Saturday 30 November 2013

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

My dear People of God

There is certainly never a dull moment in the life of an Archbishop! In the last months I have visited Lesotho for the 50th celebrations of the ministry of our diocesan mission hospital at Mantšonyane, St. James. The celebrations were attended by His Majesty, King Letsie III, and the Prime Minister of Lesotho, the Honourable Tom Thabane, as well as representatives of Hope Africa, Us (or United Society, which we formerly knew as the USPG), volunteers from America and hundreds of parishioners, nurses and doctors, who together made it a great occasion. Congratulations to Bishop Taaso and his diocese on this milestone. I then blessed the new house of the bishop and the diocesan offices, now called the Archbishop Thabo Makgoba diocesan offices!

I then travelled to South Korea together with Lungi for the World Council of Churches' 10th Assembly. The experience of the Assembly is priceless. I have written daily reflections during our time in Busan. If you have not read them, these are on my blog. I then went to the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman for a Gala dinner and diocesan service. The dinner was to raise money for an Endowment Fund to buy cars for struggling parishes. It was my first visit as Archbishop, the diocese having last had a pastoral visit by an archbishop a long time ago. I met various diocesan officials, and was also taken to the MacGregor Museum.

Both the museum and the Kimberley Club, known for its close association with the mining magnate and British imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes, rekindled within me the pain of the fierce wars of dispossession and displacement caused by the colonial power's scramble for diamonds; but also reminded me of the courageous resistance and triumphs of the local people who were armed only with hope. The inequality engendered by these wars is still glaring and persistent in Kimberley.

The diocese, one of the largest in our Province, needs funds to buy vehicles to enable church planting and for clergy to travel and serve all community members in this vast, unequal, mainly rural area. If you have an extra vehicle parked in your yard, Bishop Ossie says they can put it to good use in his diocese.

You will recall that the Synod of Bishops released a statement in October referring to our discussion on problematic issues in the dioceses of Pretoria and Mzimvubu, which we had addressed in love and rigour during our meeting. This past Sunday, five Bishops joined in a pastoral visit to Mzimvubu. Three of us stayed behind after a diocesan “conference” and did confirmations during a diocesan service, held in the incomplete cathedral structure. We confirmed 921 candidates. Although the diocese is facing major tensions, being at war within itself, the service was a healing moment for most of us. I ask you to soak the diocese in your prayers, that we may end the long-standing impasse.

I then visited St Alban's Cathedral in Pretoria, where I hosted on behalf of Tearfund, Hope Africa, UNAIDS, SAFFI, NRSAD and other community organisations, the launch of a We Will Speak Out chapter in South Africa. The launch coincided with the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. I urge you to use these 16 days, which coincide with part of the Advent season, to recommit yourselves to speaking out against gender-based violence in our workplaces, our homes and parishes, or elsewhere in the community. You will recall that I have previously suggested the "ring a bell" initiative, in which we suggest that when you become aware of abuse, you should ring a bell or an alarm, and alert the police or others so that together we speak out and root out sexual violence in our communities.

The Revd Terrie Robinson from the Anglican Communion Office has also sent very useful material and prayers that we can use during these 16 days of activism. Look at it this way: girls between the ages of 12 and 18 who are subjected to sexual violence are 66 percent more likely to contract the HI Virus than those not so subjected. I urge all of us then to make every day, the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.

Let me end by thanking all who continue to give toward the College of Transfiguration. Please continue to pray and give generously towards its work within our church in shaping women and men for ministries “in times such as these.” In my December To the Laos, I will be writing about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to our Province next year and the second Anglicans Ablaze conference. Ablaze is happening from July 2 to 4, so please do register for it if you have not done so already.

Lastly, Professor Gerald West has produced a series of Bible studies for Lent 2014. These are based on the ACSA‘s Anglican ACT vision and mission statements as well as our priorities. I urge all parishioners to use them next year and enable the Province to read and pray from the same well together. I will post the Bible study material on the ACSA website and send a link to you in To the Laos. I will also send a copy and link to every diocesan office too so that they are accessed by as many people as possible.

