Saturday 31 August 2013

To the Laos - To the People of God, August 2013 - and July 2013

Here is this month's To the Laos letter, and below it follows the letter for July 2013, which, though sent out, did not make it onto the blog, in what was a very busy month.

Dear People of God

As August comes to an end, many of us have been reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, ‘I have a dream’.

On 28 August 1963, he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and addressed over a quarter of a million civil rights supporters who had joined in the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’. He was the last speaker at the end of a long rally, and the crowd was tired. Prompted by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson saying ‘Tell them about the dream, Martin!’ he departed from his prepared text and launched into the passionate words that are now so well remembered. I do encourage you to read them again, as he speaks of the self-evident truth that everyone is created equal, of the call to sit together at one table of fellowship, of freedom – God’s freedom – ringing loud and clear. Many churches, in the USA and around the world, commemorated the day with peals of bells.

Martin Luther King stirred the crowds as he said, ‘Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.’

These words are an inspiration for all of us, when we look at all the challenges and problems that face our societies and our churches. They are also inspiring words to direct us towards Provincial Synod, in the first week of October. Every three years, the full representative body of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa meets – and this year, now with 28 Dioceses, will be our largest Synod ever, with some 180 episcopal, clerical and lay delegates, as well as representatives of the Youth and various Provincial organisations, invited guests and staff.

Our theme is ‘A Vision for Education – Education for a Vision’. When we met three years ago, we affirmed and celebrated our new Vision and Mission Statement – that Anglicans ACT, Anchored in the love of Christ, Committed to God’s Mission, and Transformed by the Holy Spirit’. Our work now to take forward our Vision, including through the priority areas for action at Provincial level, inevitably must include an educative element, in order to ensure that all we do is communicated across our Province, so it can be accessed as ‘user friendly resources’ for dioceses, parishes and people.

Anyone who has been reading my recent letters will know that we have been prioritising Theological Education this year, as we establish an endowment fund for the College of the Transfiguration. Ensuring we can produce, and keep producing, well-trained ordained and lay leaders, is an essential foundation stone for the church’s future. I want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who has made donations, including on Theological Education Sunday. We have received some remarkably generous gifts – though, as I write, the money is still coming in so I cannot tell you yet how much we have raised. At Synod, we will hear a keynote address from Revd Canon Professor Barney Pityana, Rector of COTT.

Education is also a vital part of moving forward in all other areas. Therefore, looking at what needs to be done from this perspective will be a major task of our group discussions around our Vision and how we support the whole life of ACSA. This is part of the leadership that we, as Synod members, are called upon to offer to the rest of our Province. Another of our keynote speakers, Revd Professor Bev Haddad, will address us about leadership – both within the church, and in how we encourage and equip Anglicans to be good and confident leaders in whatever walks of life God calls each one to serve.

Education should be a life-long task. None of us ever reach a point where we can stop learning! That said, education is especially rooted in how we bring up our children, nurturing them in mind, heart, soul, and body. Professor Mary Metcalfe will be our third keynote speaker, helping us get to grips better with this vital theme. Since we last met, we have made great strides in taking forward the Archbishop’s Initiative in Education, including through the registration of the Anglican Board of Education in Southern Africa as an NPO, thanks particularly to the hard work of Bishop Peter Lee and his team – and, as I have written about in previous letters, there are many other exciting initiatives developing across the Province.

Another important area of our work relates to the rejuvenation of the Canon Law Society, and the work we are doing particularly to update our disciplinary canons. Though at first glance this might appear to indicate that we are becoming more ‘legalistic’, in fact the reverse is our true aim! We live in a world where increasingly people rush to litigation as the first solution in any disagreement – whereas we want to show that our rules and regulations, properly understood, can provide far more effective frameworks for handling differences and disagreements among us. This is the same approach that underlay our Pastoral Standards: having clear, well-understood, guidelines actually gives us greater freedom in living as the people of God in this area. Without such education in how canon law can be such a good servant, but poor master, we risk going further down the road of spending far too much of our parishioners’ generous giving on legal action over issues that should have been handled in far more godly, Christian, ways.

