Sunday 1 May 2022

St Bernard Mizeki Guild - “A mission-shaped guild for a mission-shaped church in the world”

An address to the 19th Triennial Provincial Conference of the St Bernard Mizeki Men's Guild in Pietermaritzburg, Diocese of Natal, on 29th April 2022:

Dear Brothers in Christ,

I greet you all warmly in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 

Thank you very much for doing me the honour of inviting me to address you, and for choosing as the theme the important subject “A mission-shaped guild for a mission-shaped church in the world”. The Guild is one of the most important initiatives in the life of our Church and you play a crucial role in so many congregations, not only in sustaining the faith and lives of your members, but in supporting mission and ministry in different ways. Thank you warmly for what you do, and thank you for who you are. We are blessed by your presence and work among us. 

In thinking about how to address the theme, I have been helped by the thinking of Dr Christopher Duraisingh, an Anglican who has served in various positions, including those of General Secretary of the Council for World Mission in London and as Director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. His thinking is particularly valuable to us in South Africa in the 21st century, because he comes from the Church of South India, where he has written that because Christians there have also experienced the effects of colonialism, they are suspicious of the theologies that have driven missionary activities from the West. 

This eminent theologian points out to us that  mission is not a choice – rather it is the fundamental reason for the church's existence. To quote him directly, he has said that “Mission is not a function of the church… [the] Church is a function… an instrument in the ongoing mission of God in the world.” Therefore the church must move from having “church-shaped” missions into being a “mission-shaped” church.

Dr  Duraisingh and others who have reflected on our theme have pointed out that for all our talk about the importance of mission, it is often seen in the lives of the congregations and groups of our church as just one of many other more pressing tasks to be performed.  The time and energy of clergy and lay ministers in a congregation are gobbled up by meeting the needs of its existing members, and mission is sometimes even relegated to an optional extra, to be pursued by a small group of interested individuals. As long ago as the Lambeth Conference in 1988, the pastoral letter from the Conference said that “in many parts of the Church, Anglicans have emphasized the pastoral model of ministry at the expense of mission.”

So how do we transform ourselves from “church-shaped missions” to becoming a “mission-shaped” church? More precisely, how does the St Bernard Mizeki Men's Guild become “a mission-shaped guild for a mission-shaped church in the world”.

Firstly, Jesus reassures us, as he reassured the disciples at his Ascension, that we can be confident as people of faith that the Spirit will give us the resources to enable us to carry out mission. In Acts, he tells the  Apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8) Christopher Duraisingh says it is critical to adopt this assurance as “the foundation of the understanding of the missionary calling of Christians”. He writes that this “highlights that the church's mission is only a response, and primarily a witness shaped by first discerning the Spirit who is already at work.”

Secondly, when it comes to deciding how to discern your way as the Guild, we can look profitably at the Anglican Communion's “Five Marks of Mission” and at your own objectives as a guild. 

The Communion has declared that “The mission of the Church is the mission of Christ” and goes on to spell out the Five Marks of Mission as follows:

    • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom;

    • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers;

    • To respond to human need by loving service;

    • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation; and

    • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Your objectives as a guild lay a firm platform for becoming a “mission-shaped guild”. You already proclaim the Good News, and when you reach out to recruit new members, especially from those outside the ranks of the congregations in which you worship, you nurture new believers. But today I want to focus on an urgent, new challenge that all of us face as men, and particularly as men in South African society. It is covered by the Guild's objective to encourage men in social responsibility issues in communities, and by the fourth mark of mission, namely that which requires us to transform unjust structures of society and to challenge violence of every kind.

The challenge, as many of you will have already guessed, is gender-based violence, which most often is seen in violence against women, and very often within relationships. This kind of violence is something which the church gave too little attention to in the time of apartheid, perhaps because of the all-pervasive violence which that system embodied. But we have come to realise that where it happens, it is deeply embedded in our society, and that because of the shame felt within families who suffer from it, it is often not talked about. 

Part of the problem is rooted in attitudes towards women which are prevalent even in families and social networks where violence against women is not seen. St Paul's Epistles are riddled with references which suggest man is the boss over his wife – in letters to the the Corinthians, the Ephesians and to Timothy, we hear time and again that wives should submit to their husbands, that the head of a wife is her husband, and that women should not exercise authority over a man. 

Now a lot has been written about Paul's attitudes to women. Various writers point out that Paul was dealing with particular pastoral issues in specific communities, and never developed a systematic theology concerning the role of women. Moreover, he reflected the patriarchal attitudes of Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures of his time, which are far removed from societies of the 21st century. Other writers point to the fact that Paul believed women could teach and lead in the church in whatever way they felt led by God. But it's not necessary to get into that debate to note that in dysfunctional families, patriarchal attitudes to women can easily slip into justifications of physical mistreatment of women. Nor should it be necessary to assert very firmly that nothing in the Bible justifies violence, least of all violence against women and children. 

In a community where patriarchal attitudes prevail, it is not always easy to speak out against domestic violence. But if you act as a united body within a community, as respected members of the St Bernard Mizeki Men's Guild, you improve your chances of successfully engaging and repudiating such violence, just as you repudiate the violence of those who assault and rob people on the streets of the communities in which you live. When it comes to gender-based violence, the Guild's watch-word should be “Not in our name!”

I also want to suggest that part of breaking down patriarchal attitudes will involve teaching both men and women in our society that boys and men who express their emotions are not less manly for doing so. Too often patriarchy is associated with the suppression of feelings, which in turn results in men being unable to deal with situations of stress, projecting negativity and even lashing out in acts of violence. 

In summary, a St Bernard Mizeki Men's Guild which is reaching out beyond its own ranks to tackle violence against women and children, whether it happens within the ranks of the church or not – in other words, no matter who in a community perpetrates it, can with confidence see itself as a mission-shaped guild working in a mission-shaped church doing God's work in our world.

Members of the Guild, please pray for peace in Ukraine and all those affected by the conflict, as well as for peace in South Sudan, in Palestine and the Holy land, in northern Nigeria and all other places affected by conflict. Since you are meeting in Maritzburg, please try to take a break from the conference and do a walk of witness, visiting families affected by the floods and showing the love and compassion of God. 

God bless you this Eastertide; God bless all your members, their families and the congregations in which you worship, and I wish you a blessed and spirit-filled Provincial Conference.

God loves you and so do I! 


The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop and Metropolitan


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