Wednesday 30 July 2014

To the Laos – To the People of God, July 2014

Dear People of God

This month I am thrilled to announce the appointment of the Revd Dr Vicencia Kgabe as the new Rector of the College of the Transfiguration (COTT) from January next year. She will succeed Dr Barney Pityana, whom we thank for his sterling service in establishing the college as a provider of accredited qualifications.

Born and educated in Soweto, Dr Kgabe, left, trained at COTT and has served at parishes in the Diocese of Johannesburg since her ordination in 2002. She has been responsible for the promotion and discernment of vocations to the ordained ministry in the Diocese, and has served in the Bishop’s Executive as Archdeacon. Her doctoral degree was earned (in Practical Theology) at the University of Pretoria. She has also taken part in a leadership programme at the university's Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and served on the boards of both COTT and Hope Africa.

The Church is proud and grateful to announce Dr Kgabe's appointment as we enter Women's Month, and in similar vein, we congratulate the Church of England on its General Synod vote giving final approval for women to become bishops in the church.

We are also entering the Month of Compassion, which we observe every year as part of the ecumenical community. I urge you not to let up in your efforts to help your parish find new and creative ways of observing the month. Just google the search phrase "Month of Compassion" and you'll find ideas from other parishes and churches: near the top of the list, for example, you will see that St Stephen's Church in Pinelands, Cape Town, holds Month of Compassion "Hunger Suppers", at which parishioners eat simply and donate the savings to a ministry chosen by the evening's host.

I am pleased to announce as well the appointment of Marupeng Moholoa as co-ordinator of the E-Reader Project at Bishopscourt. I am very excited about this electronic communication and e-learning initiative. Maropeng is working on "switching on" the service so that you can all have access to a wide range of resources. We are also in the infancy stage of establishing an internet "radio station", linked to the E-reader Project, to beef up our communication, which we will begin by making podcasts available on the internet. If you have parishioners with expertise in audio production who can volunteer advice and training, especially in Cape Town, please send details to Marupeng at e-reader[at] or to John Allen (at media[at], who is advising us on setting up these key communications channels for the Province.

Looking back, congratulations to Anglicans Ablaze for a successful conference in Johannesburg earlier this month. In due course, you will find conference highlights, summaries and feedback on their website. You can hear Archbishop Justin Welby's address on the Lambeth Palace website and read my Charge to the conference on this blog.

This will be my last Ad Laos for some months, since I will be on sabbatical until October, interrupted only by a few prior commitments: the Elective Assembly of the Diocese of Lebombo, for which I ask for your prayer, and the Synod of the Diocese of Cape Town. Please also pray for this gathering of the very special family which nurtures me and my family, helping to sustain and empower me to do ministry in our Province. If urgent issues arise, I will post them here.

I cannot sign off without referring to the resurgence of conflict and war in our world - in Gaza and Israel, in Ukraine, in Nigeria and elsewhere - and to the horrific kidnapping of children in our communities. War is an indication of our failure to meet one another in indaba and look each other in the face. Let your voices be heard in protest and seen in actions for justice. Pray for the families of those killed in our own communities, in the recent airline bombing, and in the Middle East, Nigeria, Ukraine and the conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

God bless you,

+Thabo Cape Town

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Appeal for prayer for Gaza and Ukraine

I am at present on sabbatical, but I cannot be silent in the wake of developments the Ukraine and Gaza in recent days. Both situations need urgent and intentional intercessions, and I urge you to uplift in prayer those who have been devastated by war.

The blowing apart of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine, the aggressive killing of God's people -- so soon after the disappearance of another over the Indian Ocean -- is almost unpardonable. We pray for the souls who died in this unnecessary conflict, we extend our condolences to the families of those who died, and we pray for the safety of airline passengers and for an end to this costly war.

Similarly, the conflict in Gaza is a senseless, unnecessary conflict. No war will bring peace and security to Israel and Palestine, in particular not when it involves the heartless use of brute force which has been deployed in the past week. I condemn the killings and the occupation, and join those who are calling for a conversion of brief suspensions of hostilities into a permanent ceasefire.

