Friday 28 June 2024

US Church elects new leader as Archbishop Thabo turns thoughts to the GNU

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention is coming to an end soon, and termination anxiety is setting in among the guests from other churches and countries as we prepare to come home, in my case an 18-hour journey. But before looking ahead to when I return, some more reflections on the last few days here in Louisville, Kentucky.

On Wednesday, at a Eucharist focused on discerning the holy things of God as we contemplate how he has poured out his spirit to transform this world, I prayed in isiXhosa for all the ministries of the Episcopal Church: “That our church will continue to be a place, for every person created in the image and likeness of God, to be both safe and brave! May we celebrate and respect our differences and, through the proclamation of God’s Word and the sharing of Jesus’ Eucharist, may we be thankful for the common identity that we share as the churches of the Anglican Communion.”

The bishops dramatically withdrew from the Eucharist before the blessing to go to Christ Church Cathedral to elect a new Presiding Bishop. When we choose a new Archbishop, the Diocese of Cape Town first elects, then our Synod of Bishops convenes separately to confirm the election. In The Episcopal Church (TEC), the House of Bishops elects the PB (for a nine-year term), then brings the result to the House of Deputies for consent. After some time during which we voted electronically for other office-bearers such as the Treasurer and pension fund trustees, there was an exchange of delegations between the two houses, and at 14:10, we received a delegation from the House of Bishops to say that at the first ballot, Sean Rowe of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania was elected. The floor was opened for discussion, but there was none, and the deputies voted on the first ballot, 778 to 43, to confirm. The delegation was sent back to inform the House Bishops, led by the “Sergeant without Arms”, and the deputies continued with their business until the bishops joined them, business was suspended, and outgoing PB Michael came to the podium to introduce PB-elect Rowe to loud applause.

Bishop Rowe, who then offered an acceptance speech, is from the “Rust Belt” in the USA, the area in the middle of the country which has been hit badly by changing economic conditions. He said that he has seen factory closures and resistance to change in a part of the country that he knows well, but what is key now is to manage the change and focus on the issues of resources and partnerships for our church and world.

He called for energy for mission, asking church members to disagree with one another without tearing each other apart. All should be for the sake of the Gospel, he said, and he called for sitting lightly to structures to allow room for the Spirit to inspire effective ministry on the ground. He asked that between now and November, when he is to be installed, the church observe a “Relational Jubilee” in which her people summon the courage to forgive others for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to display openness, holiness and courage.

My sense is that TEC has elected a good pastor, a spiritual leader who is also a manager likely to make the church’s mission administratively leaner and more goal-directed, perhaps a little like our transition from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane. Congratulations to Bishop Sean on behalf of ACSA.

As the Convention winds down, I am getting accustomed to the bicameral houses. In prayers on Thursday, a list of those who had died since the last convention, wow, the numbers! Amid debate and votes on legislation, the youth – attending for the first time as an official youth presence – were welcomed and addressed the convention. Steve Pankey was elected as Vice-President of the House of Deputies and Ayla Harris, the President, congratulated him with a message on sharing the love of Jesus Christ with a world that desperately needs to hear about him.

Due now to take a break to prepare for travel, interrupted only by a reception for the new Presiding Bishop, I end these reflections and thank you for your prayers.

My friend Soenke in Germany sends me photos of 1895, around the life, times and killing of my ancestor, Kgoši Makgoba, about whom I wrote here on Sunday. There is book for me to write to heal myself, perhaps a sequel to Faith & Courage, with reflections and stories of healing. I reconnect with home and read the Good Hope Synod edition and congratulate Rebecca Malambo for producing our account of Diocesan Synod so beautifully and ably as always.

My sincere apologies to the Order of St John in South Africa that due to GC and travel, I cannot preside as Prior at the investiture of members this Saturday. I pray also that by the time I land, we will know who the members of our Cabinet are, and we can work out how we can participate as church and citizens in Codesa-type dialogues about “whither South Africa”. Frankly, we have been talking a lot for 30 years, now we need to talk about solutions.


††Thabo Cape Town


Wednesday 26 June 2024

Living in Dignity With Our Differences – A Tribute to the Powerful Leadership of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

Delivered by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba at dinner held by Bishops of the Episcopal Church and their spouses at their General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. This is Bishop Michael's last Convention before he retires:

Sisters and Brothers in Christ;
Presiding Bishop Michael, our Brother in the Jesus Movement;
Bishops and your Spouses:
From a freezing cold Cape Town winter, and although you may not need or want to be any warmer, I bring you warm greetings, in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, from your sisters and brothers in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

In the words of our most widely-used mother tongue in South Africa, isiZulu, I also greet you: San'bonani! If I was greeting one of you individually, I would use the singular form of address, which is Sawubona! That word literally means, “I see you,” and using Sawubona as a form of greeting underlines the importance in our African cultures of recognising the worth and dignity of each person. As it has been said, to greet another with the phrase “Sawubona” means “I see the whole of you — your experiences, your passions, your pain, your strengths and weaknesses, and your future. You are valuable to me.”

And indeed, you in The Episcopal Church are valuable to us in the world-wide Communion. This is especially so when, in so many ways, the nations of the Global South look upon your nation with concern, worried for your future when you seem to be alienating yourself from the international community, complicit for example in the brutal war against the Palestinians which Israel launched in response to Hamas's vicious attack of last October 7th.

In total contrast to the image your governments project to the international community is the image you as The Episcopal Church project to the Anglican Communion, and no more so than under the leadership of your, of our, beloved Bishop Michael.

