Thursday 17 November 2011

To the Laos - To the People of God, October / November 2011

Dear People of God

Once again, I must wrap two months into one! It is not always easy to find time, but I am grateful these letters make me pause and consider a wider perspective on my life and ministry. I was very encouraged last weekend, when a priest in Natal Diocese said ‘Please don’t stop writing! My sermons have improved a lot because of your letters!’ Certainly, it is my hope and prayer that in sharing my own reflections on God’s call on my life, I can help enrich your understanding of God’s call to you, and help inform your prayers for our whole Province. So whenever I am late in writing, please conclude that I am particularly busy and in even more need of prayer than usual!

When I last wrote, we were preparing for Synod of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee. At Synod, we grappled with stretching questions of faith, culture, and ‘reading the signs of the times’. We affirmed that ‘true expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ within our cultures must be exercised graciously and with great carefulness, for example, in the pastoral care given to those claiming to have a call to Isangoma training – recognizing that these two worlds, of Christianity and this aspect of African traditional life, will never meet.’ We noted that ‘other inherited cultural values (such as giving honour to God; respecting grey hair; virginity testing for young people; upholding honesty, and the values enshrined in the philosophy of ubuntu) need to be vigorously debated …’ Our discussions were enriched by the presence of Canon Grace Kaiso, General Secretary of the Conference of Anglican Provinces in Africa (sadly, Archbishop Ian Ernest, CAPA President, was unwell, and could not join us). The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church was also briefly with us, at the end of her short visit. We acknowledged many differences, including over human sexuality, but pledged to continue dialogue. Please pray her time here will have given her a better understanding of this part of the Anglican Communion. You can read the Synod’s full statement at

PSC was up-beat, despite economic and other pressures, and enthusiastic planning for the future ranged from developing our Vision to renewing theological training. I came home feeling we are deepening our grasp of the identity into which God is calling us to grow, taking seriously our place both within Africa and globally as we seek to share his love, his redemption, his new life. You can read more at

At the beginning of October it was a great joy to join Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu in laughter-filled the celebrations for his 80th birthday, and also Mama Leah’s birthday the following week. Tata, Gogo, we love you more than words can say, and pray that God may bless you richly in retirement.

After such happy celebration, it was sobering to travel with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to Harare, to express our solidarity with Bishop Chad and his Diocese, as well as Anglicans elsewhere in Zimbabwe, who have suffered all manner of outrageous persecutions at the instigation of the breakaway Bishop, Albert Kunonga. Do not believe press reports which say this is a disagreement over human sexuality – that is just a smoke screen for shameless political thuggery and self-enrichment. Even President Mugabe seemed surprised by the scale of events when we presented him with a dossier. Yet we also found great hope. Over 10,000 worshippers gathered on Sunday morning in the Sports’ Stadium, to hear our messages of support, and, as I said there, if God is on our side, who can ever be against us (Rom 8:31). (You can read my fuller reflections on the visit at It seems to have been some improvements in conditions. Pray these will be sustained, and uphold our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe in your intercessions.

After Cape Town’s Diocesan Clergy School, and parish visits which are my usual Sunday fare, I was soon on a plane again – to Toronto, to deliver the Snell Sermon. A former Bishop endowed an annual lecture on ‘The incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ – his person and his message in contemporary theological thought’, a theme which is close to my heart. Jesus is at the heart of God’s mission, and so must always be our goal, our guide, and our model. You can read what I said at, and the sermon I delivered in Toronto Cathedral, for the feast of All Saints, at I also discussed the Anglican Church of Canada’s support to ACSA, e.g. through the Primate’s Fund, and the link between the Dioceses of Toronto and Grahamstown.

It is not just me who travels – as mentioned above, others come to us! It was a privilege to have the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall worshipping at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town during their visit to South Africa. In my sermon, I was able to speak about the ability of the Anglican Communion together to do far more than merely the sum of our separate actions, as we seek to respond to God’s call always to ‘stay awake’, ready to take every opportunity to let God’s ‘justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream’. (You can read my sermon at

Finally, I have just made a busy pastoral and teaching visit to the Diocese of Natal. At the heart of this was the consecration, in a packed Cathedral, of Bishop Tsietsi Seloane, the new Suffragan. Pray for him and his wife Rachel in this new chapter of their lives. I also visited local community projects and presented Hope Africa awards for excellence; spoke with Prof Barney Pityana at a dinner raising funds for the redevelopment of COTT (; and shared reflections on the life and work of a priest at a Clergy Forum ( On Sunday, I preached at on ‘Anglicans in Mission: Here am I, send me!’ (

It was also my privilege to deliver the Third Rubin Phillip Peace Lecture at St John’s, Pinetown (see This provided an opportunity to pay tribute to Bishop Rubin (and of course also to Rose), and his Diocese, for all that they do, not only in KwaZulu-Natal, but for the Province as a whole, through generous financial support, and in many other ways. We keep them in our prayers, in this, and in all their evangelistic and mission endeavours. Their ‘radical hospitality’ was shown also to the Synod of Bishops earlier this year, and later this month they will be deeply involved in the witness of faith communities to COP-17, as we call on governments to make binding commitments to safeguard our planet’s future. Meanwhile, I have asked Revd Canon Rachel Mash (who heads HIV and AIDS work for the Diocese of Cape Town) to coordinate the Province’s environmental work, and assist me in my new responsibility as chair of the Anglican Communion’s Environmental Network.

Please keep our Province and me in your prayers at this busy time! (And apologies to those who do not have internet access, for providing so many web links.)

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

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