We pray for those who have died and send our condolences to all who have lost loved ones, and we pray also for the international leaders and diplomats who are seeking long-term solutions. The Israelis and the Palestinians can find a solution -- now they must find one, and the international community needs to bring maximum pressure to bear on both to ensure they do.

God bless you,


Thursday 10 July 2014

Housing and Family Life in South Africa

An address to SpiritFest at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown on July 7, 2014:

Joshua 24:15 says: "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Good morning, ladies and gentleman. Let me start first by thanking the Dean and the organizers of SpiritFest, especially Ms Maggie Clarke, not only for inviting me but for taking care of all the practical detail leading up to today’s programme. Thank you to the SpiritFest committee for reminding us that God is God of all, including art, for God is the creator God. As I said in my homily yesterday, this Cathedral is home for me and evokes a welter of emotions that I can express with sensitivity and care, but also without fear.

I have been given the theme, Housing and family life in South Africa.

My ancestral home is Makgobaskloof in Limpopo, and the bulk of my family live in Thlabine nearby. My father and his brothers and cousins moved to Alexandra township in Johannesburg in the early 1940s, in search of better pastures. Around 1895 the Makgoba monarch was beheaded in a war called the Makgoba-Boer war of 1888-1895. To date, the skull of Mamphoku Makgoba is yet to be found. In 1974, my family in Alexandra was forcibly removed to Pimville in Soweto, to a house which is still in my family – my parents now having died, my nephew stays in the home. Our home in Alex has been demolished and in its place a school, Zenzeleni, has been built.

Last week, together with other bishops and their spouses, I went to Alex, to reconnect with the places of my childhood, to where I worshipped, and to see where Madiba stayed when he first arrived in Johannesburg. I felt a strong sense of connection with Alex, but one that was underlain by the pain of displacement and relocation which my family had suffered.

This personal journey has heightened my sensitivity to those who need housing and shelter – which, along with the right to live, is among the most important of the rights to which we are entitled and the provision of which is also among the most important responsibilities our society needs to fulfil. Without shelter, the most important unit of human existence – the family – does not have place to flourish. The forced removals of apartheid stripped away the dignity of my parents. Even at the age of 14, being loaded onto the back of a truck in Alexandra, to be dumped in Pimville, unsettled me as well as disrupting relationships which our family had built over many years, throwing our whole community into disarray.

The forced removals of apartheid were evil, destroyed human dignity, and disintegrated families. In recent days, the forced removal and the demolition of the dwellings of the poor and downtrodden in Lenasia in Gauteng, and in Lwandle in the Western Cape – just as the cold and wet of winter held us in its grip – were deeply painful to watch and must have been totally traumatic for the families who had to build dwellings again from scratch. Whatever the circumstances that led to those evictions, they were cruel and totally unacceptable, resurrecting the wounds of how Apartheid trampled on human dignity. When faced with such events, I cannot stand by idly, but have to plead for the cause of the displaced; housing and shelter are not only constitutional rights but biblical imperatives.

Let me turn my focus to an assessment of South Africa’s human settlement patterns to paint a picture of the challenges we face.

Government white papers over the years have noted that post-apartheid governments inherited a legacy of very low rates of formal housing provision, at a time when the society has been urbanizing rapidly. In 2004, the government noted that one-fifth of people who lived in urban areas were first-generation residents and that this trend was set to continue. The backlog in housing gave rise to overcrowding and squatter settlements, and led to land invasions in urban areas. In the democratic era, the provision of housing and services has not kept up with the formation of households. Various academic and government studies note how segregation, in the words of one expert, served to “hide debilitating poverty”, and also draw a link between our housing shortages and crime.

Over the last number of years, I have been referred as “the toilet archbishop” because of my concern over water and sanitation, which go hand in hand with housing. Poor sanitation and the failure to deliver safe water in under-developed communities is a stubbornly persistent problem, not only at the level of providing infrastructure but in our failure to maintain existing services. Just to remind you of a few examples:

  • The fact that there are still people who are operating a bucket system of removing sewage.
  • We have had enough discussion about the saga of open toilets in the Western Cape and the Free State. We really need to get our act together to build proper toilets.
  • Recently we suffered the utter shame of a school child dying in a latrine in Limpopo.
  • And lately tragedy struck in the community of Bloemhof where people died from contaminated water. Is this the kind of wake-up call we need?
Our failure to get to grips with these challenges is a failure to address ourselves to upholding basic human dignity. Families, as an institution, are under siege as it is, without having to undergo these experiences to try to survive. On such questions of providing dignified human settlement there should not be explanations but action.

