Monday 15 June 2020

Transforming Anglican schools - Statement by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) acknowledges the anger of some in our schools who have once again challenged the church to face the pain of experiences of racism and of feeling that they do not belong.

They urge that we address with new urgency the processes of recognition and reconciliation which have occupied our church and its schools over many years in our journey towards  integrity in our Christian identity, ethos and witness.

We affirm those school leadership teams which have been addressing these painful issues over time. We regret the inequities and consequent pain which continue. We recognise that the pace of both recognition and change needs to be accelerated in many contexts.

We urge schools and dioceses to ensure that policy and practice designed to foster institutional cultures of healing, inclusion and justice are set forward in any place that bears our name.

We ask the Anglican Board of Education to help strengthen oversight and support for journeys of recognition and reconciliation embarked upon by our schools towards transformation and integrity in our identity and witness.

Saturday 13 June 2020

Sermon on the Feast of Corpus Christi in a time of coronavirus

A Virtual Service for Corpus Christi in the Diocese of Cape Town, June 11, 2020

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

1 Corinthians 10: 16-17; Psalm 146

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to these midday prayers on this wonderful Feast of Corpus Christi. Thank you to the Vicar-General, Father Keith, for convening us, and to the Liturgy Team for developing the form of service for us. Thank you, Archdeacon Mark, and all the readers.

Today we gather online to give thanks for the institution of the Eucharist, the Sacrament in which Christ is made real among us, in which we identify ourselves with Christ's obedience to God and in which we find fellowship with another and are then sent out into the world to be God's instruments of love.

It goes without saying that it is a strange time in which to be commemorating the institution of the Lord's Supper, a time – unprecedented in the last 100 years – when we can't gather together physically to do so because of a pandemic. For Anglicans, it is especially disconcerting, since for us, as Archbishop Rowan Williams has said, ”the Church is most truly itself when it is engaged in sacramental worship; that when above all it meets for the Eucharist, it… expresses its deepest identity.”

Monday 8 June 2020

Religious leaders hold 'Black LIves Matter' prayer vigils

At St George's Cathedral, Cape Town (Photo: Craig Stewart)
Religious leaders in Cape Town and Pretoria held prayer vigils on Trinity Sunday in solidarity with people who have died at the hands of law enforcement officers during lockdown in South Africa and abroad.

The vigils took place outside St George's and St Alban's cathedrals. The full text of a message Archbishop Thabo Makgoba delivered at the end of the Cape Town vigil can be found beneath this SABC news report.

Message by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Black Lives Matter Silent Vigil, June 7, 2020

We are gathered here because Black Lives Matter, whether in South Africa, the United States, France, Australia or elsewhere.

Our prayers here today have been for Collins Khoza and all those he represents in South Africa who have been killed by forces deployed by the State to enforce lockdown regulations. They have been for George Floyd and all those he represents in the United States, for Adama Traore and all those he represents in France, and for David Dungay, an indigenous Australian who died saying “I can't breathe”, and all those he represented.

We are here because we are tired..... sick to death..... exhausted.... at the seemingly never-ending struggle that people of colour still face, well into the 21st century, 50 years after the American civil rights struggle, 25 years after the end of political apartheid, to be treated equally by arms of the State. We are here because we protest against the wanton, unnecessary use of violence by police and soldiers who break the laws they are entrusted to uphold and assault protestors of whatever race who declare that Black Lives Matter.

We are shocked at the way in which the SA National Defence Force, with the most rudimentary, inadequate reasoning imaginable, has exonerated its soldiers of any culpability in Mr Khosa's death, and at the repudiation of their minister's statement that the matter has not been finalised.

We are shocked at the blatant disrespect for law and order shown by members of the Buffalo, New York police squad, 57 of whom resigned from their unit not because two of their number were implicating in assaulting a 75-year-old man, inflicting head injuries, but because the two were suspended.

In South Africa, when President Ramaphosa announced that he would send law enforcement forces to our communities, he made a clear plea to both the police and the military that this should not be a time for “skiet en donder”. His words have fallen on deaf ears.

