Monday, 27 May 2019

Ad Laos - to the People of God - June 2019

The text of Archbishop Thabo's June Ad Laos, also to be published in the Cape Town diocesan newsletter, Good Hope:


This month I have the bittersweet privilege of giving God our profound thanks for the ministry of Bishop Garth Counsell as Bishop of Table Bay, and also of saying farewell to him and Marion on his retirement from that position.

Bishop Garth's retirement leaves me bereft because in my heart and the hearts of many others he is irreplaceable. He has served our Diocese with distinction as bishop for 15 years, first as Bishop-Suffragan and regional bishop in the old Diocese of Cape Town. Then, after we “multiplied” into three dioceses, he became Bishop of Table Bay, and in time was granted “the powers, rights and authority” of a diocesan bishop. It was in that capacity that he was serving when I joined him upon being installed as Archbishop in 2008, and it is that capacity that he has done superbly well.

Of course I knew Bishop Garth before I came to Cape Town. Our spiritual bond was formed when, by God's grace, Archbishop (now Archbishop Emeritus) Njongo Ndungane asked me to preach at Bishop Garth's consecration when I was still in the Diocese of Grahamstown. A little while after that, we went for bishops' training in Johannesburg together, where we were prayer partners and did exercises together, strengthening the bond. Then we shared time at the twice-yearly meetings of the Synod of Bishops and the annual meetings of the Provincial Standing Committee, where I found his inputs to be engaging, profound and thoughtful. What also struck me was how supportive and loyal he was to Archbishop Njongo and how relaxed he was in the Archbishop's company.

He has a real gift of relating to others and forming and sustaining relationships, and I saw this again when we were among a group of African and American bishops who met in Spain ahead of the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Bishop Jo Seoka of Pretoria was also there and both his and my names had gone forward for the Elective Assembly to replace Archbishop Njongo. It could have been awkward but Bishop Garth related to us both in a beautiful way, open to the prospect of either of us being elected and making us feel comfortable with one another.

In Cape Town, our relationship strengthened as I came to terms with the complexity of serving both as Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Church throughout Southern Africa and as Bishop of Cape Town. Historically, the bishops-suffragan of the Diocese have been exactly that: they have helped the Bishop and Archbishop but not had the powers of a Diocesan. But as the regional and international commitments of an Archbishop grew over the years, that became unsustainable, hence the change to the Canons giving the Bishop of Table Bay more power.

That change gave Bishop Garth the unenviable task of pioneering a new arrangement: that the Bishop of Table Bay has the authority of a Diocesan but in relation to me he is a Bishop-Suffragan! As he said at his farewell service in St George's Cathedral, he found himself in a somewhat schizophrenic position. But thanks to his gift of relating to others, he had the skill and wisdom to navigate the relationship with aplomb, running Chapter meetings, making sure the necessary decisions were taken but regularly checking in and consulting with me. He and I have different temperaments but we found a middle road, learning how to run the Diocese in a way in which we complemented one another. It has taken enormous generosity for him to do the work without worrying about the title, and that has been a rare gift.

As Bishop Garth retires, I also want to pay tribute to Marion. There is a Sotho phrase which translated says “a mother of the child holds a knife on the sharp side” and just as Garth has supported me, so Marian has been a strong pillar, supporting him in turn when the emotional weight of office threatened to wear him down. Their children have also been a wonderful support.

My only glaring failure with Bishop Garth was my inability to make him excited about social media! But he really is a great son of our Church. I think our journey together was genuinely ordained by God, and I will miss him. As we go into an Elective Assembly later this year, I hope that God will again send to the Diocese someone who will be a trusted friend and a fellow spiritual pilgrim in the same way.

As we prepare to elect a new Bishop of Table Bay, please hold the Vicar-General, the Ven Keith de Vos, and Diocesan Chapter in your prayers, and use regularly the words in the Anglican Prayer Book which we use at this time in the life of a Diocese:

God our Father
the giver of every good gift
graciously regard the needs of your Church
and guide with your heavenly wisdom
the minds of those responsible for choosing
a bishop for this Diocese:
send us a faithful pastor to feed your flock
and to lead us in the way of holiness;
through Jesus Christ your only Son our Lord.

In my capacity as Metropolitan of the Province, I also want to urge all of you to keep in your prayers the Dioceses outside South Africa, in particular the Diocese of Namibia which is suffering a drought, the Dioceses of Lebombo and Niassa as they recover from Cyclone Idai, and more recently the Diocese of Nampula, which has been devastated by Cyclone Kenneth since I first issued an appeal to all of you for contributions to help Mozambique recover.

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