The most common health problems associated with poor sanitation are: diarrhoea and dysentery, bilharzias, cholera, worms, eye infections and skin diseases. There is increased risk from bacteria, infections and disease for people with reduced immune systems due to HIV/Aids. The social and psychological problems associated with poor sanitation are well documented. Toilets placed at a distance from the home, inadequate communal facilities, inadequate disposal of waste and other poor sanitation practices result in loss of privacy and dignity, exposure and increased risks to personal safety. It is especially women and the elderly who are the most inconvenienced. And so an ideal family housed in a place where parents have their privacy, and children have their space to grow, is undermined completely by these circumstances.

Although the school attendance of girls in South Africa is high compared to other developing countries, it is internationally recognised that poor sanitation facilities at schools can be one of the main reasons for girls to drop out.

The issue of service delivery protests has recently been a subject of study by a research unit of the University of the Witwatersrand, where it was found that the protests are becoming rooted in the dissatisfaction of communities about the basics not being in place.

Given this grim state of affairs what should be our message to society about family and human settlements?

1. The issue of human settlements must be elevated as a priority for our government. It is true that there are competing interests, but there is a need to avoid the backlogs on sanitation, for example. This will mean that there is a need to radically change our approach to the integrated development plans of municipalities. Various pronouncements have been made by successive democratic governments over the last twenty years, but the reality is that we have communities that are still in the same situation they were under Apartheid, where sanitation is concerned. We must commend the government for elevating the issue of sanitation to ministerial level. The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating.

2. In order for this matter to receive attention civil society has to stand up a lot more to enforce what are basic human rights. The question remains – if a community has been without basic human rights related to sanitation and settlement, where are the faith communities that minister to them weekly? What action have they taken to ensure that this situation changes? We commend civil society initiatives like the one on Limpopo that has seen the birth of a coalition to focus on the issue of poor sanitation in schools. Such civil society pressure groups must be replicated across the country in order to hold government accountable.

3. The strike in Marikana, and the subsequent tragedy in that part of the country, has brought into focus the role of business in communities. Mining companies in particular make billions from the minerals below our land. The extent to which they plant back, both as a direct meeting of their obligations linked to their licence, and also simply as a moral duty to plant back, leaves much to be desired. It’s common knowledge that mining companies in particular are responsible for the collapse of the family unit. They are an example of what a migrant labour system can do to destabilise the family unit. Therefore a call for mining companies to invest in proper accommodation for families will go a long way in rebuilding the fabric of family in what is a huge constituency of mine workers. Secondly, and more importantly, the communities surrounding the mines must be attended to with huge investments that should eradicate things such as the bucket system, and therefore improve the health profile of these communities. Finally, business in general must identify communities where they derive their income, and partner with government to attend to the settlement challenges. Investment in sporting facilities or even mere fields can go a long way in ensuring that the settlement of communities is made even slightly bearable.

4. Community action. What has happened to local community action. In our culture letsema used to ensure that there is joint community action to clean up our places of abodes. These days we wait for government to do things for us. The President has called on all of us to clean up during Mandela day – this is a call that we endorse only as a reminder of what communities ought to be doing all around the year to live up to the adage, “cleanliness is next to Godliness”.

5. Once these things are done, we still have to attend to the spiritual challenge of refocusing the attention of society on the family. The scriptures give us hope that this battle can be won. The issue of fixing the family and the values that must underpin it, must start with each one of us.

We need to do introspection about what causes the family to disintegrate. There is a part of this story that has to do with the moral decline in our society. The fact that most crimes of murder are associated with people who know each other; the fact that we have so many reports of elderly women and toddlers being raped by family members, paints an ugly picture that must be corrected by each of us where we live.

Faith communities must launch a new initiative to encourage family ties. There are just too many families that are disintegrating under our watch as the church. What are we doing to support families that are going through difficulties? In this context there is a huge issue of child-headed households. These must be the responsibility of the churches. No household that is headed by children must be left to its own devices. If our ministry as the Church does not attend to this then it will become meaningless in our communities. There is no better action that will show our faith than taking care of children who are in these most vulnerable circumstances.