In our own backyards, at least 12 people are reported to have died at the hands of the police and army troops. We recognise that investigations are still ongoing, but we are deeply concerned that the plight of our sisters and brothers is going unnoticed and forgotten.

So we pray for and stand in solidarity with the families of the following people: [moment of silence after each name?]

    • Collins Khosa, 40, who died in Alexandra, Johannesburg on Good Friday

    • Petrus Miggels, 55, who died in Ravensmead, Cape Town on 27 March 2020

    • Sibusiso Amos, 40, who died in Vosloorus, Ekhurhuleni on 29 March 2020

    • Adane Emmanuel, who died in Isipingo, Durban on 2 April 2020

    • Robyn Montsumi, 39, who died in Mowbray police station, 12 April 2020
    • And for all others who have been brutalised during the lockdown.

We pray too for the families of the following Americans:

    • George Floyd, 46, killed on 25 May 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

    • Ahmaud Arbery, 25, killed on 23 February 2020 in Glynn County, Georgia

    • Breonna Taylor, 26, killed on 13 March 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky

    • Atatiana Jefferson, 26, killed on 12 October 2019 in Fort Worth, Texas

    • And for all those who have been brutalised in the protests of recent days.

God bless South Africa. God bless Africa and God bless the world.

Thursday 4 June 2020

A Letter for Pentecost - Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

A Letter for Pentecost

.... that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” – 1 Cor 1:10

That SACC-affiliated churches be granted the opportunity to self-regulate for COVID-19 compliance... This we would ask for any other formation of religious communities (of any faith tradition) that can satisfy appropriate COVID self-regulation measures...” – From the representations by church leaders to President Cyril Ramaphosa

It’s an important shift, from control to collaboration.” – Comment on South Africa’s Level 3 lockdown regulations by Marianne Merten, Daily Maverick.

Dear Parishioners, Clergy and Bishops

I love the words of the 2nd century bishop, Iranaeus, when he said: “In every language they sing a hymn to God in unison, for the Spirit brought the scattered people together in unity and offered to God the first fruits of the nations.” It has always struck me that it is only when the hard work of unity, of solidarity, is accomplished that we can truly offer a hymn to God, and there is no greater need for building unity and solidarity than at this uncertain, confusing and contested time in which the world struggles to comprehend the challenges of the coronavirus.

Since before South Africa's first lockdown came into effect, leaders of member churches of the SA Council of Churches have met regularly to discuss our role in the pandemic. As we worked through the issues and listened to the medical scientists, we heard that we will have to live with this virus for months, even years, and that it might return again and again to disrupt our lives. Moreover, it became clear that the question we faced was not whether worship would be resumed – we will not be closed in perpetuity, the question is rather when and how we will re-open. It also became clear that we cannot expect the Government to legislate in all the detail needed as to how to re-open, neither is it desirable to allow them to do so.

As a result, a sub-committee of church leaders that I led compiled detailed representations, based on the principle that we should regulate the re-opening of worship and other activities ourselves. (An excerpt from the representations which outlines steps to be taken before worship can resume can be found here. Later, the SACC released a comprehensive report, including some amendments, which can be found here. See pages 3-8.)

We held a number of discussions with Government, at the end of which President Ramaphosa announced publicly that they had accepted our representations. It has to be said that he acted unexpectedly quickly, and it is a pity that we were unable to co-ordinate our communications because his announcement led to unnecessary panic. But we welcomed the trust which the Government had placed in us, albeit in trepidation at the enormous responsibility placed on our shoulders.

Now we need to decide the when and the how. But we must be cautious and act prudently. The Spirit of Pentecost is also one of wisdom. Paul, who rejoiced always in the Spirit alive in him after years of ministering and exercising oversight of the churches, had to remind the Galatians that a fruit of the Spirit was also self-control.

