Tuesday 30 April 2013

Sermon on the Retirement of Anthony Hillier, Cape Town Diocesan Secretary

This sermon was preached at the service of Thanksgiving, on the Retirement of Anthony Hillier, Diocesan Secretary for the Diocese of Cape Town, at Zonnebloem on 30 April 2013.

Acts 14:19-27; Ps 145:10-13,21; John 14:27-31a

May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today is both a day of celebration and a sad day.

It is a celebration, first of all – as every Eucharist is – of the new life in Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, in which we are called to share. And it is a celebration of God’s faithfulness and presence among us, in the life of his Church.

It is a celebration too, of the faithfulness of so many of God’s people, in his Church – and today, especially, is a day of thanksgiving for the long years of hard work that Tony has given to us, and for the selfless support through it all of Ann, and the family.

And it is also a celebration of the common life we share together in the Diocese of Cape Town over the years, in spite of all the challenges that come our way.

This brings me to the sadness.

We are sad because, although we are celebrating and giving thanks for all these wonderful things we have experienced and received as a Diocese, it is sad to say farewell to Tony. We shall really miss you Tony, your quiet perseverance, your dedication and your thoroughness. I shall miss the expanded agendas which have been such a help to me in staying in touch and knowing what is going on throughout all the structures of the Diocese, despite my busy schedule. I shall miss your painstaking attention to detail. And I shall miss your love for the Lord and for his Church. We are so sad to see you go.

And we are also sad, because along with Tony’s departing, we are setting in motion the tough actions for restructuring the Diocesan Office – actions we know we ought to have addressed some time ago. But knowing that we have little option does not make it any easier, either to take difficult decisions or to implement them.

Everyone who is here today, I cannot ask you strongly enough, to keep the Diocesan Office in your prayers as we now embark on this period of consultation and discernment. Pray that God may guide us all, and give us a double measure of wisdom. Pray especially also for Bishop Garth, whom I am asking to lead the pastoral processes that must happen alongside the more technical management tasks; and most of all pray for those who are most directly affected.

When hard decisions must be taken and implemented within the Church, which is so much like family in so many ways, it can sometimes all seem so much harder and more painful. Indeed, it can sometimes feel like a failure of faith within the Church as an institution, when we face times like this.

Our rational minds tell us about the tough economic environment around us. They tell us that we always needed to make adjustments to structures and staffing after the multiplication of the Diocese.

But our hearts are sore, and I guess we always hoped that, through prayer, through faith, through trust, we might somehow be spared having to come to this point. For myself, part of me really hoped that I might avoid it all by being away on retreat – though I knew this would not happen!

Our first of today’s readings have helped me – and I hope can help us all – in finding our bearings.

St Paul is completing his first missionary journey. It is about 18 years after Jesus died and rose, so we might know the flourishing, abundant, life which triumphs over sin, death, and all that is destructive.

Yet St Paul – like so many other apostles – has suffered spiritual opposition, expulsion from the city of Pisidian Antioch, the threat of stoning in Iconium, and actual stoning in Lystra. Even so, St Paul and St Barnabas return to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. And, writes St Luke, they ‘strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith’ by telling them that ‘it is through many hardships, many tribulations, that we must enter the kingdom of God.’

Well, on the face of it, one might think that assuring people that they will face ‘many troubles’ is hardly the best way to encourage and strengthen them!

But then again, perhaps it is.

Because perhaps what the congregations of Lystra, Iconium and Antioch most needed to hear, was the reassurance that what they were going through was ‘normal’; and furthermore, that it was not in any way their fault, or brought about by any failing on their part.

From reading through the New Testament, it is clear that, even within a few years of Jesus’ life and death, resurrection and ascension, there was a tension over what it meant to become his follower.

Some verses can be read to imply that, when you give your life to Jesus, all your troubles will be over, provided you have enough faith, pray hard enough, and live with enough obedience. We hear that still today, in some places, don’t we! And if life is not all roses and rainbows, we draw the conclusion that we have failed, in our faith, our prayers, our lives, and are fully responsible for our misfortunes.

On the other hand, from the example of St Paul’s life, it can seem as if the opposite is true: that becoming a Christian opens the floodgates to trials, tribulations, and persecutions!

But taking a more careful look at Scripture, what do we find? We find the words of the Living Word made flesh.

St John’s account of Jesus speaking at the Last Supper, ends his main discourse, before he turns to prayer, with these words:
‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world’ (Jn 16:32b,33).

