Wednesday 12 June 2013

To the Laos - To the People of God, June 2013

Dear People of God

These ‘weeks after Pentecost’, with its green liturgical colour, we tend to think of as a season for growing in our faith – including growing in knowledge and love of God, in the depth of our prayer life, in Christian maturity, and in numbers. The number one best way to keep growing is to ensure we have well-trained clergy and lay leaders – which is why we are prioritising theological education this year.

To help all of us grapple more deeply with this theme, we shall shortly be issuing the From Root to Branch study guide. Four studies look at what it means to develop a mission-shaped church, and the role of theological training, and especially the College of the Transfiguration, in achieving this. The studies are intended for use in August, when we also mark Theological Education Sunday on 18 August.

I am writing to you on the Feast of St Barnabas, one of the most influential, even if not most well-known, Saints of the New Testament. His name means ‘Son of Encouragement’, and it is the theme of encouragement – especially encouragement of the ministry of people ‘set apart for the work of the Lord’ that I want to address in this letter. For St Barnabas is a wonderful example for us, as we consider how we too can support those ‘set apart for the work of the Lord’ (see Acts 13:2).

St Barnabas is best known for his relationship with St Paul. You will recall that before his conversion, St Paul – known as Saul – was notorious for persecuting the church, both in Jerusalem, and also searching out Christians across the region. He was on his way to Damascus when he experienced a miraculous encounter with Jesus, which not only changed his life, but changed the history of the world.

And yet history might not have been changed without St Barnabas. After his conversion, St Paul had to flee from Damascus. Finally he came to Jerusalem. But, as we read in Acts 9, the disciples were all afraid of him. They feared his conversion was not genuine, no doubt suspecting it was a plot so he could get to know them all, and then have them arrested and worse. But St Barnabas had the courage to find St Paul, and get to know him – and then he brought him to the disciples, into the family of God’s people. When they heard his testimony, the early church could recognise and acknowledge the genuine call of God upon St Paul’s life, and affirm his ministry.

Later, when the Jerusalem church heard of the congregation growing in Antioch, they sent St Barnabas to pastor it, and he brought in St Paul from Tarsus, so he too could share in teaching and leading the increasing number of people there. Later, St Paul and St Barnabas travelled and worked together for some years, before finally going their separate ways. It is interesting to read how their relationship develops, through the book of Acts. At first it is clear that St Barnabas is the ‘senior’ partner, mentioned first – but soon, St Paul, whom he has mentored and encouraged, becomes the one who is mentioned most prominently.

Now, all of this is a very lengthy invitation to you all to follow the example of St Barnabas! We too can encourage the ministry of those whom God is calling to be set apart for his special work within the church, and especially those called to be ordained. Like St Barnabas, all of us can play a role in helping the church to recognise those to whom God gives this special vocation.

And like St Barnabas, we can also help ensure that this ministry is not only recognised, but mentored and supported – until those who are called are sufficiently well trained to be able to lead God’s people without that close oversight, but as part of the broader network of Christians sharing in leadership of the Church.

Unlike St Barnabas, we don’t have to do all this ourselves! We are privileged to have the College of the Transfiguration (COTT) in Grahamstown, as a place to which we can send those the church discerns are called by God, so they can be well trained to serve as our clergy. Lay leaders may also be trained alongside them.

Theological Education is one of the key priorities of the Vision and Mission Statement of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. For without well-trained clergy and lay ministers, the well-being of our congregations, and the ability of all God’s people to live lives of faithful worship, witness and service (as we pledge to do at our confirmation) is seriously undermined. Indeed, our whole future is put at risk.

Provincial Standing Committee therefore decided that we ought to look at how to safeguard theological education for the future. Rather than make continued appeals from time to time, we decided to make One Big Push this year. Therefore, on Theological Education Sunday, 18 August, we will hold a special collection.

Did you know that within ACSA we have about 4 million people. We are asking everyone who is able to give R10, or the equivalent – and of course, some will be able, and may feel called by God, to give rather more. Even if everyone gave R10, that would bring us R40million altogether. This would be enough for an Endowment Fund that will guarantee the continuing development of COTT – its buildings and grounds, its teaching facilities including library and computers, its full staffing, and, most of all, its capacity to provide quality teaching and training.

What matters is that we can ensure that future ordained and lay leaders are well equipped for guiding, directing and encouraging the life of faith among our people, so all of us together can keep on growing in the knowledge and love of God, and in sharing in God’s mission to God’s world.

R40million may seem a lot, but divided among all 4 million of us, it is entirely attainable – and so I am feeling hugely excited and encouraged that we have such a simple plan, to achieve so much! Yet I do realise that for some of you, even R10, for every family member, above your usual giving, is a significant sum. This is why I am writing to you in June, so you have time to start saving, if you need to do this.

We shall also be sending round posters and fliers in the coming months, so you can be reminded to be fully prepared for 18 August. We are hoping that special collection envelopes will be available in as many churches as possible – but if not, a special collection in the plate, or at the end of the service will do just as well.

Finally, let me recall the very first reference to St Barnabas in the New Testament. In Acts 4:37 we read this: ‘Barnabas sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.’ This Son of Encouragement did not only support ministry by his actions, his affirming and teaching and mentoring of St Paul. He also gave money to the church so it could follow God’s call.

So let us also dare to follow the example of St Barnabas, and give generously, so we too can contribute to building a firm foundation that will guarantee well-equipped leaders for our church, well into the future.

May God bless you through your giving – for he ‘loves a cheerful giver’ and promises that when we sow bountifully, we will also reap bountifully (2 Cor 9:6,7).

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town