Friday 26 October 2018

Women destined for God’s purpose - Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

An address to the 2018 Provincial Conference of the Anglican Women’s Fellowship:

Theme: Women destined for God’s purpose

President of the AWF, Mrs Lucille Henniker, 
Members of your Provincial Executive Committee, 
Bishop Dan, your  Liaison Bishop, 
Your host bishop, Bishop Ebenezer, and
Delegates to this Provincial Conference, 

Thank you so much for inviting me to this conference today, and thank you also to the visitors and guests here present. Let me acknowledge past Presidents Overmeyer and Titus as well as clergy who are here as chaplains.

It is an honour and privilege to stand here today as the Patron of the Fellowship and to share some thoughts and reflections on the theme of this conference. The last time I addressed you was in 2010 in Lesotho as Bishop Nopece was retiring as Liaison Bishop and Ms Overmeyer was handing over to Pumla. Thank you to all Diocesan Presidents and your most informative reports. I have gone through your agenda book and there is a lot that Provincial meetings can learn from you. Your statistical form is a good tool that the Province can adopt to ensure proper records of our parishioners.

I am delighted that there is a wide representation of delegates and guests from the dioceses of our Province here. This is indeed a sign that you, the AWF, are able as one of our Province’s leading organisations to live out faithfully ACSA’s Vision statement, and are moving forward in your ministry and mission.

You may be aware that at the last meeting of the Provincial Standing Committee, we revised ACSA’s missional priorities, and that we now group them into three priorities, in line with the Province’s Vision statement.

You will recall that in our Vision statement, we say that Anglicans ACT, meaning that we are firstly:

-- Anchored in the love of Christ. 

Secondly we are:

-- Committed to God’s mission.

Thirdly, we are:

-- Transformed by the Holy Spirit.

We now express this by saying that we will demonstrate our rootedness in the love of Christ through liturgy, which we are renewing, and worship, which we are transforming.

Secondly we will express our commitment to God's mission by equipping disciples for leadership and ministry through theological education, formation and leadership development.

And thirdly we will demonstrate that we are transformed by the Spirit by exercising a prophetic ministry in the world, which will include advocacy in education, the nurture of the young, a focus on women and gender, and on the environment and health.

Let me start my talk by reflecting on one of the lections for the Eucharist this morning: Ephesians 4:1-6. In this passage, Paul encourages Christians to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which they have been called. This does not mean that our aim should be to win a place that is deserving of God’s favour, but rather that the place we occupy is already a favour from God, and that we should, in thanksgiving to God, recognise that this requires a great deal from us. So the focus is not on our own worth but on the worth of our calling.

This, I believe, is what ‘women destined for God’s purpose’ should be striving for. So if we are destined to fulfil God’s purpose, then what does it mean to live a life worthy of that calling from God?

Paul emphasises that the way to lead a life worthy of our calling is to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’. Maintaining spiritual unity involves a soul-searching in pursuit of humility, meekness,  patience and forbearing in love.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in essence addresses unity. He lays down a micro-platform that concerns two main sources of discord amongst those who profess to follow Christ. The first one has to do with temperament and the other with teaching. Recognising these sources of division and acting upon that recognition could go a long way towards healing divisions.

Friends, our Christian faith is our avenue to God in the here and now. It is therefore crucial, in pursuit of Christian unity, that we appreciate the importance of the belief system that we have embraced. For us, it is not just ‘a’ religion – it is ‘the’ religion of divine sanction.  In view of this foundational truth, we as  Christians must walk worthily of the vocation to which we are called and pursue unity and peace.

As members of AWF, God calls us to respond to what we have become in Christ. Every Christian is called to be a disciple of Jesus and to serve as part of the wider body of Christ. Our call to unity is our calling to ministry and Christ has given us gifts of grace for ministry which come together in one common goal of maturity in Christ.

What does it mean to be the body of Christ in such times as these? To what discipleship are we called? And what does the cost of our discipleship entail? These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves if we are to be women destined for God. Put differently, Jesus says to the young rich lawyer, the one thing that you lack is.... What is the one thing that you lack to be His disciple ?

Over the 10 years I have served as your Archbishop, I have come increasingly to realise the centrality of the doctrine of the Incarnation for us as Anglicans. As a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, once said, “Modern Anglican theology owes many of its  characteristics to the central place held within it by the Incarnation.” Speaking for myself, I have returned to it again and again as a lens through which to explore both theology and its implications for our place in the world.

For me, Incarnation is God taking a human form and in so doing becoming part of the contemporary world. Through incarnation, God invites us to discern how best to realise our true humanity and to be directed how best we work with one another in service to God and in respect for God’s creation. The Incarnation, as I have said elsewhere, “communicates to us that God is... on our side. In Christ Jesus, God demonstrates God’s solidarity with the human condition. He is with us, alongside us, and, more than that, one of us – to a degree we probably will never adequately understand this side of heaven.”

Also during my time as Archbishop, I have devoted attention to the need for us as Christians and Anglicans to seek the common good. What is the common good? Simply put, it is based on the recognition that what is good and beneficial for the other who is my neighbour is what is good and beneficial for me. Too often, many of our us and our leaders seem to have forgotten what is it to seek the common good.

