Friday 31 January 2014

Homily at Western Province Preparatory School's Centenary Celebration

A homily preached at the Western Province Preparatory School's Centenary Celebration dedication service at St John's Parish, Wynberg on January 31:

Psalm 51:1-9; Mark 4:26-34.

I greet you all in the name of God, who created you, sustains you and redeems you. Amen.

What a joy it is to be here today to join you in giving thanks to God for your centenary celebrations. Congratulations to the School, and to all the dedicated visionaries who have not only kept this school going but grown it. Let us pause and say, “Thank you, God, for your faithfulness in nurturing and growing this seed over these hundred years.”

Reading your history, I can only say that it must be through the grace of God working through you, God’s people, that you have germinated and blossomed to reach this milestone. You can go forward confidently into the future, knowing that God will carry you further. The story of WPPS is a story of faith; a response to what an individual felt placed in his heart, by God and in faith, and on which he acted. It is a “reckless” belief that once touched by God you are transformed eternally. Faith without works is dead and, I might add, work with no faith is “going nowhere slowly.” So we are grateful for your predecessors and benefactors, who had faith and acted, and we celebrate this story of faith today. As in the Bible lesson, Mark 4, it is through one sower who plants seeds filled with the Spirit, urging God’s community to act for God’s sake and with God’s people, that we can achieve God’s result, fruitfulness.

God still calls each one of you today as you celebrate this centenary – boys, parents, old boys and teachers, all present here – to continue to have such faith. So I ask each one of you today what is the one thing – the tiny seed – that God is saying or putting in your heart and mind today as you celebrate 100 years of God’s faithfulness to you? What action will you take on it? How will you respond in worship today and in witness and service to God’s people, in the here and now for this revelation?

As Bishop of Grahamstown, I used to be on the councils of St Andrew's School and of the Diocesan School for Girls. One of those who served with us was Mr Brockman, who represented WPPS. In retrospect I enjoyed his impatience. When it came to anything he perceived as standing in the way of education and of sharing the educational resources of wealthy, resourced schools with less resourced ones, you noticed his reaction instantly. At that time, St Andrew's wanted to buy Good Shepherd School – as they had when they took over WPPS – and to plant a seed of excellence at Good Shepherd. But red tape was in the way now, which was sad. And perhaps Mr Brockman was trying to articulate the question: “What mustard seed is God calling you to scatter, no matter how small? It will germinate, for it is from God and God will teach you to nurture it.”

I am a relatively anxious person, and am glad there was no Ritalin in my day, when teachers and parents had other ways to deal with anxiety and distraction. It shows especially when I am watching sport. This past week, watching Rafael Nadal, my favourite player, lose the Australian Open Championship, I could not hide this anxiety. At the gym, I kept on correcting his double faults, his serve and his backhand until I nearly fell off the treadmill. My daughter, who was listening to her loud music through earphones, said: “Dad, you are talking loudly and disturbing others.” Such was my anxiety over wanting Nadal to win.

I have the same level of anxious energy and urgency when it comes to education. I connected deeply with, and appreciated especially, your school's diversity statement. At its core, it asks the question: “How can WPPS help all South African children have access to first-class, well-rounded, valued-based education, regardless of their race, class and gender?” In biblical language, how can you demonstrate that in Christ there neither Jew nor Greek, Gentile nor slave, especially in the provision of education?

In socio-economic terms, the issue is how do we bridge the inequality gap? Your diversity statement is powerful and searching indeed. It says, “Seek to be principled and pragmatic.” The meaning of being principled as the followers of Jesus Christ is very clear: it means a commitment to sharing, loving and care for the poor and your neighbour. To be pragmatic, I want to suggest two or three challenges to you.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, of which you are part, has adopted as its Vision that we should be:

Anchored in the love of Christ,
Committed to God’s Mission, and
Transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Amongst our priorities is education. We have reconfigured the Anglican Board for Education in Southern Africa (ABESA) like you did 100 years ago and we are planting Anglican schools, through two organisations, Vuleka Schools and the Archbishop's Education Initiative.

Firstly, I hope you will support such institutions and initiatives. I am doing so through a trust called Archbishop Thabo Cecil Makgoba Development Trust (ATCMDT), which provides bursaries and scholarships to disadvantaged children. For example, St Mary’s School in Waverley, Johannesburg, has partnered with the trust to support disadvantaged learners in Alexandra Township.

In the Old Testament, the Lord says to Habakkuk, “Write down a vision; inscribe it clearly on tablets, so that it may be read at a glance” (Habakkuk 2:2). I have a dream, a vision for WPPS at this centenary celebration which I want to scatter before you. You know that dreams, visions and ideas don’t fulfil themselves. They need committed people. They don’t teach themselves, they need to be taught and learned by people. So here is my dream, and hopefully you will help me make it practical.

