Thursday 24 November 2016

To the Laos - To the People of God – Advent 2016

Dear People of God

As I was completing this letter, news came in from Bishop Manuel Ernesto of the Diocese of Niassa that 60 people were reported killed, more than 100 injured and many are still missing after a fuel tanker travelling from Beira to southern Malawi exploded while on a road in the community of Cafrisange in the central province of Tete. Bishop Manuel asks us all to pray for Archdeacon Martins Nselela and his team in Tete as they minister to the families affected.

In recent weeks, I have preached at a number of celebrations in the Province, going on consecutive Sundays to Bloemfontein for the 150th anniversary of the Cathedral of St Andrew and St Michael, to All Saints, Durbanville in the Diocese of Saldanha Bay for their 160th anniversary and, close to home, to confirmations in the Parish of Wynberg in the Diocese of Cape Town. Looking at both the long history of the Church in Southern Africa—including the joys and the crises we have seen over the past century and a half—and the vibrant life I see not only in these parishes but in other visits across the Province, I am filled with a renewed appreciation of the power of grace and the resurrection life in the Church.

    In the Diocese of the Free State, I called for Anglicans and others across South Africa to soak the country in vigils of silent prayer to lament the state of our nation in these times. I did so using the concept of lament as expressed by Denise Ackermann, who has written that lamenting “ a refusal to settle for the way things are. It is reminding God that the human situation is not as it should be and that God as the partner in the covenant must act.” My call was that we draw on God's power to help us strive so that in all our different contexts, and in all our dealings with others, human dignity should be upheld, justice ensured, equality advanced and moral courage promoted. My appeal was for us to rekindle the vision of a free, fair, just South Africa which inspired the peaceful transition to democracy and to work and pray to bring that about.

    In Cape Town, a large group of us held the vigil publicly on the steps of St George's Cathedral, where I was struck by questions around the goal and meaning of life in the broader sense, particularly for those of us who are baptised in the name of Christ. Again and again, the need to address these issues with “faith and courage” seem to undergird this wrestling with and finding answers to the deeper questions of our lives. (You can find the prayer which I used on the Cathedral steps at the end of this letter. Please feel free to use and adapt it to your own needs.)

    Our world has experienced great challenges in the past year. Our brothers and sisters in South Sudan, northern Nigeria, Burundi, the DR Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia have gone through times of desolation, suffering from political conflict, war, the threat of war, human rights violations and drought. Withdrawals from the International Criminal Court by South Africa, Burundi and Gambia give power to dictators and threaten to rob millions of ordinary Africans of any recourse to justice. The results of the American election have shocked many and it is deeply disturbing to see the emergence of acts of hate in its aftermath, including the daubing of racist, anti-immigrant slogans on our sister churches there.

    In South Africa, the tensions and conflict on our campuses continue. At the meeting of the Synod of Bishops in September, we heard input from a number of university vice-chancellors on the  #FeesMustFall crisis. As bishops we decided that we needed to move “from the monastery to the marketplace” in caring for the students, parents, academic staff, university administrations and law enforcement services affected by the serious breakdown of academic activity in the universities. Recognising that the crisis has its origin in the inequalities of the past, we called for urgent action to be taken to address it and offered the ministry of the church to those who are seeking a solution.

    The Anglican Board of Education is recommending that Education Sunday 2017, the first Sunday in February (February 5), should be dedicated to speaking to the crisis and to prayer for students, teachers and parents at our tertiary institutions. Students are looking to the Church and to their parents for our presence, our prayers and our support. For the sake of our futures we dare not fail them. Let us call to mind John 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

    I was reminded of this biblical passage by Mayor Patricia de Lille of Cape Town recently, when she conferred on Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane the Freedom of the City of Cape Town. Honouring him, she described him as a source of light for us all. Our heartiest congratulations to Archbishop Njongo on this signal honour.

    I have asked a few retired bishops of our Province to draft Bible studies for Lent 2017 around the theme of the biblical basis of Anglican social teaching. I recommend these as a resource enabling us to study, pray and act together. Provincial Synod has declared this a season of the Decade of Evangelisation and the youth have asked that we declare 2017 the “Year of the Young”. On behalf of Provincial Synod, I declare it as such, and Anglican Youth and the Anglican Students' Federation will provide us with material after Easter next year for us to study and pray over as we focus on the young.

    If you have not yet prepared a Bible study programme for Advent, I urge you to consider adopting a useful study on the story of Boaz in the light of the growing phenomenon of “blessers”, who are—simply put—wealthy elderly men who lure young township girls in need into abusive relationships. It has been prepared by Gerald West and Bev Haddad of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Otherwise, do create an opportunity to use the study next year.

    The Advent I will again be sharing a series of weekly homilies, which I will record on audion and distribute through our SoundCloud channel for people to listen to on the internet and download on their mobile phones. The Advent period never fails to create the spiritual as well as the biblical framework for me to ask these deeper questions, to lament and finally to get to appreciate deeply and to value more dearly the hope of Christmas, not as another story but as a very personal and specific life-giving experience.

    I want to say that whatever the challenges or sense of darkness you may have felt or be feeling this year, know that Christ the hope and light of the world has been there illuming your path. As you work through Advent to the celebration of Christmas, may you, to borrow a phrase from Advent's sister season, Lent, “bury the past in ashes.” Remember that we are people of the Resurrection and are called to spread Christ, the hope of the world, this Christmas, Epiphany and beyond.

    Thank you all for your prayers, your messages, your tweets, your Facebook posts, your letters, your jokes and your confrontations over the past year. I feel surrounded and enveloped in these, and especially by your prayers in whatever I do. I pray that you too will continue to feel my humble prayers for each one of you. To all the Bishops of the Province, to their clergy and staff and to all who help and advise us, a big thank you.

May you all enjoy a blessed and happy Christmas.

God bless you

†Thabo Cape Town

A lament for our beloved country

Lord, where are you in these trying and challenging times and amidst these great developments in our country?

Shakespeare said: “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

Lord, we are living through a time of acute misery, amidst an unprecedented political crisis.
Lord, we know though that South Africa is not broken;

Because notwithstanding this orchestrated attack on the foundations of our country, we remain a constitutional democracy;

Our judicial system remains intact and plays a critical role in protecting these foundations.
We are thankful for this, Lord, and we are determined to work to maintain this.

Today, we gathered in silence at the footsteps of your Cathedral, asking you Lord to speak to us and help us discern your will for us.

While we cannot change the past, we must change the future. As South Africans we must hold ourselves up to a higher standard.

We are your children and the children of giants such as Nelson Mandela.

We long for a just, equal, fair and a moral and values-based state, which we know is possible to achieve in Africa.

Lord, we cannot afford the luxury of corruption, quarrelling and never-ending internal strife. We know there is too much at stake for us to allow that to happen!

We know Lord your that you have destined us to be a great society, an infinitely capable society, a hard-working society, a society which has the right to expect something from life.

We refuse to be a society in which, no matter how hard we work, the fruits of our labour are often corruptly stolen from us.

On this All Souls Day, what we see, what we feel, what we know, is that there is a New Struggle that every group in South Africa is beginning to embrace, a New Struggle to end inequality, a New Struggle to end the inequality of opportunity.

So above all, we express our renewed faith in you, God, in our society and in the outstanding, industrious, hard-working and decent people who call themselves South Africans.

We express our faith that this society will have a bright future, because it is we who will ensure that future, and we commit ourselves to pray and to work for such a future.

Our destiny is not a matter of chance, God, it is a matter of choice, your choice, our choice.

God bless you and God bless South Africa. Amen

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