This past Sunday at the centenary celebrations of Ma Sisulu in Johannesburg, I said that Jesus is the embodiment of his ethic, he preaches what he says. Women destined for God’s purpose follow the example of Jesus at responding constructively to a challenge.

As women destined for God, how do we become part of the contemporary world, seeking the common good for our neighbour? In the latest World Economic Forum rankings, South Africa is ranked 17 out of 136 countries in gender equality. Does that mean our women are free from all types of violence? The answer, of course, is no! We may be doing better than some other countries, but there is still no  gender equality in South Africa. In a report that was released by the Commission for Gender Equality, it was revealed that women still bear the brunt of gender-based violence and other related atrocities. Women are unable to walk freely in our streets, in our towns and cities and in some rural areas, for fear of all sorts of harassment and abuse. Statistics from the SAPS reflect that violence against women is still alarmingly high.

Not only that: women are still exposed to sexual harassment both at home and in the workplace (GCE, 2018). And they are inflicted by harmful traditional practices such as under-age forced marriages, genital mutilation and virginity testing. The legislation needed to combat these pratices may exist, but at times the laws are either ignored or not applied effectively. If we look at the situation in South Africa, there need to be reviews of the implementation of the Children’s Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Domestic Violence Act and other related statutes to ensure that the purposes for which they were adopted are being fulfilled.

Of course it is not only on issues relating specifically to women that you as our sisters in the AWF have a role to play, in both our church and in society. While you have particular strengths through your unique experiences as women, you are of course citizens who are as entitled and needed just as much as men to speak and to act on any and all issues facing our societies in this Province.

Looking at those societies more broadly, in all the countries of our Province there is a desperate need to fight to eliminate the inequality of opportunity which condemns millions of people to inter-generational poverty. We cannot deny that those born to educated, privileged families have better chances in life than those born to poor families without access to networks which secure them jobs and good incomes. Inequality of opportunity undermines people’s capacity to use their God-given gifts to improve their lives, and our passion should be to work for better opportunities and to create an environment which benefits all, and to work against the continued exclusion of the marginalised in our society.

In South Africa, at an ecumenical level, a meeting of the National Church Leaders’ Consultation this week reflected on the difficult times the country has been going through recently, and concluded that people of faith we need to bring a message of hope at this time. I quote from our statement:

Mindful of our own failures, disunity, struggles and brokenness we are yet awakened to the fact that we are called to be agents of hope, healing, peace, unity and reconciliation. Refusing to be captured by State propositions, ideologies and party-political interests, we seek to reclaim the message and role of the Church as we exemplify the life and teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ, live the Gospel imperatives, proclaim good news to all and advance the ideals of the Kingdom of God. 

In the church, as we prepare for our Provincial Synod next year, I also invite you to play your full role in addressing the important decisions our Church faces on how we order our collective life: on how we transform our liturgies so that we worship God in ways best suited to the times in which we live; on how we respond to the need for sensitive and effective ministry to those in same-sex unions; and on how we ensure that our congregations are safe spaces for all our people, especially vulnerable children.

Last month's meetings of PSC and the Synod of Bishops have already taken action on making the church a safe space, without waiting for Provincial Synod. In future anyone wanting to be ordained to serve as a clergyperson will have to provide a police clearance certificate. From next year, this will apply to lay ministers too, especially those involved in youth ministry and Sunday School teaching.

In other steps:

    • We have set up an email address to make it easier to report allegations of abuse;
    • We will set up a central register of complaints, including details of what action has been taken; and
    • The Bishops have emphasised that it is urgent and important for every Diocese to set up a team to deal effectively with allegations of abuse in the church. These teams will receive training, and the bishops will receive training at the next meeting of their Synod in February.

In South Africa, both church and society are being  challenged to work out how best we can manage and develop our land – both urban and rural land – to ensure that all our people flourish in an economy that provides work and dignity for all. In the Church, the Provincial Standing Committee resolved last month that we should carry out an audit of church land and make recommendations for the use of vacant land. We have also commissioned theological reflection on the issue of land expropriation without compensation. In society as a whole of course, the question of land is the burning issue of the day, one which will require enormous dedication and patience, but also a willingness to take quick and decisive action to bring about sensible reforms which both fulfil the demands of justice and the practical need for economic growth and jobs.

But the problem is not insoluble. Twenty-five years ago, we didn't know quite how we were going to get of apartheid, but we worked together and we succeeded. Just a year ago, we didn't know how we were going to restore good governance in a country which was heading for economic destruction. But now, although we are not out of the woods yet, we are on the way to doing that too.

So I encourage all of you as members of this organization to continue striving for what is ethically good in our communities. Let us discern and fulfill our vocations to the best of our ability – by so doing we shall have responded positively to Paul's exhortation to the Ephesians.

And before I end, one more thank you, and a final appeal: thank you for the role that you play in encouraging women to come forward in your dioceses to be considered for ordination. Please continue to nurture and promote young women of potential in your dioceses and parishes. Thank you especially for supporting women in full-time training for ministry at the College of the Transfiguration, and I appeal to you – no, I challenge you: please ensure in your diocese that you are always supporting at least two women training at Cott. In that way you will secure the future of our church and ordained ministry within it.

Finally, let me thank the President together with her executive for the sterling work they have done during their term of office, and in the same breath congratulate the incoming President and wish her and her executive all the best as you reach out and live  lives worthy of your calling.

May God bless you all.

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