Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Installation of new Principal, Bishops, Cape Town

Installation of Antony Reeler as Principal of Diocesan College

Bishops Memorial Chapel

Reading: Mark 4:10-20

May I speak in the name of God who calls, informs and transforms us. Amen.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, dear Bishops family, Bishop Joshua, Archdeacon Mark Long, it's a great joy to be with you this morning and to celebrate the installation of a new College principal amidst the challenges of Covid-19. I warmly welcome you all – parents, guardians and learners – and thank you for inviting me. A special welcome to Mr Reeler, his wife Rose, Michael-John and Lexie as they join the College community.


Thank you to the chaplain, the Revd Monwabisi Peter, and those who worked with him preparing for this service. Thank you also, Simon [Peile], Chair of Council, for gracing us with your presence today.

Today in the Anglican calendar we commemorate John Chrysostom, teacher of the faith, who is renowned for bringing to the office of Bishop of Constantinople in the fifth century an intolerance of corruption. Remembered as one of greatest preachers of all time, the targets of his sermons were the moral depravity of the city's rulers and the misuse of wealth. Looking back on the history of the Church, it is quite remarkable that he believed it was more important to meet the needs of the poor and the destitute than to take part in the Eucharist. His life and witness have obvious lessons for us in South Africa and the world today but I will return to that in a moment.

Mark’s Gospel presents to us a story in which Jesus adopts a method of teaching by means of parable, a parable being a moral tool aimed at surprising and stirring the conscience of the listener. His change in method, significantly, coincides with shifting the focus of his teaching from speaking to large crowds to training his small group of disciples. His wider audience remains, but they have previously been far more attracted by his works than his words, having come to him looking for physical healing but having been as yet unresponsive to His spiritual teaching.

The Parable of the Sower reflects the immediate situation in which Jesus found himself in his preaching, and at the same time enunciates principles which are valid for all time for Christians who seek to understand and interpret God's word, and by doing so work for the realisation of the values of God's Kingdom.

Sisters and brothers, the kingdom is propagated by the sowing of God's word. As we heard in the Gospel reading, when the word leads to trouble or persecution, or listeners to the word are distracted by the cares of the world or the lure of wealth, it is as if seeds have fallen on rocky ground, among thorns or on a heavily-trampled path. The word dies.

But when cogent argument or persuasive eloquence sows the living seed of God's word in good ground, in the soil of receptive human hearts, the Word can be fulfilled. This is the same for educators. There are things that hinder the reception of the word: hard-hearted indifference, lack of spiritual depth, preoccupation with the cares and riches of the world. But where the word is heard, understood and believed, the harvest is sure.

Those of you who have heard me before at these occasions at our schools will know that I have an abiding passion that our church must promote the common good in our society by providing – and not only providing but actually radically expanding – opportunities for quality, affordable education in schools which are fully inclusive and reflect the demographics of our country. And while I know that Bishops as well as our other schools are committed to opening up places for boys and girls whose parents don't have the means to send them here, I do wonder whether the wealth and relative privilege reflected in South Africa's most exclusive Anglican schools is not sometimes an obstacle to an in-depth understanding of the society in which we live.

For all the College's beauty, for all its facilities and for all the educational opportunities you provide, they will count for nothing unless you are preparing a representative cross-section of society to serve and develop a nation which meets the needs of all. Mr Reeler and the College Council, you can be sure I will continue to keep your feet to the fire on this issue.

That said, the church does recognise and has a deep appreciation for your commitment to values-driven education, to ensuring that no individual is lost between the cracks and to producing well-rounded young men who care for our society. It is precisely because of your excellence, of the second-to-none education that you offer, that we have such high expectations for you.

One of the challenges we face in transforming our Anglican schools is responding to the complaints of former and current learners who have reported discrimination on the grounds of their racial background, sexuality or nationality. In response to a resolution adopted by the church's last Provincial Standing Committee meeting, I have convened a commission headed by Professor Mary Metcalfe of Wits, an Anglican herself, to look at this problem broadly and propose ways through which we could address it.

Mr Reeler, the church offers you its heartfelt congratulations on your appointment to Bishops. We are delighted that you are now part of the College's life and are thrilled that the Council has recruited someone of your skills, experience and wisdom to take the College forward, and we share with this community the prayers and the hope that you and your team will be enabled to discern the common good in whatever decisions you take and the guidance you will offer. Together this community can develop new initiatives on the basis of what you and everyone in this community has to offer, building on our traditions, our experience, our hopes and our dreams.

At the beginning of King Solomon's reign, as the Book of Kings tells us, he asked God to give him what is variously described in different Bible translations as a “discerning heart” or an “understanding mind”, that he would rule God's people wisely and in accordance with God's will. May God give you such a heart and mind as you lead Bishops into the future.

Once again, congratulations on your appointment and may you enjoy your time here.

To all those of you present: God loves you and so do I.

Amen.

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