This is the context of today’s gospel reading, with its promises of peace, and reassurance not to be afraid. This peace, this reassurance, come to us precisely because the world is full of struggles, for all of us.

We should not be surprised when they happen to us as individuals. And we should also not be surprised when the Church itself, at various levels, takes a battering from the way the world is – from our social, political, and economic context.

We are not immune from the same problems others face. Stuff happens. Stuff happens that is not our fault – it just happens. And we have to deal with it.

The Bible calls us to face whatever life brings, head on, with Christian courage. Our ability to do this is the greatest testimony we can give to the world.

Christian courage comes from these promises of Jesus Christ: the promise that we need not be afraid, and the promise of his peace. For God’s peace is not an event-free life. Rather, in the midst of life happening, his peace that passes all comprehension will come to us, and sit with us in each present moment, allowing us not to be afraid, not to panic, but to take each next step as it comes to us, guided by Jesus, who still says ‘follow me’.

This peace brings reassurance, in our deepest selves, of greater promises – of Jesus Christ’s presence with us, and of God’s immeasurable love for us, and the assurance that the kingdom of God is among us.

Therefore we dare to celebrate the Eucharist together today, even in the midst of sad farewells, and the processes of consultation and discernment around the Diocesan Office, its restructuring, the potential for redundancies, and all the uncertainties ahead these bring.

We come to the Lord’s Table, not despite, but bringing with us, these things.

We come bringing prayers for Tony and Ann in the unknown future ahead of them, though we pray for a blessed retirement, after such long years of hard work as God’s faithful servant.

We come bringing with us our concerns for the Diocese and its staff. We come with the pressures that our parochial units – our pastoral charges – face, both among their members; and within the communities they serve. We bring the needs for more ordinands, and funding for their training.

We come with bold courage in the risen Christ.

We also come with the big problems of our nation: from inadequate education – of which I saw so much in the Eastern Cape, last week – through to the sweeping issues of democracy and freedom of speech.

But most of all we come, with hearts open to receive Christ’s peace, Christ’s Easter joy, Christ’s newness of life – to receive bread and wine as strength for the journey ahead. We receive them as the foretaste of the kingdom into which, as St Paul taught, we are invited to enter ever more fully, not despite the troubles of the world, but by living through them, held in the infinite love of God.

So let me end where I began – by saying thank you, Tony, from the bottom of my heart. I still remember the first day we met, in September 2007, just after my election. The look on your face clearly said to me ‘Young man, I’m praying for you – you don’t know how much you are letting yourself in for!’ I thank you, and I thank God for you, and for all you have been to me, as a friend, a colleague, and a father.

May he bless you now and always. Amen.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Condolences - Fr Paul Singleton

This message of condolence has been sent following the death of Fr Paul Singleton, formerly of the Community of the Resurrection

My dear Geraldine

It is with great sadness in my heart that I write to send you and the whole family condolences and love and the assurance of our prayers from me, Lungi, and indeed the whole Anglican Church of Southern Africa, on Paul’s death. Yet at the same time, in this Easter season in which we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, I am also so grateful to God for his gift of this faithful servant, who shared so many long and fruitful years with us, and touched the lives of countless numbers, more deeply than perhaps he knew.

I count myself privileged to have known him, as both a great teacher and dedicated pastor, since our time together on the team at Christ the King in Sophiatown. The love of God for his children shone so strongly through Paul, with his gentleness and clear dedication to our Lord. I shall miss him more than I can say, especially his affirming spirit; and the care he always showed, first of all, for you, but also to me and to so many others. He always asked about my work, or rather, about how God was progressing his work through me, as he would say: an important reminder to me ‘not to think too highly’ of myself, as St Paul writes in his letter to the Romans.

‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones’ wrote the Psalmist (Ps 116:15), and I am sure that Paul, far more than most people I have known, is counted among the faithful ones of God. May this good servant of the Lord rest in peace and rise in glory. And may our God comfort you, and all who mourn Paul’s passing, with his strength and compassion and endless love.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

Wednesday 24 April 2013

St George and the Dragons of Today

The following sermon was preached at St George's School, Cape Town, on the Feast of St George, 23 April 2013.

Acts 11:19-26, Psalm 87, John 10:22-30

The story of St George and the dragon is just one episode of human beings’ long fascination with dragons.

There’s even a cartoon film, How to Train your Dragon. Do you know it? In the film the hero discovers that the dragons, who he has been taught are dangerous and to be feared, and to be regarded as the enemy, are actually neither of those things.