It is two-fold:

1. My dream is for the establishment of Centenary Scholarships for black disadvantaged, talented and academically able learners. I ask you to pledge a small account for this dream to put legs on your diversity statement. So I invite you all this Lent to take on the task of saving R10 a day for 40 days, or R400 per boy, per parent, per old boy, and for the next 40 years, to continue to give this Lenten gift to support these Centenary Scholarships for diversity at WPPS. God will multiply or diversify this seed capital enormously. My pledge, to remind you of this, will be a small seed annually of R400 for the next 10 years paid upfront at prizegiving this year to a boy who shows and reflects both an honour and character that promote all forms of diversity at WPPS.

2. The other side of the vision, one informed by scripture, is to ask you, in collaboration with your brother schools, St Andrew's, St George's, and Bishops (Diocesan College), to look at the waiting lists of our Anglican schools, and to ask yourselves: Is it not time to think in the long term of the possibilities of a WPSS (that is a Senior School) as part of our initiative to establish new schools? Vuleka, in partnership with ABESA and assisted by ATCMDT, is acquiring property in Gauteng to build the first school envisaged in this initiative: a boys' boarding school, a low fee-paying, value-based excellent school. Is a partnership with this initiative feasible, possible or desirable?

Congratulations on your first 100 years! Thank you, Lord for WPPS, its founders, owners, benefactors, parents, boys, teachers and old boys. Through this service and celebration, we rededicate it to you today. May it continue its witness in education as it informs, forms and transforms all into your likeness. Amen.

+Thabo Cape Town

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Archbishop Makgoba Launches New E-Reader Project Aimed at Africa

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town has inaugurated a new E-reader project to promote electronic learning in dioceses in the Western Cape and at the Province's principal residential college for ordinands. The project aims eventually to give students across Africa easier access to online lectures and electronic libraries.

Archbishop Makgoba launched the new initiative when he opened and blessed a new Centre for Reflection and Development at Bishopscourt, his official residence and offices in Cape Town, on January 28.

"We're continuing a tradition of a passion for education," he said during the opening ceremony. Bishopscourt has played a pioneering role in South African education, beginning with an exiled Xhosa princess and the boys of Bishops School in the 19th century.

Initially, students will be supplied with electronic readers or tablet computers to give them access to webcast lectures from Bishopscourt and other venues. At Bishopscourt, they will also be able to download readings, and at the College of the Transfiguration (COTT) in Grahamstown, they will be able to log into electronic academic library resources.

The inaugural director of the project, the Revd Godfrey Walton, said: "In the first phase of the project, students from COTT and students and ordinary church members from four dioceses in the Western Cape will be covered. In later phases, we plan to extend the project to cover the Church in the rest of southern Africa, and then to the whole continent.

"Currently, most theological colleges in the African continent have under-resourced libraries. The e-reader project will serve as a major electronic resource for students and clergy involved in academic reading and research."

Archbishop Thabo added: "Bishopscourt has a long history as an educational pioneer. The private church school, Bishops (Diocesan College), was established here in 1849.

"A decade later the sons and daughters of 19th century leaders, including Maqoma and Sandile of amaRharhabe and Moshoeshoe of the Basotho, studied here before the church launched Zonnebloem College in District Six. Their number included Princess Emma Sandile, a renowned 19th century writer of letters in English.

"Later, in the 1980s, Bishopscourt established one of the country's first electronic bulletin boards, used by Archbishop Tutu to circumvent hostile media reporting during the anti-apartheid struggle. It was here too that my predecessor, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, conceptualized and started the Historic Schools Restoration Project to revitalize schools played a pioneering role in educating black pupils.

"So the E-reader Project continues a strong tradition of educational and ICT innovation.

"We are grateful for support we have so far received from the Compass Rose Society, the Anglican Communion Office, Trinity Church Wall Street, the Motsepe Foundation and The Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Development Trust."

Thursday 23 January 2014

Anglican Church of Southern Africa Shocked by Sudden Death of Archbishop Johnson of West Africa

We have received news of the sudden death in Banjul of Archbishop S. Tilewa Johnson, Bishop of The Gambia and Archbishop of West Africa, with deep shock.

Archbishop Johnson and I met daily at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches, sharing both light moments, deep theological discussions and the challenges of leading an Anglican province. My wife, Lungi, also worked with him at a recent meeting of the mission society, Us (formerly USPG).

We are both immensely saddened at his passing and send our condolences to the Diocese of The Gambia and the Province of West Africa.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

+Thabo Cape Town

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Weaving the Spiritual Dimension Into the Tapestry of a School

Homily for the Licensing of Sue Taylor as Chaplain to Herschel Girls' School on January 15, 2014:

Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

I greet you all in the name of God who calls, informs and transforms us. Amen.

