Tuesday 11 September 2012

To the Laos - To the People of God, September 2012

Dear People of God

‘Cry aloud to the Lord!’ writes Jeremiah in his Lamentations, ‘Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night … Arise, cry in the night, at the beginning of the watches. Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!’ (Lam 2:18,19).

South Africa has been rocked by the tragedy at Marikana mine – the death of 34 miners at the hands of the police, after a further 10 deaths, including of police, in the preceding week. But this is only part of a greater tragedy: the tragedy that the situation could be allowed to deteriorate so far; the tragedy of appalling working and living conditions; the tragedy of such a breakdown in relations between employers and unions and employees and government; and the tragedy that across our country similarly dreadful situations are festering. They are like smouldering logs that, if left unattended, are ready to ignite. What should be the church’s response to this?

First, we should know how to lament – how to cry out to God, in our pain, our frustration, our anger, our distress, our deep, deep hurt. We should not hold back in speaking the truth of what we see, what we feel, what we fear. We bring before the throne of grace all that is broken, all that is awry, all that ought to be better but is not. And in opening our hearts to God, we call on God to step in, to act, to respond to the great need in which we find ourselves. ‘Weep with those who weep’ wrote St Paul to the Romans (Rom 12:15), and so we must. Now is a time to weep. We mourn for all who have died; and we mourn for all else that grieves us. We bring it all before God with a purpose – we come to ask him to take it all, and redeem it, to change it, and to change us, and give us a fresh start, so we may make a good and godly difference.

And so we are not left helpless in our weeping, and we must not despair. St Paul also writes ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’ (Rom 12:21). Though I have been twice to Marikana since those terrible shootings, and found conditions that shocked me, nonetheless I am optimistic, for ours is a God who shines light in every darkness. Though I felt the very ground crying out to my soul that ‘All is not well’, and though it felt that the whole area is on a knife edge, still I am hopeful. For this can be to us not a prophecy of doom, but a wake-up call.

All South Africans must rekindle the vision of a free, fair, just, South Africa which inspired the peaceful transition to democracy, and we must work and pray to bring it about. It is a task that we must all shoulder together – government, politicians and the public sector; with business; with civil society; with media and academia and all other networks and organisations; and, of course, faith communities. This is the vision encapsulated in 1994 and in our Constitution. Its achievement lies in our hands, if we recommit ourselves positively, and work hard, rejecting complacency and hopelessness in the face of the country’s challenges. God wants what is best for all his children, and will help us, if we strive for all that is good and right.

We should not be afraid to hold fast to his promises of hope. For when his vision for good is at the centre of our lives, it will shape us and our society. This – this ideal of human dignity and flourishing, at the heart of our Constitution – defines who we are, who we truly aspire to be, rather than any of the difficulties, challenges, setbacks that we experience. So, even as we mourn, let us ask God to bring his light into our darkness, and guide our feet into his life-giving pathways. May he bring comfort and blessing to all who mourn, and fresh courage and hope for tomorrow.

Please keep Judge Ian Farlam – our own Provincial Chancellor– particularly in your prayers, that he might receive every assistance, as he heads the Commission of Enquiry.

And now some more joyful news: the Revd Stephen Moreo of St George’s Parktown has been elected to succeed Bishop Brian Germond as Bishop of Johannesburg. Please pray for him and his family, Liziwe his wife, and their children Siyabulela Onalerona, and Bontle, as they prepare for him to take these responsibilities.

Finally, on behalf of us all, let me pay tribute to another Bishop of Johannesburg, Duncan Buchanan, who died at the beginning of September. He was a great friend and dear brother in Christ, who was also for me – as for so many – a father in God who deeply influenced my life and ministry. I offer heartfelt thanks for the rich life of this faithful servant of God, whom was successor to Desmond Tutu, as both Dean and Bishop. He was also a great teacher and pastoral counsellor, especially in leading, guiding, and shaping so many of our clergy, who trained with him in Grahamstown.

As Bishop he encouraged my vocation, made me a deacon and ordained me a priest. He pressed me to keep on growing; and exposed me to many ministries within and beyond the church – for example, as his representative on the Council of St John’s College. Indeed, he never stopped mentoring me. When I was first a Bishop, he loaned me his pastoral staff and gave me my first vestments. And when I became Archbishop he did not stop mentoring, advising, giving me feedback and commenting on these ‘To the Laos’ letters. He was a rare soul-friend, offering both caution and encouragement to press on. He would send messages, ‘Thabo, phone me!’ and remind me ‘God is not in the business of rushing – slow down and take time to discern the mind of God!’ I shall miss him deeply, and am filled with gratitude for his influence upon my life.

So I give thanks to God for his wisdom, his humour, his strong presence in any gathering. I thank God for his courage, and readiness to confront things that needed to be confronted, including in his leadership during the struggle to overcome apartheid. I am sure many around the Anglican world will also thank God for his significant contribution to the 1998 Lambeth Conference, helping a very diverse group to wrestle deeply together and produce the clear, yet sensitive, report on human sexuality that stands behind the resolution that was ultimately passed – a report that deserved far more attention than, sadly, it received. He was also a keen ecumenist, committed always and everywhere to building up the body of Christ. I am especially thankful I was able to spend some quality time with Duncan, connecting and reminiscing, at the Diocese of Johannesburg’s 90th anniversary celebrations, just a few months ago.

‘Dunc and Di’ as he and his wife were known to so many of us, were a wonderful team, a formidable team, in life and in ministry. We hold Di in our love and prayers, together with everyone else who loved Duncan and mourns his death. We are so sad that we shall not hear his laughter again, but we know that heaven will be a livelier place! Yet in our pain and grieving, we entrust him into the eternal arms of the Lord he loved so deeply, confident that ‘we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, for nothing can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ our Lord.’

Hamba kahle, faithful priest in the church of God. May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Yours in the Service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town