The young lad Hiccup, is nothing that a Viking ought to be. Hiccup is small and weedy, and thinks deeply – whereas a proper Viking ought to be a big, and brawny, acting first, and thinking later, if at all. Instead of killing a wounded dragon, he befriends it. As he later says, he realised that he was absolutely terrified, and so was the injured dragon. ‘I looked into its eyes … and I saw myself.’ And, as you will know, after various adventures, the humans and dragons stop being enemies, and the Vikings live with the dragons as their pets.

In our lives there are lots of things we think of as ‘dragons’ – things, or even people, that we think of as dangerous, frightening, and perhaps even as our enemies. And, all too often, what we are afraid of grows in our imaginations until it becomes a really huge and terrifying dragon.

Interestingly, when I have looked at pictures of St George and the dragon through history, more often than not the dragon is remarkably small. It is certainly smaller than St George’s horse, if he is riding one. And it is sometimes smaller than St George himself, as he makes an end of it with his long sword.

Such medieval oil paintings are often trying to convey a message that goes beyond trying to produce an accurate representation of events. I think they are trying to tell us that when St George actually faced the dragon, it became diminished – small enough for him to deal with easily. And they want us to believe the same about the dragons we face.

What we need, like St George, and like Hiccup in the film, are an openness to learn, and courage. In other words, we need the wisdom that comes with education, and we need character. St George’s School is committed to building wisdom and character in all its learners.

Let me start with the openness to learn, and wisdom. Do you know the joke about the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Well, knowledge is knowing that a tomato is not a vegetable, but a fruit. Yet wisdom is knowing not to put tomato in a fruit salad!

Wisdom is about learning as much as you can, and taking that education and finding out how to use it well. So take the opportunities you have, to study hard – not just how to pass exams, but how to use what it is that you learn. This is the wisdom we need to face the ‘dragons’ around us in society today.

Education is the best possible start for dealing with the challenges in the political, social, and economic life of our country today. So to build a democratic society, of true equal opportunity for everyone, education is the best foundation – or even we might say with St George, the best weapon!

Education is the best tool for improving education itself, or the health sector, or housing, or making sure everyone has a proper toilet. Education is the best start for facing down the challenges of running a business that makes an honest profit while treating its workers justly. Education is the best foundation for wisdom in overcoming the legacies of the past, overcoming inequality, overcoming the burdens of poverty, and overcoming the temptations of crime and corruption.

Education is the very best start that anyone can have in life. But knowing how to use your education, and daring to put it to the best possible use – well that also takes character and courage.

Being brave is not about never being afraid – it is, as some have said ‘about feeling the fear and doing it anyway’.

Some of you have already heard the story from my own life, about growing up in Alexandra township, where there were lots of gangs. We were all quite wary of the gangs – and rightly. But some were so afraid that when gang leaders tried to recruit them, they didn’t dare say no.

I tried to stay well clear of them, but one day, one of the leaders tried to attack me – and I just happened to have my one and only precious golf club with me, and, I don’t quite know how, I got the better of him. He came back the next day, with a knife – but I told him I was not interested either in joining his gang or in trying to take his position. And my sisters joined me, and he backed away and always left us alone. I’d thought he was a fearsome dragon – but when we stood up to him, he just shrank, and backed off.

When we are scared, God can give us courage. This is what Jesus tells us in the second reading today. We may feel as small and helpless as sheep – but, says Jesus, no-one, not even the strongest dragon, can snatch us out of God’s loving hand.

This doesn’t mean life will always be easy. We know life can be dangerous – and we must be sensible about the dangers, especially of crime and gangs and drugs.

But it does mean that God is always on our side, as long as we are trying to do the right thing, say the right thing, live the right way. And if God is on our side, we can dare to be courageous. We can dare to face down the dragons – and to find that they shrink, to far more manageable size before our eyes.

Remember me in your prayers this week – as I am going straight from here to catch a plane to lead a group looking at the problems of mud schools in the Eastern Cape. Failures in education there are a very big dragon – I hope that by facing it, we can shrink it down to a manageable size, and even slay it.

Sometimes, when we face up to our dragons, we might even find, like Hiccup did, that some of them are not really ferocious beasts at all, but more like pets!

Let me end with one other comment.

Our first reading was all about a man called Barnabas. He crops up a lot in the stories of the first few years of the Christianity, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is not the most famous of Biblical figures – like, for example, St Paul. But he is one of the most necessary.

