Thursday 25 July 2013

Death of Archbishop Emeritus Philip Russell

Statement by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town on the death of Archbishop Emeritus Philip Russell

25 July 2013

The Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town, issued the following statement on 25 July 2013, on learning of the death of his predecessor, in Australia earlier in the day.

Today the whole Anglican Church of Southern Africa gives joyful thanks to God for the life and ministry of one of the unsung heroes of our Church – my one-time predecessor as Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Emeritus Philip Russell, who died earlier today.

We remember Philip Russell as parish priest, Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Cape Town, the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Port Elizabeth, and later Bishop of Natal. Then, in 1980, it was clear that the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (as we were known) was moving towards electing its first black Archbishop, but not yet quite ready to take that step. After the electoral assembly failed to reach agreement, he allowed himself to be nominated by the Synod of Bishops to become what was clearly an ‘interim Archbishop’, and was enthroned the following year.

Yet he filled this ministry with great graciousness, and was clearly God’s man for those difficult times between 1980 and 1986. Having long preached and campaigned against apartheid, he brought to Bishopscourt a passion for both human rights, and ecumenical relations, with strong ties to the South African Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

I remember him having a sharp pen, on paper – but a warm heart in personal encounters. Even in old age, retired in Australia following the death of his wife, he has kept in contact with his former fellow-bishops and priests, personally writing letters and Christmas cards. I feel privileged that after I was elected Archbishop, he has also been in frequent touch with me, including phoning from time to time, with wise words of encouragement.

I offer my own condolences, and those of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, to his children, grandchildren, and wider family, in South Africa and Australia, in the loss that his death brings – even as we commit him with confidence into the loving arms of God, who has in Christ broken the chains of sin and death and opened the gate to eternal life.

Now, at the great age of 93, he has completed his long race, which he ran with such faithfulness and godly perseverance. He has fought the good fight, and now the victor’s crown can be his, as he is welcomed home by his Lord, his Saviour, his Friend.

Hamba kahle, dear elder brother in Christ. May you rest in peace, and rise in glory.

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