Tuesday 7 October 2014

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

Dear People of God

I have just come out of my writing sabbatical, which I greatly valued, and hope to share its fruits with you all through a publication in the coming months. I returned from sabbatical into Synod of Bishops – which issued a statement on its concerns – and the annual meeting of Provincial  Standing  Committee (PSC), in which we discussed and passed a number of useful resolutions. Among the presentations and group discussion was the issue of the biblical and theological underpinnings of sustainability, and we also set up a small committee to explore the feasibility of buying land and building our own ACSA conference centre.

PSC affirmed the principles for establishing a new award in the Province, the Archbishop's Award to recognize all who serve humanity and creation along the Mican principles of peace with justice, and who seek reconciliation. There were also reports and resolutions on such matters as the environment, with a report on “eco-parishes”, the phenomenon of young people leaving our church, and the problems we are having with South Africa's Home Affairs department. You can find reports on these on the Provincial website. Next year, our church will host a meeting of the Communion's "Eco-Bishops' Initiative", which will gather bishops from around the world to discuss the environment.

This was a robust and less rushed meeting of PSC, which is the highest deliberative body of our Province between Provincial Synods, and the quality of our discussion and debate was outstanding. I hope the church will be enriched by its outcomes and that our canons will also be revised appropriately to express the growth and development shown at Synod.

We bade farewell to Bishop David Bannerman of the Highveld, who retires at the end of this year, to Bishop Nathaniel Nakwatumbah of Namibia, who is retiring next year, and to Prof Barney Pityana, who will retire from the College of the Transfiguration before the next meeting of PSC. We also welcomed warmly Dr Vicentia Kgabe as Prof Pityana's successor.

Two outside speakers, South Africa's Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba, and scenario planner Clem Sunter addressed PSC. They both called on the church to learn to “do church” in a democracy and to learn to identify the “flags” signalling issues which may be challenging the us and calling for action at this time.

After PSC, a group of bishops travelled to Maputo for the consecration of Bishop Carlos Matsinhe of Lebombo. It was a great day of celebration and worship – the first consecration in the diocese in almost 34 years. The service, in a packed basketball stadium, took about five hours and was lively and enjoyable. President Armando Guebuza addressed the congregation, as did Bishop Dinis Sengulane.

At the Synod of Bishops, we had agreed that about eight of us should join Bishop Adam Taaso of Lesotho for an ecumenical service for lawyers committed to peace, organised in response to the recent alleged coup attempt and political conflict in that country. So after Maputo I spent an evening in Johannesburg, then proceeded to Maseru. I paid a courtesy call on King Letsie III and met with Bishop Taaso and a few other people to gain a clearer perspective on the issues. At the service the next day, the Cathedral was packed with people, including His Majesty the King, Queen 'Masenate Mohato Seeiso, members of the Senate and various political leaders.

I preached on the topic of peace with justice, and argued that truth, respect, reconciliation and forgiveness are non-negotiable elements for peace. I urged all to play their part in ensuring peace with justice and pursuing all that makes for lasting peace. I prayed and spoke of the need to engage in dialogue and to learn from the example of Moshoeshoe I, who built the Basotho nation. I also affirmed the role of South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) team appointed to facilitate a settlement, and prayed that their efforts would yield what the Basotho longed for. However, I said it was up to each and every Mosotho to work for what makes for peace. The King also addressed the nation, urging peace, and we all lit peace candles and prayed for peace, rain and the flourishing of all.

Thanks be to God that the next day, the SADC team seemed to have made headway and it was announced that there was an agreement to reopen Parliament – which has been suspended since June – and to hold early elections next year. We need to give thanks for an early resolution to the crisis, but we must now pray for peaceful and credible elections.

In South Africa, we deeply regret the government's refusal to allow the Dalai Lama into the country to join the Nobel Laureates' conference, forcing the organisers to cancel the conference and causing embarrassment to our country.

Further afield, we urge politicians to resolve the diplomatic tensions over the collapse in Lagos of the Synagogue Church of All Nations guesthouse to carry out to conclusion the identification of the possibly decomposing bodies of those who died. We continue to pray for their families even as we urge the closure of this horrible and sad chapter. On the world stage, even where there is peace it seems to be fragile, and we need to intensify our efforts to ensure peace with justice.

By the time you read this, I will have visited the Parish of St Francis in Simonstown, in the Diocese of False Bay, which this year celebrates 200 years of Anglican ministry in the town. We congratulate the parish on two centuries of faithful worship and service. May it grow in strength as it continues to witness to Christ in our time.

Please pray for the wider Church, especially where it is already divided or is in the process of being divided. Pray for sanity and God's intervention, especially in the situation where a former priest of this Province in False Bay wants to form his own denomination and thus lacerate and confuse the body of Christ.

May the church heal its divisions and live out the vision of Christ, that we be one as he and the Father are one. As Psalm 133 says:

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!"

God bless you

+Thabo Cape Town