Yours in the service of Christ
+Thabo Cape Town

Thursday 7 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - Final Reflection on Peace From the WCC Assembly in Korea

Tomorrow we have the closing plenary and sending-off prayers and after these reflective and enriching days at the WCC assembly, Lungi and I will be travelling back home.

Thanks for your prayers, the peace plenary happened and we will leave it to those who attended to evaluate it. In Sepedi we say, "Ngoana wa Mosotho, senne o ipolela, Motho o motle, ha a bolelwa ke ba bang." In sum, you can't promote yourself, or you need to allow others to critique you.

But I felt privileged to moderate this last plenary on peace as part of the assembly theme, "God of life, lead us to justice and peace." Ms Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel peace laureate, and Korean theologian Prof Chang Yoon Jae shared their perspectives on peacemaking and the underlying issues that undermine peace.

Ms Gbowee shared the situation in her country, Liberia, that led women to march and present a petition to the former leader, Charles Taylor. Prof Chang raised his concerns about the lack of peace in Korea and the need to be critical of nuclear power. He gave theological insights important for understanding the politics of nuclear energy and its dangers.

We also listened to Stan Noffsinger from the Church of the Brethren, a peace church in the US, and two young members, Agatha Abrahamian from Iran and Fabian Corrales from Costa Rica shared their personal stories. Then the young people broke into song and dance, holding placards carrying peace messages.

We formed a human chain across the auditorium, reflected on the message we heard today and resolved to be peacemakers as we leave BUSAN. After a short peace greeting, we offered one another the sign of peace.

Thank you all for reading these reflections, I hope they gave you a little glimpse of what took place at the WCC 10th assembly. You could follow in depth the proceedings on the WCC Twitter feed and website.

The God of peace who raised Jesus from the dead, make you strong and courageous in all you do as you pursue peace in the world and with God's creation.

God bless
+ Thabo

PHOTOS: Liberian Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee spoke at the peace plenary on Thursday (top photo) and Archbishop Thabo (below) moderated discussions. (Photos by Teresiah Njoki/WCC)

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - Reflections on Peace and Justice

In the Assembly's statement on just peace, the following words struck a chord with me: “Social justice confronts privilege, economic justice confronts wealth, ecological justice confronts consumption and political justice confronts power itself.”

Today' s plenary on justice did exactly that: it painted vividly some of the injustices that continue in the world; the inequality, the discrimination based on gender and HIV status. The session made most of us quietly uncomfortable and privately visit the bathroom to wipe away the tears.

Two speakers brought to the plenary real-life issues which particularly touched me.

The first was a 19-year-old girl from Malawi born with HIV. She was courageous and said she is a churchgoer but she has many questions that she wants answered by the church and people outside. She wants her church to guide her in life as she wrestles with sex and sexuality, and with reproductive rights, because she longs one day to have children who are not infected by her. She knows she can't be cured of the disease but she wants healing from her church – very deep, pointed and theological questions from Ms Mvula. In sum, she raised questions on human nature and the nature of God, asking the ecumenical family to wrestle with the themes not in the abstract but in the face of real life challenges.

The second was the Revd Phumzile Mabizela, the head of Inerela. She is a priest who is living with HIV and AIDS. She highlighted some of the discrepancies in our messaging as the church to those living with the virus, and cautioned against us speaking for “them” when they are present. She also challenged the global injustices perpetrated by pharmaceutical companies and the politics of medication for the poorest of the poor. She longed for this to be highlighted, especially by assembly members coming from the West and the North where these companies come from.

A difficult session indeed, for we were reminded in a forceful manner that we are complicit in these injustices if we don't go deeper to understand their root causes and then help prevent them. We are complicit if we carry on only with charity, without asking what causes poverty and inequality.

I left the business session at 18:00 to attend the launch of Fr Michael Lapsley's book, Redeeming the Past. I said a few words to introduce him and left for a rehearsal which was happening shortly after the introduction. If you have not bought and read this personal account of a transformative journey by Fr Michael, I suggest you acquire it and learn more about the cost of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The rehearsal for the peace plenary was long but useful. It is the last plenary and I have been asked to moderate the session. I ask for your prayers and for you to think of areas in your home, church, country and the world which need you to advocate for peace, and then do something about at least one of these.