The teachings of the Church about family and love cannot be abandoned even in the face of the most difficult circumstances painted by these painful facts we shared today. We cannot abandon hope, no matter how dark the situation may seem.

At the end of the day, the issues of human settlements and family development are intricately linked. We must pursue them until there is stability in our society, and everyone can enjoy the liberation that was pronounced by the freedom charter, the liberation that is guaranteed by our wonderful constitution. Each of us must shine the light of hope wherever we are placed for the Ministry of the Lord.

May God bless you. Join me in declaring that me and my family shall serve the Lord.

Hope as an Anchor for the Soul

An address to "Anglicans Ablaze" on the conference theme, Hope is Rising, delivered on July 2, 2014:

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, I greet you all in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Thank you all for being at the second Anglicans Ablaze conference, and more particularly thank you, Bishop Martin and Revd Trevor and your teams, for organizing this conference so well again and for bringing to it people from both within and outside our Province. This second conference is all the more special because we are also joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs Welby and their team. We will welcome them officially tomorrow. But Lungi and I will send your greetings to them tonight and say that you are looking forward to welcome them with great excitement tomorrow.

Thank you for inviting me to speak once again, and this year I am joined not only by Lungi but by a number of bishops and their spouses, whom I wish to thank and acknowledge for attending. Many thanks too to my office staff and the Gauteng-based organising team who have prepared for the Archbishop's visitation. I am so proud of you all and want to thank God for your hard work and generosity in organising all the details of his time with us.

It really brings joy to me to deliver, not a speech but as the  program says, a Charge for you, on the theme, “Hope as an Anchor for  the Soul”. In 2012, you will recall, I spoke on “Anchored in the Love of Christ”, Anglicans Ablaze having adopted the ACSA vision, Anchored in the love of Christ, Committed to God’s Mission, and Transformed by the Holy Spirit.

In 2012, we established the obvious but the fundamental of our faith, that God loves us; that whatever we do, we do it because we are rooted and grounded in love; that we understand that God sent his Son into the world for the business of loving and judging but not condemning (John 3:17), and that we can be conduits of this love because God first loved us. “Whoever does not love, does not know God” (1 John 4:7-8). “We affirmed and committed that we will love not only in words or speech but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:16-17)

This year we are exploring, if you like, what commitment to God's mission looks like in our Province, or put differently, how can we as ACSA live out the Communion-wide five marks of mission? These are: 

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom,
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers,
  • To respond to human need by loving service,
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation, and
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

I feel like I have been given a “ blank cheque” on this theme, but looking at your overall program, I suspect , I am to  look at missional theology through “Hope as an Anchor for the Soul” within the bigger theme of “Hope is Rising”. The biblical verse from which we get this theme is Hebrews 11:1, where we read that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Let's read this against the background of another passage in Hebrews 6:19 wherein:

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
This is the task I have been given: to unpack this text wearing missional lenses. Let me attempt to paint the context of this passage and also to explain terms or words that will help us understand the theme better, and then to look at tangible things we can do as ACSA.

Hebrews is a faith statement or sermon to people who were suffering persecution (10:32) and needed to understand Christ's centrality in their lives and have their hope rekindled (6:19) lest they became hopeless and denounced the faith. Hebrews is then a letter of exhortation for them and for us (13:23) at times when we need an anchor.

What is the Christian hope? Chapter 6, v19 says we have in this hope a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. What is the anchor? What is the soul? Let me start with the word, “Hope” and hopefully all the other questions will fall into place. We pray at  confirmation, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth.”  In Romans 5:5, we read that “hope does not disappoint us”; in our Anglican Prayer Book, on page 443, we read that Christian hope is “to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God's purpose for the world.”

We recite this regularly in our Creed, that “for us and our salvation he came down”... that “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”... and that “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Our Prayer Book on page 444 then asks what then is our assurance as Christians? “Our assurance as Christians,” it says, “is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As in this passage and in Romans 5:5, to hope is to expect with confidence; hope for us as Christians is a faith statement. It is an unconditional belief – dare I be brave enough to say that it is God's recklessness which gives us the chance to participate in his mission in the world. Hope is the belief that we are so called or invited, and we are ready to  respond to the love of God declared in Jesus Christ.