Alongside this, we shall conduct our usual business, from looking at the place of the church in the wider world, through to the details of our own administration and finances. The Second Agenda book also gives notice of a wide range of motions, on everything from the alcohol and drug abuse through to eco-congregations and sustainable energy, from the structure of Synod to the election and retirement age of Bishops, from a provincial conference centre to the Anglican Covenant, and more besides. If you can, I encourage you to find out who your Diocesan representatives are, and to engage with them on these issues.

And whatever else, please pray for them, and for all of us as we prepare to meet in Kopanong in October. Below you will find the Collect, written to guide us.

Meanwhile, I am sure you are keeping the traumas of the world in your prayers – especially Syria and Egypt. At home we continue to hold Madiba before the throne of grace. May God’s peace flow like a mighty river, wherever it is needed.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

Lord of all wisdom, you led your people through the wilderness
in the cloud by day and the fire by night:
grant to all who gather in Provincial Synod
the grace to listen to your direction
the assurance of the inspiration of your Spirit,
and the joy to celebrate your presence in prayer and praise
that all may be done to your honour and glory;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour
who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen

To the Laos – July 2013

Dear People of God

Last week, Nelson Mandela celebrated his 95th birthday – to the great relief of so very many of us. We thank God for the continuing life of South Africa’s former President, and pray that in his frailty he may know God’s strength and comfort, in body, mind, heart and soul.

And we also dare to ask, in the ancient words of those prayers used as evening falls, that God will grant dear Madiba ‘a peaceful night and a perfect end’, in God’s own perfect timing. At the end of this long life of faithful service, we pray that he may know the assurance of God’s compassionate presence, and know that Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, has opened the gates of paradise to all who hear his voice and follow his call. We pray also that Me Graça, Madiba’s children and grandchildren, and all who love him, may know God’s strengthening in this long time of watching and waiting – that his peace may enfold them, and help them to find a good and holy way forward, through all the struggles with which they have battled in recent weeks.

This year, more than most, as Madiba’s birthday approached, I found myself giving thought to how best to celebrate this remarkable man and most appropriately honour his legacy. How should I spend 67 minutes serving others, in order to honour the 67 years of service of his life?

What I did was to join in a ‘human chain’ stretching along the Klipfontein Road, through the Rondebosch, Athlone and Gugulethu areas of Cape Town – several thousand of us waving flags and singing joyfully, despite drizzle! Yet I must admit that when I first heard the idea, I thought twice. Was this just ‘gesture politics’ and an easy way out of doing something more tangible with my 67 minutes?

But when I thought about it, I reached a different conclusion. For on Mandela Day we are asked to spend some time taking action that will help change the world, in ways that honour Nelson Mandela’s own example, in his life of service for the good of South Africa and its people. And Madiba’s example is that of a man with a servant heart, whose words and actions were driven by his dream – the dream of a united, democratic, non-racial, South Africa.

It struck me that if we do not make this dream our own vision, if this is not the foundation stone on which we base our lives and build our future, then all our other 67 minutes of service risk being undermined or diminished. For we need to tackle not only the symptoms of our wounded society, but their causes. And the persistence of past divisions – exacerbated now by growing new economic fault-lines – are amongst our most fundamental problems.

The Klipfontein Road in many ways illustrates the core issue: three distinct, separate communities were positioned at a distance from each other along its length. In contrast, our Human Chain was a living demonstration of our commitment to breaking down past divisions and building up a new reality in which we are all connected, all belonging to one another, and joined in the common life of our city and in the shared future which we create together in Cape Town and South Africa.

All this is ‘gospel-shaped work’. For, St Paul wrote, ‘God … has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and given us the ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor 5:18). And through Christ ‘God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’ (Col 1:20).