Peace be with you!

PHOTO: Archbishop Thabo introducing Fr Michael Lapsley at the launch of his book during the WCC assembly.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - Reflections on Church Unity, Ecumenism - And a Little Gossip?

Today we discussed church unity, with Dame Mary Tanner from our Communion moderating the session. She concluded her opening remarks by saying, "It remains a scandal and a wound that we can't share together at the table of the Lord."
These words are apt and real and sum up the doctrinal and ecclesial wedges which have separated us over many years. In some ecumenical gatherings, at least in Southern Africa, this has eased a bit and I hope we will one day share not only in ministries but also the same cup of the Lord regardless of denomination, especially those who take sacramental ministries seriously.

In the unity plenary, we were careful not to raise the core issues of Orthodoxy and orthodoxy. His Excellency Metropolitan Nifon raised important theological matters, stressing that we all inherited our kinship as brothers and sisters in the Lord through baptism and that we need to remember the perichoresis, the concept that holds the Trinity together, as holding us together too, not allowing room for any differentiation or discrimination. But then he contradicted himself and said ecclesiology remains a challenge because "confessional dress" should lead to exclusion if we don't interpret the same understanding that God's eternal ideals are unchangeable. He did not dwell on this point and assumed we understood and agreed with this statement. A fellow South African, Ms Alice Fabian of the United Congregational Church, presented a view of church unity from the perspective of two congregations, who were once separated by apartheid and are now joined together to be one parish. The other presenters sketched the real issues of race, sexuality, class, gender and denominational dominance as they impacted on church unity.

Among statements which the main business plenary deliberated on was the unity statement, which was careful to raise only biblical and theological matters and the historical journey of the the WCC, staying away from controversial subjects, at this stage avoiding even mentioning same-sex unions. However, the participants forced the referral of the statement back to committee and for further submissions. The session was lively, it becoming apparent who the assembly's most eloquent spokespersons were -- they never failed to use their God-given time to approach the microphone and state their case on any issue.

The ecumenical conversations ended today. Bishop Jo and I have religiously attended these and we both agreed that we now have a better grasp of the concept of just peace. We both attended the Madang presentation by the Norwegian church on peace and signed our names to be included on any global network or initiative for peace if done ecumenically.

It is nearing time to say goodbye and termination anxiety is setting in. So completing the ecumenical conversation was the first stage of the goodbyes. In the business sessions we sit behind two Aussies, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, the Primate of Australia and the Archbishop of Adelaide. We connect daily and reflect quietly on the process, its similarities to and stark differences from the assumptions and practices of the Anglican way doing things. On my left, we are next to Archdeacon Bruce Meyers from Canada, who was a student I was suffragan bishop in Grahamstown. So we are well placed among Anglicans and can confer (or is it gossip?) on matters from time to time.

Again I conclude with where we started the day. We had greetings from the CEO of The Lausanne Movement, who reiterated the need for us as the household of faith to pursue unity, maintain ongoing dialogue and at least to foster partnerships in our mission and ministry to God's world. And as I reflected on bridges on Sunday, may we indeed continue to be "pontiffs", bridges that foster this unity that our Lord and yearned and prayed for.

God bless

Top - Dame Mary Tanner; Middle - Business plenary; Bottom - Morning prayer (All photos by Peter Williams, WCC)

Monday 4 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - Mission From the Margins

I took the early part of Monday to rest, observing my day of reflection and recouping as I do on Fridays back at home, and we joined the WCC sessions only after lunch.

I had interviews with the Evangelical Advocacy Alliance CEO and their media officer, as well as a YWCA officer. Our conversations were on the need for ongoing dialogue on faith and reproductive rights as they impact HIV and AIDS, and on the need to move beyond the language of human rights towards a focus on terminology which, although it is about rights, shows a God who cares for humanity and leads us to lives of holiness. What might holiness and truth for us as Christians be like, in a world of human rights, in the face of discrimination, growing conservatism and militancy?