The opposite of hope is despair and hopelessness.

Our Archbishop Emeritus defines hope as being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness; Madiba says that “Hope is a powerful weapon, and [one that] no one power on earth can deprive you of." Jurgen Moltman says that “to live without hope is to cease to live,” and Martin Luther King Junior says "If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all."

I asked Professor John Suggit to help me reflect more deeply and theologically on hope, and he explained to me that in English, and especially in Latin and Greek, the verb “hope” often means “trust”, “expect”, or even “think”. The Hebrew words associate it with the meaning of “confidence”, “trust”, “safety”, “rock”, and he cites examples from the Psalms and Job to illustrate the point: Ps 12.6: “I put my hope in you”;  Ps 70.5:  “The Lord is my hope from my youth”; Ps 90.9: ”You, Lord, are my hope (elpis); and Job 8.13: “The hope (elpis) of the godless man will perish”).

He says in some notes he prepared for me that the true meaning of “hope” is given poetically in Hebrew, Greek and English in Psalms 42.2 and 63.1, where the phrase “My soul thirsts for God” is a vivid expression of hope yearning to be realised.

In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, we read, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” Professor Suggit says that in the thought of Paul, these three "theological virtues" must be considered together. Because Paul was assured of the living presence of Christ, he was equally certain that as Christ had risen from the dead, so the future was filled with hope - a hope based on what God had done.

Professor Suggit also notes that of the three, hope has often, but wrongly, been called the Cinderella. He reflects that we are talking not simply about a personal hope, but also the hope that there is a purpose in the universe (Rom 8.21) which will be fully realised when “God shall be all in all” (1 Cor 15.28). He adds: "This is continually expressed throughout the New Testament, so that we have the paradoxical statement in Romans 8.24, "It was by hope that we were saved” (as the Good News Bible rightly renders it), where the following sentence makes it clear that though our being justified (being put right with God) was a past act (resulting from our response in faith to the grace of God), the hope which it engendered is so strong that it is seen as already realised while still in the future."

Let me turn to another of our theologians that I often converse with, Professor Ackermann, and drink from her well.

Denise Ackermann says that hope is a lived reality in the life of faith, here and now; that hope is never to surrender our power to imagine a better world when faced with the present unjust arrangement. Hope is not a  false sense of fulfillment that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. Hope is not magic; it confronts wrong and the abuse of power. She continues that hope is risky and requires patience and endurance. 

In sum, hope is the lifeblood of all there is, the air we breathe. It is the radical reorientation and conviction that ultimately a situation will change for the better. It's not escapism but a facing of reality, and as Christians we live in hope, knowing that victory has already been attained through the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

It seems clear enough that hope is a human instinct which people strive to keep alive often in apparently hopeless situations. This instinct is an essential part of our human nature. Hope is the recognition that even in impossible situations one must strive to do what befits human beings.

Aristotle started his Nicomachean Ethics with: “Every action and purpose aims at some good, so that 'the good' is rightly described as the  aim of everything”, and throughout the Ethics  those who aim in hope for “the good” are considered to have found happiness.

For Christians hope is the assurance (so far as hope can ever be sure) that there is always a future to be realised for those who recognise that they are “in Christ”, resulting in their understanding that in spite of all the signs to the contrary there is a meaning and purpose in their life. The final object of hope is usually described as “life eternal” where the order of words suggests that "life" is more important than "eternal".

As living members of the Body (person) of Christ each person finds hope only in unity with others, so that the Church as a whole is constantly called to express its hope in its liturgical worship.

When we celebrate the Eucharist we are not simply remembering a past occasion, but are rather re-entering the presence of the risen Lord “until he should come” (1 Cor 11.26).

As we re-present (make present) the death and resurrection of Christ, his anamn─ôsis, “the individual worshipper is caught up into the total reconciling activity of God and realizes sacramentally what he will one day realize fully in the eternal Kingdom of God”.2 In brief, we might say, every Eucharist is the occasion when past and future meet in the present, symbolized by the acclamation “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again”. 

