling to good stewardship, to collegiality within the body of Christ, and being answerable to one another within the body of Christ. In the language of the secular world, these are matters of good governance and accountability, with the world’s standards merely a secular reflection of God’s high calling to us. Therefore we can be ready to learn from the best of secular practices, for example as set out in the King reports. These can help us ensure we operate in ways that best promote our desire to be wise and faithful servants, of our God, and of those to whom he sends us.

At the same time, we must remember that, as we debate the wider concerns of the societies to which we find ourselves called in mission and ministry, we are nonetheless not called to be environmental activists, nor social workers, nor politicians, nor moral commentators – though we may contribute in all these areas and many more. Our unique calling is to do what no-one else can do: to live out our baptismal promises in lives of faithful worship, witness and service. How can we best bring the good news of Jesus Christ, his healing touch, his redemptive power, to areas of need, suffering and deprivation? Sent by God, at his direction and in his power, we can roll up our sleeves, and get our hands dirty, and confidently engage with the messy realities, and the dire needs, of so many of God’s children alongside whom we live and work in this city. This is the lesson of Jesus’ incarnation. And I am sure that the all-encompassing breadth of Jesus’ redemptive death and resurrection should press us not only to address symptoms but also causes of human failings, suffering, brokenness and need.

So please pray for me, and especially for your Diocesan Representatives – Bishop(s), cleric and layperson – as we prepare to gather for PSC. If you don’t know who they are, your Rector or Diocesan Office will know. On our agenda, as well as the budget and reports from our organisations and institutions, our particular concerns include completing the task of bringing the Omokunda Development Network fully under ACSA’s wing; our work with young people; our preparedness to engage with the UN COP-17 Conference on Climate Change in Durban from 29 November to 9 December; and our relationship with Kairos Southern Africa, which was launched in March 2011 to carry forward the legacy of Kairos theology in Southern Africa and to be in solidarity with others throughout the world. We shall also be finalising a Memorandum of Understanding with USPG to guide the next phase of our relationship, with a particular focus on both leadership and health.

We shall spend a considerable amount of time, much of it in groups, looking at the ACSA Vision, and work at the Provincial level in the 8 priority areas identified by Provincial Synod, in ways that support diocesan life and goals. I have appointed Coordinators to each priority area, who will provide updates on taking forward the Synod mandates, on which PSC can offer further guidance. Our desire to go forward together as Anglicans ‘Anchored in the love of Christ, Committed to God's Mission and Transformed by the Holy Spirit’ is gradually growing in substance.

Another area I want to mention, and for which I ask your prayers, is the development of Pastoral Guidelines in relation to the same-gender civil unions for which South African legislation now provides. Following requests to the Bishops for advice in relation to the pastoral care of people in such unions, and their families, the Synod of Bishops has, over several meetings, produced a document reflecting our common mind on this very sensitive issue. Proposals have now been sent to Dioceses for consultation within archdeaconries and parishes. We are requesting feedback on whether this offers the sort of guidance that those in pastoral ministry seek, in time for our February 2012 Synod of Bishops. PSC will also consider them. Let me underline that this document is not directly about the continuing debate around human sexuality, though it affirms that we uphold the moratoria of the Anglican Communion on the ordination of persons living in a same gender unions to the episcopate; the blessing of same-sex unions; and cross-border incursions by bishops. Rather, this focuses on the human and pastoral realities that we inevitably face in parishes following South Africa’s new legislation.

I am glad that we shall be welcoming two very special guests at Kopanong. The Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, will join part of the Synod of Bishops meeting that precedes PSC; and the Most Revd Ian Ernst, Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, and current Chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, will be with us both at SoB and PSC. We hope that through sharing in our meetings, and some other brief visits in Cape Town and Gauteng, they will learn more about ACSA, and we can strengthen our relationships within the Anglican Communion and as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

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