The interview was recorded for use at ICASA, the international AIDS conference in Cape Town this December, and for encouraging the fight against HIV and AIDS within the religious sectors, especially as as the epicentre of infections is shifting to stable and married couples.

I then attended the workshop at Madang, the marketplace and place of exhibitions and of conversations or indaba, where there were many workshops to choose from.

I have always been interested in Gandhi's peaceful resistance but out of respect for him and his movement have always lacked the courage or the language to raise my deep discomfort about the caste system in India. But I am of age now and able to raise these questions earnestly, but in love. Gandhi's “seven deadly sins” have always resonated with me and recently in Cape Town at the Gandhi peace walk I quoted him as the walkers lined up at the beginning. I have wrestled with how he, as a leader who spoke with and for the marginalized, failed for so much of his life to challenge the caste system.

In a workshop with a representative of the Dalit community, I was struck anew by the line: “You can't serve Christ and the Caste." It sounds very much like the phrase “You can't serve God and Mammon” although this deep question may not be simply resolved through this biblical phrase. I know I need to go more deeply into the issue and read more, but the societal stratification characteristic of the caste system, with the Dalit at the bottom of the rung, seems to me more than discriminatory. As in apartheid times in South Africa, it treats some members of Indian society as less than human because of their religious and social standing.

If my assertions based on this preliminary reflection are correct, then as we pursue peace, Christians in India need to decry the system and proclaim the Christ who does not discriminate, who calls the marginalized to the centre. I was touched by the presentation and the stories of the Dalit representative, who succinctly explained in words and visuals what appears to be regarded by many as a socially acceptable and sanctioned discriminatory system. I think I will engage my colleague, the Moderator of the Church of South India, on the issue upon returning home.

The joys and challenges of such international gatherings are that you catch a glimpse of some of our discrepancies and contradictions. For example, we want to speak collectively but there are sacred cows, like doctrine and discrepancies within our local witness and systems. The caste system may be one such contradiction which we need to unpack as together we pursue just peace.

In our ecumenical conversation, we started going deeper into the question of just peace, understanding the concept from our different contexts and using some real examples. The session started making sense and felt too short. We will continue on Tuesday.

Our business session dealt with elections. Although we always couch them in the language of service, elections are always about power. We got bogged down in procedural issues, and who has more numbers and thereby who will be in charge of the ecumenical voice in the next eight years. At least we elected the eight regional presidents of the WCC, and I am so proud that it the ratio of women to men was 50:50. The president for Africa is from South Africa: the Revd Dr Mary Anne Plaatjies van Huffel of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, based in at the University of Stellenbosch. Congratulations to her.

Today's main emphasis was on the need to realign our mission focus to reflect the perspective of the marginalized. What might these be? - the Dalit, the immuno-compromised, the Christian minorities, the Africans, the same-gender couples, the environment, the youth, the poor, the women. The list is long but for today, I was particularly touched by the story of the Dalit community and want to spend time praying and writing on their plight.

What might the God of life lead me and you to do for them in the quest for justice and peace which the assembly urges us to pursue?

God bless

PHOTO: Musicians in Madang Hall at the World Council of Churches assembly in Busan, South Korea. (WCC photo)

Sunday 3 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - Crossing Bridges for Sunday Worship and Reflection

In Luke 8:22 Jesus says to his disciples, "Let us cross over to the other side." Today, we got onto our denominational buses and went to local parishes. Few crossed to the other side in terms of the "rivers" separating denominations -- I was one of those longing for a "good Anglican Mass" and so instead of going to my allocated local parish we went to the small local cathedral in BUSAN.

The bus literally crossed over a reclaimed part of the sea over to the other side. Structural engineers have constructed quite complex bridges joining the side of town in which we are holding the assembly and the older side of Busan where the cathedral is located. In real life, crossing over to the other side from yours is as complex as building the bridges; although it may not need structural engineers, it can nonetheless be difficult. Anglicans often see themselves as bridge-builders, and our Province in particular sees itself as a bridge-builder in Communion matters. When I saw the bridges crossing over the sea today -- at the same time experiencing changeable weather -- I appreciated the depth and complexity of some of our challenges when acting as bridges to carry others over to the other side.