If I was to say, like young Samuel, that I am hearing voices, you would all say, "Archbishop, you need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist." But I want to assert to you that God still speaks to us today.

Thank you, Mr West and your staff as well as Professor Watson, the Chairperson of Council, for the invitation to preside at the licensing of Sue as Chaplain to this prestigious school. Thank you very much Mr West for the kind words of welcome, more importantly for inviting us and the school to pause and reflect as well as to pray for the soul of Nelson Mandela.

Let me also start by congratulating the school and you all for your 2013 matric pass rate. I have never been so proud to be associated with Herschel and to be a parent at the school – you have been named as number one in the Western Cape for matric passes in 2013. It is indeed a "wow" moment, and I am going to ask you to pause and applaud this great achievement. I am sure that Madiba, who was your neighbour in Bishopscourt after retirement as President, is smiling down at you for this achievement, for he believed, and I paraphrase him, that education is the key to advancement and human flourishing.

Now turning to you, Sue, as this is your special occasion and I want to give you padkos, that is food for your journey. You firstly join this diocese, the Diocese of Cape Town, as a priest in the church of God and then as Chaplain of this prestigious Anglican school. Congratulations on your appointment and thanks to those who interviewed and selected you for this role. I know that as a priest and teacher you will serve the school well.

You join a team of hard-working girls, industrious and able staff members, and a visionary and practical head of school and council members.

In sum, as in the story that we read from the Bible (1 Samuel 3: 1-10), there are and will be many voices and demands on you – intellectual, emotional, physical, social – and you will need boldly to weave into this tapestry the spiritual voice. In this way, you will truly form an outstanding Herschelian girl, one who like young Samuel, at the feet of his mentor/teacher or chaplain, and even parent, would boldly say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Sue, your task is both challenging and a great joy. You have what I call a double quandary, that of being Samuel, the servant, who says, "Speak Lord, I am listening," but at the same time, being Eli, who is called to help the girls and the school to discern the voice of God in our midst and in our time.

Like Eli, you are to give the girls and staff, as well as parents, the confidence to listen and to hear God’s voice, but equally help us to find and exercise our own voice. In the midst of competing volleys of dogmatic utterances, you are called to create space, especially for the girls and this place to discern all that is Godly and noble and truthful. You are to help the school, which may drown in a sea of privilege, to discern the word of God, yearning and crying in a sea of poverty where many South African youngsters are learning in mud schools and may possibly be destined for failure and hopelessness.

This discernment has to lead to action. Sue, welcome to this place and I pray that you will grab that voice, that very thin yet mysterious thread and weave into the tapestry of what is called Herschel, the spiritual dimension.

In other words, I pray that you will grab God by the scruff of the neck, take God and bring God here, and then take the school by the scruff of its neck to where God needs it to be, in such a time as ours, in the world.

As an Anglican priest in the church of God, a church whose declared Vision is to be Anchored in the love of Christ, Committed to God’s Mission, and Transformed by the Holy Spirit, you are to help the girls, and indeed the whole Herschel community, to be anchored in all that is loving and caring, to be committed to the pursuit of Godly knowledge in the world and to be critical in doing so, and to be transformed by God’s love and voice in God’s world.

With this brief homily and comments, welcome Sue, as we license you as Chaplain to the school.


+Thabo Cape Town

Photo: The Revd Sue Taylor with the Archbishop. (Herschel Facebook page)

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Call to Commit Ourselves to a Better Education for All

Despite improvements in the matric pass rates, the deficiencies in South Africa's educational system still “sentence many a pupil to a life of utter poverty, hopelessness and inequity,” says Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town.

In a statement on the matric results issues today, Archbishop Makgoba said:

As an anxious parent who has waited with the rest of the country this year for matric results, I want to congratulate those who have worked hard and earned impressive results. Thanks to the teachers and parents who supported them.

The Department of Basic Education needs a pat on the shoulder for better results all-round. But it has to be said that despite the improvement in passes at the bachelor's level, a 30 percent pass rate is still woefully inadequate.

Yet again, the relationship between poor school infrastructure and results is evident in the Eastern Cape. We urge educators to summon up the determination to turn this around, and we in the church commit ourselves to shoulder responsibility for pushing for change.

For those who did not make it, it is not the end of the world. We urge you to rewrite exams, or re-register for this year. Sadly, the deficiencies in our educational system still sentence many a pupil to a life of utter poverty, hopelessness and inequity.

In our 20th year of democracy, and a month after Madiba died, I call for us all to commit ourselves to a better education for all with a bias in towards redress in rural and township areas.

+Thabo Cape Town