As I said in my first response to President Ramaphosa's annnouncement, the conditions we have proposed for resuming worship are comprehensive and detailed. The detail, laid out in the documents I referred to above, needs to be studied carefully, but they require, for example, a limit of 50 people in services, disinfecting surfaces between services, physical distancing in churches, the avoidance of shared hymnals and prayer books, the wearing of masks during services, restrictions on singing, avoidance of the common chalice at Eucharist, no gatherings after services and rigorous hygiene in toilets and elsewhere.

Among those within ACSA whom I consulted on the SACC representations were members of the Provincial COVID-19 Advisory Team, which comprises medical, legal and theological experts, and is co-ordinated by Dr Arthur Manning assisted by the Deputy Provincial Registrar, Rosalie Manning. In response to South Africa's Level 3 lockdown, I asked the team to come up with a consenus view on how to move ahead. A number of Bishops have also consulted with their Dioceses and taken preliminary decisions themselves.

The COVID-19 Advisory Team gave me a preliminary report yesterday. From that, and the reports from Dioceses, the following main points have emerged:

  • The Advisory Team reports a consensus that it is not yet time to resume worship.

  • No Diocese so far has pronounced that it is ready to resume worship;

  • Most reports suggest that it will take a month or two – or longer – to gather the data needed before a decision can be made.

  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to re-opening for worship. Dioceses outside South Africa have differing lockdown regimens. Within South Africa, different Dioceses face differing levels of infection and will have to adjust their strategies according to data on the level of risk in their areas (just as Government is doing).

  • The Advisory Team suggests that Dioceses should show solidarity by agreeing that either all parishes within a Diocese should resume worship, or none should. Since parishes with fewer material resources will find it more difficult to be ready for worship, this would encourage those with more resources to partner and share with others.

  • There is a need for legal clarity on levels of approval for coronavirus readiness plans and the legal liability of Dioceses and parishes in the event of infections contracted in church. Some Dioceses suggest that parishes need to be accountable to Dioceses for meeting conditions enabling them to return to worship, with designated Coronavirus Compliance Officers ensuring that safe conditions are met.

Apart from the steps to be taken to prepare for a return to worship, once services resume there will be other challenges. For example:

  • How should leaders in a parish respond if more than 50 worshippers arrive for a service?

  • How should they respond if congregants begin singing or mingling spontaneously?

  • There is very serious concern about the return of parishioners and clergy who are over 60 years old. In a consultation church leaders held last weekend with Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who chairs South Africa's Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, he warned us that the death rate for COVID-19 patients between 60 and 70 is three times higher than for others, and the risk is particularly big if conditions such as diabetes and hypertension are not well managed. For those above 70 with pre-existing conditions, the risks of having COVID-19 are very high, and they should self-isolate and stay at home until a vaccine is found.

All these issues, and others in the SACC guidelines, need to be addressed before we can return to worship. My hope is that we can develop a phased process of planning and return to worship, linked to significant festivals in the calendar, such as:

  • Trinity Sunday

  • Corpus Christi

  • The Feast of the Transfiguration, and

  • The Commemoration of Robert Gray.

There are also matters other than worship to address. Churches can be open for private prayer, for feeding the hungry, for helping with the overflow from schools and for testing where this is possible. Clergy who are teachers, school chaplains and professors will be walking alongside pupils as schools open, hospital chaplains will continue their ministry under guidelines laid down by hospitals, and police and military chaplains should continue supporting these men and women who ensure our safety and security. The National Church Leaders' Forum of the SACC continues to meet to review and study together all the areas which call for mutual action and joint articulation.

New, shared leadership and energy is emerging amidst the uncertainties of the pandemic. This is truly Pentecostal for it is what the Spirit always does; it calls to newness and to transforming power. Together, let us seize the opportunity to work with the challenge and come out of this time a better church and better Christians. As President Ramaphosa has reminded us, let us also remember Madiba's exhortation: “It is in our hands.”

God bless you.

††Thabo Cape Town

Tuesday 2 June 2020

The killing of George Floyd shocks South Africans too

Many of us in South Africa have been shocked by the death by homicide of George Floyd, when a policeman crushed his neck with a knee for more than eight minutes in Minneapolis last week.