Unlike a bridge, which will one day collapse if it is not properly maintained on site, we are nurtured and "maintained" by word and sacrament daily, wherever these are preached and celebrated anywhere in the world. This Sunday, we were part of an international congregation which joined the local parishioners to fill the cathedral. Bishop Alan Abernethy of Connor in Northern Ireland was the preacher and the diocesan bishop, Bishop Onesimus Dongsin Park, the celebrant.
Much as we crossed cultural, linguistic and location boundaries, there is something always special about the familiarity of Anglican liturgy and worship. We could join in melody, humming along, and we always knew where we were in the service. Reflecting on the readings, Bishop Alan coined a phrase summing up the essence of the assembly, saying that "God in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit is at work in unexpected places," suggesting that we need to open our eyes and ears to discern this presence so that, like Zacchaeus, we feel his transformative presence.

It is indeed in those defining moments, transformative moments, when we consciously and unconsciously connect the dots, in life, in worship or our thoughts that we cross to the other side. Like epiphany moments, we connect the dots not for our own sake, but for the other as we join with what God is up to in his world. At lunchtime, Bishop Alan and I connected the stories of Belfast and South Africa; I recalled the 1998 pre-Lambeth Conference international youth conference at Stranmillis, and he recalled our time at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, relating how useful he found the Indaba process. His son works in the Diocese of Natal, and my son, when on a Face to Face/Faith to Faith interfaith youth leadership programme made friends with an Irish team.

Crossing over to the other side is not about bridges, boats and buses but people taking the first step, and maintaining the subsequent ones in engaging at a deeper level, ensuring relationships last and can withstand both the human and natural elements. It my prayer that the WCC assembly will ensure we form deeper and lasting relationships with those of different denominations or no denominations as we all witness for peace with justice in our world.

Back at the assembly, the children's choir at tonight's Korean cultural evening was for me about crossing over to the other side. The Gospel was retold through cultural lenses in a such a beautifully choreographed manner, through both a Western eye and a Korean eye, and the subtle synergies were profound. May the harmony of their little voices and the movements we saw today characterize our ecumenical witness and remind us that ecumenism does not only matter but is the lifeblood of our Christian identity, a bridge which will enable all to cross over difference and serve the common good.

God bless

Saturday 2 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - In a Breathtaking Wetland, Reflections on Ecology, Economics and Development

Upo Wetland, near Busan in South Korea.

Today, delegates had 16 exposure visits to choose from and Lungi and I chose the BUSAN-ecology option. We travelled about 115 km by bus from BUSAN and, although long and uncomfortable, it was a scenic journey through the hills and valleys and thick forestation of this part of South Korea.

It was, however, disturbed by evidence of excessive development and the obvious disturbance of this beauty and tranquillity by a lack of integrity in the nature of the development. What we saw today can be summed up as the dichotomy of ecology and economics: though in Greek both have the same root, ecos, household, they did not seem to have an orderly coexistence in the area we travelled to. There was a clear wedge driven between the wetlands and the agricultural area, and the use of the river for power production resulted in a dearth of plants, birds and other fauna.

There were these massively tall buildings overshadowing the beauty of the streams and ravines. The pace of development for me as a stranger and visitor seemed too excessive and not sustainable. Because there is fast-paced development, there will be greater demand for energy and food, in the long run fomenting divisions between the people of this place. I am always cautious about predictions, and especially sensitive to the charge that when developing countries succeed there is always scepticism about it, but in this situation I am cautious about the fast pace of development everywhere I went. With big economies struggling, I hope this one will manage.

The Upo wetland, which has existed for centuries, was breathtaking with all sorts of bird life and plants, and surrounded by mountains. We experienced great generosity from a house church, called Disciples Church, as they invited us to pray with them and provided a meal for all of us in the bus. The 12-year-old girl of the house played the violin and a Korean instrument beautifully during lunch. She played a piece from the film, The Mission, which was so appropriate, as in this humble house church between two mountains we were surrounded by forest and thick vegetation; appropriate because in the film Jesuit missionaries were martyred protecting the indigenous heritage and context such as the one we were in.