For again and again we find him building bridges between people who have fallen out, and bringing out the best in people. We heard today how he took the initiative to find a man called Saul, who had had an amazing vision on the road to Damascus and become a Christian – and he brought him into the church and trained him. That man we know as St Paul, who is one of the greatest figures in Christianity.

Barnabas’ name means ‘the son of encouragement’. He went about encouraging others. We all need encouragement, don’t we – especially if we feel we are facing dragons! Yet the good news is that all of us can be ‘sons and daughters of encouragement’, helping others to do our best, in pursuing wisdom, and in living with character and courage.

So then, let me end. Today, once again, we thank God for St George. And we thank God for what we can learn from him: that, with the wisdom that comes from a good education of mind and character, and with the courage that God can give us, there is no dragon that we cannot face. And all of us can encourage one another, to pursue wisdom, and to have courage – so that we can all become the best people we can be.

Monday 15 April 2013

To the Laos - To the People of God, Easter, and Theological Education

Dear People of God

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! We are Risen! Alleluia! In this glorious Easter Season, may all the fullness of Christ’s gift of abundant life, overflow for you in joy and hope and peace!

As you may recall, in 2011, at the suggestion of Revd Prof Barney Pityana, Rector of the College of the Transfiguration, Provincial Standing Committee declared 2013 the ‘Year of Theological Education’ with the theme From Root to Branch. Our aim is to affirm and consolidate theological education as central to the Province, and particularly promote and develop the role played by COTT. This is at the heart of our fundamental strategy of ensuring that both ordained and lay leaders are well-equipped for guiding, directing, and encouraging the life of ACSA and its members: in our ministry within our parishes and in our mission to the world at every level.

One of the central objectives of this year is to provide a firm financial basis for COTT. We are therefore asking every Anglican who is able to donate R100 (or more, if you feel moved to do so!) towards this, through your parishes, in a special collection that will be made on Theological Education Sunday, 18 August. I am writing about this now, so that you may prepare for this special Sunday – not only by putting a small donation aside each week in readiness, but also through praying regularly for the College, and for all who teach and study there. May they grow in wisdom and knowledge and love of God, and so be prepared to fulfil their God-given vocations. (A note for clergy – we are expecting to produce a range of all-age resources for use on 18 August. Do watch out for these!)

However, it is not necessary to wait until August if you want to support COTT and its work. If you would like to make a donation, this can be done by making a deposit directly to the Provincial Trusts’ Board bank account, details of which are as follows:

Bank: Standard bank of S A Ltd
Branch: Thibault Square
Branch code: 02 09 09
Account number: 07 056 2423
Account name: Provincial Trusts’ Board

Please mark any donations clearly as ‘Theological Education Fund’

We are very blessed to have this resource of a full-time seminary within our Province, and one of the ways we are able to show our gratitude to God is to ‘give back’ through making its facilities available to those in greater need.

You may remember that, following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, one of the ways we committed to supporting that Diocese in its rebuilding was to fund a seminarian through three years of study in Grahamstown. It has been a great joy to have Jean Daniel Fils at COTT, and he will be completing his qualifications later this year – thanks to the considerable generosity of so many of you.

Closer to home, the dioceses in Zimbabwe have, as you all know, have had to struggle against considerable persecution in recent years. Thanks be to God, this seems to be over, and finally, through the courts, their cathedrals, churches, other properties and institutions and organisations have all been returned to their uncontested control. At the beginning of this month, the Diocese of Manicaland is holding special services in their Cathedral and another church, to mark their return and to ask God’s cleansing and healing of all the past traumas that have been perpetrated there. They too need our sustained support as they recover and go forward, and, moved by all that they have faced, I have stuck out my neck and pledged that we in ACSA will sponsor two bursaries for three years’ study at COTT – believing in faith that, once again, we will come together in providing this tangible long-term investment in their future.

The effect of my pledge is that there is a need to raise a bursary of R65 000 per annum for each of these Zimbabwean students. This amount will cover the tuition, boarding, book allowance and a monthly student allowance. I believe that this very tangible support will reap immense long term benefits for the church in Zimbabwe. Therefore I urge generous support for our sister church.

If you would like to support the Anglican Church within Zimbabwe, you can make a donation to the same account as given above, but clearly mark all such donations as ‘Zimbabwe Bursary Fund’.

Investing for the future of our brothers and sisters in Christ in this way can be seen as participating in the essence of Easter – the bringing of new life, new hope, which Jesus does, so fundamentally, through the cross and resurrection. Newness of life within the church is very much in evidence at the moment, with both a new Pope and a new Archbishop of Canterbury.