Wherever there is division, mistrust and suspicion, evil can find a foothold. The spiritual cracks between us become fertile soil for other divisions to flourish, bearing destructive fruit in every part of life. When we dare to step into these breaches with prayer, God will pour in his healing compassion, reaching out and drawing others closer to himself in redeeming love. We are called to be channels of this love, so others may come to know God in Jesus Christ by his Spirit, for themselves.

Sometimes people ask me if I think Madiba is a saint. Well, it depends on what you mean by saint! I don’t agree, if it means we consider his life so miraculous that it is impossible for anyone to follow his example. But the New Testament calls all God’s people ‘saints’, with some translations clearly reflecting this Greek word, as St Paul’s begins his letters with ‘greetings to the saints’ or ‘to those called to be saints’, in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae … Indeed, God calls each one of us – Nelson Mandela, you, me, whoever we are – to let ourselves be used by him, for his purposes in his world. This is the true meaning of being a saint. And while he may not use us in spectacular ways, he will certainly use us in ways that are significant for the building of his kingdom.

So then, let us honour Madiba, not only for 67 minutes once a year, but throughout our lives, by following God’s call, to be his ministers of reconciliation, his channels of love, his saints in his world. We can make every day a Mandela day! We are now looking at whether we can form human chains on some other specific day of the year – perhaps on Heritage Day, with the chain marking our links with the past and our determination to forge a better future, in the way we commit ourselves to breaking down old divisions and building new relationships, which uphold Madiba’s vision of a united, non-racial, equal society.

Human chains can be used as a powerful sign and symbol of commitment to transcend any divisions, past or present. And those who come together can sing, pray, and even dance a little! Then you might do as we did – pray specifically for Madiba, with thanksgiving for all he has achieved, and all he has challenged us to become, as well as praying for his comfort now. Then, after a little silent reflection, we said the pledge together. You will find the text at the end of this letter – please do use it wherever it can help us go forward in reconciliation, hope, and commitment to the shared good, that echoes all that God desires for people everywhere. Then we sang the national anthem.

And please do send in photos of your chains – or post them on Facebook (you can see many photos of what we did on the Klipfontein Road, on the ‘Human Chain - Mandela Day’ FB page). I hope that we might be able to gather some of these pictures together, and send them through to Madiba

In my last letter, I wrote at length about ensuring firm foundations for future training and formation of ordained and lay leaders, including through the Theological Endowment Fund for supporting the College of the Transfiguration. As part of this, I am asking every member of ACSA to make a special donation, on Theological Education Sunday, 18 August, of R10, or R100, or whatever you can manage.

You will be glad to know that I believe that Bishops should offer leadership in this as in all other matters – and therefore I have pledged R1000 out of my own pocket, for the Fund, and am challenging all the other ACSA bishops to match me, or even do better!

This month we congratulate Revd Canon Cynthia Botha, who heads the Publications Committee, on achieving 30 years on the staff of the Province. She started out as secretary to the Provincial Liaison Officer, who was then the future Archbishop, Njongonkulu Ndungane, and then to his successor Bishop John Carter. When he retired, she became secretary part time to both Emma Mashinini, who headed the CPSA’s Department of Justice and Reconciliation and to Publishing, taking on Publishing full time when the departments closed down. We thank you, Cynthia, and we thank God, for your long years of dedicated service!

This month was also the tenth anniversary of the consecrations of Bishops André Soares of Angola and Mark van Koevering of Niassa. There were rather more celebrations in Niassa, where they held their once-every-three-years Diocesan Synod. At the end of this they held a Diocesan Family Day, inaugurated a church dedicated to the first ever Mozambican priest, Yohannah Abdallah, and, as if that were not enough, compounded the joyful celebrations with the ordination of the first two Mozambican women to the diaconate, alongside four other deacons! We thank God for them all, with particular prayers for Reverends Claudina Cabral and Albertina Mucona as they begin this new ministry.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town