I wondered as she played, what will become of this forest when development is so rapid in the next couple of years. This 12-year-old wished to work with the UN possibly to influence policies that affect her communities. It is my prayer that she attains this vision and that we join in encouraging development only if it's sustainable and serves the common good. Currently, development serves the few richest individuals of our world and this order is maintained by our economic policies which in fact should be declared obsolete or, like apartheid, evil.

These are my reflections on ecology and economics or development. What do you think of these reflections? What is your view, about southern Africa or your own country? Who is benefiting from your local and national economic prosperity? Does this augur well for peace and justice?

Tomorrow, we go to the local churches and have a Korean evening.

God bless

Friday 1 November 2013

Blogging from Busan - On All Saints Day, Meeting Anglicans, Moving Stories from Asia, Discussing Just Peace and Raised Blood Pressure

Today, on All Saints Day, let me start at the end of the day.

The Anglican Church of Korea hosted a dinner for our Anglican confessional group at the Novotel. There were about 160 Anglicans present, plus some of our hosts. I proposed a toast to our beloved Anglican Communion and to Archbishop Justin and Caroline Welby. A delightful evening with good company and delicious food on the occasion of the 123rd year of the founding of this diocese, as Archbishop Paul Kim of Korea pointed out. The dinner reminded us that nothing replaces face-to-face encounters with other Anglicans, for through these we appreciate each other more and consequently grow in love for God and one another, for this is communion.

The dinner was preceded by a service celebrating All Saints Day, and Archbishop Justin preached a sermon reminding us of the gift and responsibility we have as Anglicans to care for one another even as we value our differences. In a plenary session in the auditorium, Archbishop Justin had also addressed the WCC assembly, again drawing on our Anglican heritage and highlighting the enormous privilege and also responsibility of defining our identity within the broader ecumenical framework.

In another WCC plenary dedicated to Asia, drama and speeches drew our attention to the life, witness, worship and near-martyrdom of the church in this continent. This was very moving, drawing us into their story and how they perceived their position as a persecuted minority which faced near-extinction in certain places. There were also redemptive stories, especially one related by a missionary doctor who told of his experience of two parents at first rejecting a pair of Siamese twins, but then – when one died after an operation to separate them – reclaiming the surviving twin. Again, we were challenged by the difficulty most communities have in dealing with difference and disability.

Today, I also had an opportunity to connect with Presiding Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa at the assembly's health machine vendor, where as we measured our blood pressure we chuckled at how ecumenical work raised it. I also had some time with Bishop Jo of Pretoria, just connecting at a personal and informal level. Bishop Jo and I are together in the “Just Peace” conversation group. Today we were running behind schedule at this session, and there was less input by speakers and more rushed conversation. But it was still very useful since although we went off initially at a tangent, we finally got stuck into discussing the real definitional and conceptual issues of what a just peace is all about, as well as strategies for praxis.

The business plenary was tense and rigorous, which reflected our reality and was to be expected, especially after one of the speakers raised issues of marriage and sexuality and posited his theological view as the correct one. There is a growing conservatism – and I say this without advocating moral relativism – which can lead to the trashing of God-given freedom and rational thought, as well as of the celebration of diversity. Of course there should be limits to everything, such as we found in our ecumenical conversation, where we were starting to explore a call to close down a nuclear power plant, mindful of the fact that we are only a few kilometres from one in South Korea.

As most of you know by now, for me communications and accountability are key. Today I spent time with the Episcopal News Service in the person of Matthew Davies, as well as with WCC communications people, exploring further ways in which I and our province can communicate more effectively. We recorded an AIDS day message as well as one about our perception and understanding of ecumenism.

Tomorrow, we have excursions around the area where we are meeting and, God willing, we will go to the port and ecological areas preserved around Busan. It is our daughter's birthday today, so I want to end this on the personal and send her “hugs and kisses,” as she would normally say when she is in a good mood.

May God our parent who looks after us all shower her and all parishes named All Saints with blessings. We are all saints if we do the will of God who sent us.

God bless

PHOTO: A performance at the WCC assembly features Asian concerns, acknowledging struggles of churches seeking justice and peace.