Let me quote from both of them. First, from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon at his enthronement, comes a message of Christian confidence:

"There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country. Optimism does not come from us, but because to us and to all people Jesus comes and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ. Let us provoke each other to heed the call of Christ, to be clear in our declaration of Christ, committed in prayer to Christ, and we will see a world transformed."

It was a glorious service, and Lungi and I were so glad to be there. It was good also to have the chance to meet him and his family in person the following day. We promise our new ‘ABC’ our support, and prayers, and we continue to pray for the Anglican Communion, hoping all may share in the new energy and enthusiasm he brings at this time. We hope that soon we will be able to host Archbishop Justin in our Province.

Second, Pope Francis, in his message ‘Orbi et Urbi’, to the city of Rome and to the world, on Easter Sunday, also spoke of the tangible hope that Christ’s death and resurrection offer to us all:

"Dear brothers and sisters, Christ died and rose once for all, and for everyone, but the power of the Resurrection, this passover from slavery to evil to the freedom of goodness, must be accomplished in every age, in our concrete existence, in our everyday lives. How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross! Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbour, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us. God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14)."

For us in Southern Africa, the same is true – that we can expect to know the reality of Easter impacting upon us, whoever we are, wherever we find ourselves. All we need to do is to hear Jesus’ call ‘Follow me’ and to have the courage to step out, and put our hand in his.

May you come to know the truth of this in your own life, and in the lives of those around you. A blessed Easter to you all

Yours in the Service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

Monday 8 April 2013

Scam - Beware of Archbishop-Impersonator

The following statement was released on 8 April 2013 by Mr Rob Rogerson, Provincial Treasurer, on behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA).

Archbishop Scam - Beware Impersonator Extorting Money

It has come to our attention that some individual, or individuals, are impersonating Archbishop Thabo Makgoba in emails designed to extort money, for example through issuing invitations to speak at conferences and then seeking banking details into which to pay travel costs.

We wish to underline that these are NOT from the Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town, of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

Please beware of any emails coming from bishopmakgoba@sify.com, or from Ed Smart at Events-committee@Christ-The-King.co.za, or ctk-anglicandiocese@minister.com,

Other warning signs are that the emails often say ‘Arch Bishop’ instead of ‘Archbishop’ and ‘Anglican Church of South Africa’ whereas ACSA is the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. They may also suggest that the Archbishop is Bishop of the Diocese of Christ the King, and that this is in Cape Town, perhaps giving an address at the Bernard Mizeki Centre in Zonnebloem (which is indeed the office of the Diocese of Cape Town, though not of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba). However, ACSA’s Diocese of Christ the King is in Gauteng, and its Bishop is the Rt Revd Peter Lee. Some emails contain links to genuine ACSA websites.

Emails of which we are so far aware have targeted individuals in Australia, but it may well be that they are being sent to others around the world. If anyone receives an email purporting to be from the Archbishop or his staff, but is unsure whether it is authentic, please refer it to me, at rogerson@anglicanchurchsa.org.za, or to archreception@anglicanchurchsa.org.za, and we will be able to confirm its status.

We are reporting this to the police, and recommend that anyone who has been in correspondence with these persons do the same, and also review their financial security.

Issued by the Office of the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town
Inquiries: Ms Wendy Kelderman 021 763 1320 (office hours)

Thursday 4 April 2013

Templeton Prize: Congratulations to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu!

This statement was issued on 4 April 2013

Archbishop of Cape Town congratulates Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Templeton Prize

‘It is wonderful news that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has won the Templeton Prize’ said the current Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba, this morning. ‘I offer hearty congratulations on behalf of the whole Anglican Church of Southern Africa. We fully endorse the Foundation’s view that he has made “exceptional contributions to exemplifying a new and larger, living model of the benefits of religion and spiritual progress”.’

‘Archbishop Desmond is one of the spiritual giants of our times – though he will tease me for saying so, given that I am so much taller than him!’ joked Archbishop Thabo. ‘The greatest lesson we should learn from him is that his life is steeped in prayer, and these deep wells resource all that he does, giving him a particular gift for expressing profound truths with great simplicity. During our darkest, bleakest, hours, he was able to see the bigger picture – the picture that we remember in this Easter season, that good will always prevail – and so he gave us a vision of hope for abundant life for everyone, transformed through God’s promises. It is a vision with which he continues to challenge the whole world today. We need to hear that challenge, and I hope this prize will encourage him to keep on raising his voice where it needs to be heard.’