Let me end this exploration of hope with a poem cited in Ackermann by  the American poet Emily Dickinson on “Living Hope":

Hope is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all

If we accept some these definitions of what hope is and what it is not, how are we who are anchored in His love to be? As I said previously when I explored at length our roots, our anchor is the love of Jesus. We need to keep asking ourselves as those baptised in his name: Who is God in Jesus Christ for us today? What does it mean to be the body of Christ in our time? What is his message of judgment and redemptive hope to us as we meet? What are we called to be in such a time as ours? Hebrews 6:19 locates Jesus as linked to the order of Melchizedek, king of Salem.  These roots remind us of our vocation as people of righteousness, for this is what Melchizedek means. That Melchizedek is king of Salem reminds us of vocation to be peacemakers, for Salem is shalom and and Melchidezek is the king of peace.

We know  of course that the vocation for righteousness and peace were at the heart of Jesus' life and ministry. We know, as Ackermann says in her book, “Surprised By The Man On The Borrowed Donkey,” that what occupied Jesus – or Jesus' mission, which should be our mission – were the following: the poor, the hungry, the children, the miserable, the oppressed and the marginal, lepers, cripples, the blind, the sick and those possessed, social outcasts, tax collectors, disreputable people.

What are the mission challenges for us? Let me locate examples within the marks of mission:

1. We must witness to Christ's saving, forgiving and reconciling love for all people. We cannot do this without being concerned at the yawning wealth gap in our society – one of the highest in the world – between rich and poor; between an increasingly non-racial – albeit white majority –  elite and the masses of black poor. This is what is behind the crisis exemplified by Marikana – a point I shall return to in a moment. Nor can we witness to Christ's love without being passionately concerned that people living in informal housing at Lwandle in the Western Cape can be callously thrown out of their homes during the cold and rain of a Cape winter – just as happened at the hands of the apartheid government at Crossroads in the 1970s.

2. We must build welcoming, transforming communities. In confirmation classes, in educating our people, we must – both clergy and lay people – nurture and prepare our parishioners to be witnesses who make a difference, who live out the radical values of peace and righteousness in more loving, outward-looking communities. At the World Council of Churches Assembly in Busan, South Korea last year, we were charged and challenged to utilise our God-given gifts in transforming actions that will bring healing and compassion to communities, planting seeds of justice so that God's peace grows and abounds  in creation.

3. We must stand in solidarity with the poor and needy. During a time in South Africa where some among our political leadership and civil service believe that it is acceptable to use your access to state resources and power to gather resources to yourself over and above your monthly salary – such as at Nkandla – we need to stand for a society in which the primary focus of those in public service is to meet everyone's basic needs. We also need ourselves to live lives of service to those in need – such as the ecumenical community did recently in response to the evictions at Lwandle.

4. We must challenge violence, injustice and oppression, deploying prayer, theological tools and action to engage, not with ulterior ideological motives but because we are sent. And we must do this ecumenically. I have in recent months been involved with other church leaders in intensive and continuing discussions with the CEOs of the platinum industry, with leaders of AMCU, with academics and labour mediation experts, and the message that comes through is stark: at the heart of the Marikana crisis is not just a wage dispute in one industry, and killings by forces of the State: No, Marikana is just one of many potential flashpoints in our society, where people live in appalling conditions – still largely unchanged at Marikana, nearly two years on – with a huge gap between the wages of workers and the salaries of bosses. In a notable comment in a recent paper on the lessons of the Venezuelan experience for South Africa, the Brenthurst Foundation in Johannesburg puts it this way: “As a nation we have to dedicate ourselves to the notion that inequality and grinding poverty for large segments of our society are not only a blight on our nation, they are unsustainable and unconscionable and have to be addressed as a matter of national priority.”

5. We must care for the planet, taking and supporting initiatives from parish to international level to protect our eco-systems. At parish level we can take action, from organising – again on an ecumenical basis – local clean-ups to lobbying local government. In what we are calling an “eco-bishops' conference,” I have invited 20 bishops from around the Communion to join a process of discussion and discernment of the Communion's witness and mission in the face of climate change and environmental degradation. And we need to support efforts to ensure that the next meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 2015, takes more effective steps than it has so far to protect what God has bequeathed us.

