Friday 20 February 2015

To the Laos – To the People of God, Lent 2015

Dear People of God

Your bishops started 2015 with a busy meeting, just before Lent, of the Synod of Bishops, the highlights of which you can read about in the statement we issued afterwards. One agenda item of particular note was the workshop we had on the comprehensive revision of the Anglican Prayer Book, the working title of which excited us: Under Southern Skies: In an African Voice. Bishops Mark van Koevering and Carlos Matsinhe gave us moving accounts of the floods in Mozambique, where many have been displaced, and we are appealing to you all for help for them. We wrote to King Letsie III of Lesotho, expressing our concern at tensions in the country and the hope that the elections at the end of the month will be peaceful, free and fair. We also said farewell to the Bishop of Namibia, who is retiring, and confirmed elective assemblies to choose new bishops for the dioceses of the Highveld, Namibia, Natal and Pretoria.

From Durban, I travelled to Sweden, where I took part in the Uppsala Festival of Theology. The main reason I was there was to join an international interfaith panel to discuss “Human Dignity In Relation To Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity”. On the panel, Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars and practitioners shared rich insights on a deeply challenging issue facing people of faith. The debate resonated with me especially because the Synod of Bishops had just agreed to ask all Dioceses to consider in the months ahead a set of draft pastoral guidelines regarding Civil Unions in our Province. Both in our own church, and again in Uppsala, I have said that this is a sensitive issue which calls for patience and tolerance as we seek to discern together God’s will for the way ahead. Our Province has shown the Anglican Communion in the past that we can hold together as we work through potentially divisive issues, and I pray that we can set an example to the world again on this matter.

Also in Uppsala, I held a bilateral meeting with Archbishop Antje Jackelén, elected in 2013 as Sweden’s first female archbishop, and her team on the issue for which she is best known: climate justice. This too resonated, since in the coming days a number of Anglican bishops from dioceses impacted by climate change will meet in Cape Town. These “eco-bishops” from around the Communion face challenges ranging from the rise in sea levels on Fiji in the Pacific to deforestation in Argentina, droughts in Namibia, tsunamis in the Philippines and storms in New York.

After concluding the Uppsala festival by taking part in a transformative Mass, I returned to OR Tambo and dived straight into the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Diocese of Christ the King. This kicked off with visits to St Martin’s School and to Orange Farm — where we saw an Early Childhood Development Forum, Lesedi la Kreste School and Masibambane College. The state of Orange Farm says that much has been done in South Africa to bridge inequalities, but much more still has to be done. However, I was very proud of the growth in the Diocese and of its work in education and development, and was particularly touched by a diocesan worker who is looking after immuno-compromised children. We also celebrated a combined Eucharist in the Parish of Evaton on the Sunday, and – in the liturgical highlight of the opening of a year of celebration – a glorious Anniversary Eucharist at the Church of the Transfiguration in Eldorado Park. Congratulations to Bishop Peter Lee and the whole Diocese!

I have recently been re-reading a book which helped shape my spiritual journey as an ordinand: Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. In the book, the protagonist, Christian, hears a conversation between two fellow pilgrims, named Faithfulness and Talkative. Afterwards, Christian remonstrates with Faithfulness about Talkative’s views, impatient of those who talk eloquently about Christian ideals and virtues but do not practise them. Christian reminds Faithfulness that the heart of true religion is living it out in practice, and cites James 1: 22-27 in support:

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

I found the insights provided by Bunyan profound when applied to our situation in South Africa today, faced as we are by corruption, the undermining of good governance, and political and racial controversies and divisions. I have been writing and reflecting recently in the public media on the values of God’s Kingdom, and the need for incorruptible leaders who assume their moral duty to fight to overcome inequality to help bring about social cohesion.

The picture is not totally bleak. Not all our leaders are corrupt; many of them, and most of our people, are doing their best in difficult circumstances. But we need to be courageous and, as Christian urges, ensure that we are faithful in acts more than in words. So as we begin the year and go into Lent, I urge all to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers...” Let us re-commit ourselves to pleading, to marching in the streets if necessary, for the cause of justice, to demanding that all are treated equally, regardless of race, gender or class. This is what I have called “the new struggle” – to rekindle the message that we are called not to live in fear but, as those who share in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, to breathe this hope and belief into every aspect of our lives.

Finally, as we go into Lent, we are taking the next step in the fledgling audio ministry we have started at Bishopscourt. Beginning this weekend, four articulate interpreters of our faith will join me in giving a series of short reflections – between four and six minutes – for each Sunday in Lent. I will begin on the first Sunday, and on the other Sundays we will hear from Dr Vicentia Kgabe of the College of the Transfiguration, Bishop Raphael Hess of the Diocese of Saldanha Bay, Bishop Rubin Phillip, Dean of the Province, and Canon Janet Trisk of the Diocese of Natal. So come either to our SoundCloud channel or to my blog to listen online, or download each reflection for listening to later.

May your Lenten observances be blessed!

God bless you,
+Thabo Cape Town

Photo: The Archbishop reading the Gospel in Uppsala

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