All of this must of course be rooted in prayer and worship. A worshipping community keeps up a daily rhythm of prayer, studying and wrestling with the Word, formal worship and pastoral care. The daily reading of the Bible and the Offices, the frequent celebration of the Mass and engaging the despairing and the dying are what nurture me; they help to create the space in which I can reflect on what hope might mean in the face of the abuse of power and the lack of accountability and transparency we experience in both church and society. And I find that I am always assured by the conviction that God is my hope and strength in everything, and want to take this assurance out and share it with others.

I have argued in a graduation address to the students at COTT, the College of the Transfiguration, and elsewhere that the theological education of all our parishioners is of key importance to our intervention in the challenges we face today. In the Brenthurst Foundation discussion paper I have referred to, the authors say the overriding lesson to be drawn from Venezuela for South Africa is the importance of education. They say that the impact of improved education in Latin America has, and I quote, "proved to be the single most powerful dynamic driving economic growth and the improvement of circumstances that cause inequality and poverty. It is the absolute priority ‘must do’ for South Africa." This brings into sharper focus for me as archbishop my call at COTT, which I want to repeat: It is my firm belief that theological education equips us to embody and proclaim the message of God's redemptive hope and healing for people and creation. Through being equipped and discipled this way, not only through academic theological formation, which of course I love, but through programmes in the parishes and through conferences such as these, we are also able to feed and empower God's people for faithful witness and service.

If we educate the nation, we give people the tools to hope realistically; the tools to enable them to unlock their God-given talents and skills, talents and skills that are too often going untapped. And by giving them this power, you are boosting their levels of trust in themselves. There is, as I said at the end of the Walk of Witness to Parliament in Cape Town, a withering, pervasive weight of distrust taking over in South Africa. In that instance, I was referring to the lack of transparency in Government – also a feature of the Nkandla scandal. Before asking a series of questions of President Zuma around that, I said that the cost of the lack of trust we are experiencing is incalculable.

When you disarm the people of our communities of their trust in our leaders,” I added, “you not only offend them, but more seriously, you show our communities that you distrust them.... You are afraid of their ability to make informed, values-based decisions, or you distrust our constitutional values. You are afraid of their opinion or do not trust them to exercise their choices responsibly.”

That was an appeal to Government, but we too as Church need to act to bring about what I have called a renaissance of trust and responsibility in South Africa. As faith and church communities, we are still rated as trusted institutions. But this trust cannot be taken for granted. It must be nurtured and we must be disciples, following Jesus in ways that show integrity, that we are acting out God's love and nothing else. We can be trustworthy communities only through mediating God's love for the world to the world. William of St Thierry writes that to experience God, we must become one with God and for that to happen we must learn to love. (Brian P. Gaybba, in “God is a Community”)  

The modalities of how we go about putting all this into practice will inevitably vary because of our differing contexts, but we should all be formed and sent to proclaim the love of God, feeding on God's love and sharing it with others. In our innermost being, each of us is longing in this pilgrimage to have a confirmation that what is hoped for us is true; with the Psalmist we cry, “why are you disquieted within me?” and our souls long for the love of Jesus in our lives, just “as a deer longs for flowing streams.” (Psalm 42)

As I end I want to reiterate that nothing is impossible with God. With just the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains, we hear in Matthew 17 (v. 20). We need each one of you to rekindle hope by testifying to what God is up to in each of your lives. To borrow a metaphor from Richard Stearns, in his book “The Hole in Our Gospel,” we each need to pick up our shovel and get to work, and together we can mobilise, as he puts it “the power of a mountain of mustard seeds” in working for a hope-filled world in which all flourish.

The world will ask: Where is this hope? Where is the evidence? Why is it held hostage by the powerful who pursue ideological ends, leaving the powerless to despair? My responding call is: Scatter seeds of hope without fear or favour in all the corners of the earth. God in Jesus Christ is the sure hope, and in the action you take in response to God's love will be found the evidence.

Hope as an anchor for the soul can't end with the big social ideas only. What it boils down to is actually very simple: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) Don't wait for the grand plan: Become the mustard seed in your parish and community, and combine with others to change your environment and the world.

May God set you ablaze to worship him, serve him and to be anchored in hope through faith in Jesus Christ, our living hope.