That isn't to say that our respective churches do not have our differences. We in Southern Africa are still struggling after 30 years to agree on ways to provide pastoral ministry to people living in the same-sex civil unions recognised under South Africa's 1996 Constitution. And those of us who have actually lived under apartheid and frequently visited our Palestinian sisters and brothers since the days of the first Intifada differ with those of you who dispute that Israel, especially in the Occupied West Bank, practices apartheid as defined under international law. But, as one of South Africa's wisest Chief Rabbis, who worked with Nelson Mandela to lead his community into democracy, might have said: “We can celebrate our common heritage and live in dignity with our differences.”

And those differences pale into relative insignificance when viewed against the gentle but oh-so-powerful leadership of Michael Curry. Both in his visits to our Province of the Communion, and in Primates' and other meetings, I have witnessed and admired his humble leadership, his quiet but so beautifully transparent recognition of the value of every human being, and indeed of the whole of God's beautiful creation, his collaborative style and of course the extraordinarily vital and passionate way – unmatched in my experience – in which he manages to express in himself, and convey to others, his love of Jesus and the love of Jesus for each one of us. Could there be any higher tribute than that paid to a Christian leader? I don't think so.

I know you have some time to go before you actually retire, Bishop Michael, but I can say safely, without contradiction, that I speak on behalf of millions of Anglicans around the world, when I say in some of the languages of my church: Thank you, Michael! Ke a leboga; Siyabonga; Enkosi kakhulu; Ngiyabonga; Tangi unene; Baie dankie!

Before I end, let me share a story of an event that to my mind saved our Communion because you were magnanimous. At your first meeting of the Primates of the Communion, the Primates overreached and sanctioned the Episcopal Church, preventing you from participating in Communion matters. The first expectation was you would sulk and walk out. But you did not. You graciously listened and still spoke of the love of Jesus. Few know of this sacrifice for which I am grateful and, as I was in that Primates Meeting, I equally want to say “mea culpa” for my part in that.

PB Michael, here is a small drum from Africa, as a token of our appreciation and deeper connections with you. May you continue the rhythm of the drum beat as you hear the words “God loves you! Jesus loves you! And so do we!”

Blessings from Louisville 

††Thabo Cape Town

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Of American church's two Houses, Spanish worship, displaced Indigenous peoples, and Palestine

In notes on the opening days of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) of the United States, Archbishop Thabo writes of how they differ from us in governance, of their use of Spanish as well as English in worship, of a pro-Palestinian protest against decisions of their House of Bishops, and of their willingness to acknowledge the displacement of Indigenous Americans by settlers and the evil of chattel slavery through their country's history.

Our Archbishop is at the convention to mark the retirement of TEC's Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, a descendant of enslaved Americans. The church has its origins in a breakaway from the Church of England at the time of American independence, when Anglican clergy who remained loyal to the British Crown often left for Canada and other jurisdictions, while those supporting the Revolution turned to the Scottish Episcopal Church to consecrate their first bishop.

The convention now represents 108 dioceses, with 167 bishops, more than 800 lay and clergy deputies and 239 alternate deputies registered. But it is also an opportunity for up to 10,000 people to attend events and visit exhibitions organised around it. Archbishop Thabo writes:

Those of us attending the General Convention (GC) as invited, ecumenical and interfaith guests gathered on Saturday for the first of our orientation sessions, which will be helpful as we join the big and complex “houses” of the convention.

In the House of Deputies, which represents the laity and clergy, we listened to a welcoming message by President Julia Ayala Harris, and from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (the PB) from the House of Bishops. I also met the Dean of Theology at the University of the South, to arrange for our sabbatical at Sewanee, Tennessee after I retire in 2026. At 7pm, we attended a revival and healing service, where the PB was at his best, and we sang “This little lamp of mine” by the light of our cellphone torches.

On Sunday, after the ecumenical guests recorded our greetings to the GC for playing later to each House, we attended orientation and breakfast at 7 am. Then it was the Opening Eucharist, which is being held this year with the overall theme of “Together in Love”. Eucharist was in English and Spanish, with the singing a combination of Hymns Ancient & Modern, American spirituals and choruses. It was vibrant and the President of the House of Deputies preached, stressing our call to bring healing to a hurting world, assuring us that Jesus is with us in the storms we face and that in the midst of everything, what is key is transforming lives rather than focussing on increasing our numbers.

In the House of Deputies, I was moved at the reading of an acknowledgement of the racial and brutal expropriation of the land and cultures of the indigenous peoples and First Nations of he United States. One of our own, the Revd Lester Mackenzie, now of Los Angeles, is the chaplain to the House and brought to the proceedings much love and light and laughter. (He is a grandson of Bishop Ed Mackenzie, Suffragan of Cape Town in Archbishop Emeritus Desmond's time.)

The President of the House opened the legislative session by reading the standing rules of the Convention; the preliminaries dealt with, about 813 members from 102 dioceses were seated.

Of note, and different to our Province, in which the Houses of Laity, Clergy and Bishops meet together at Provincial Synod, here the houses meet separately and each represents a team to receive greetings from the other House. The Diocese of Liberia has a seat and voice in TEC, since they belong jointly to the Province of West Africa and to TEC, one of the benefits being that they receive pensions from TEC.

After lunch and a siesta, we joined the House of Bishops’ legislative session. This house is much smaller and the bishops are seated at round tables as opposed to rows in the House of Deputies. One motion before the House was work from a task force on the definition of doctrine and how the theologically-held views of minorities on the issue of human sexuality can be protected.

Resolutions on social justice and the international policy work of committees were presented. The TEC is different from where we in ACSA are on these matters. Resolutions on human trafficking, migration with dignity, and affirming the integrity of a independent Palestinian state, were carried in an atmosphere of Anglican moderation and pragmatism.

After a take-away dinner, we went the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts to watch A Case for Love, an inpiring and moving film based on the writings and teaching of PB Curry. At 8.45 pm we walked back home to our hotel in a much longed-for breeze. The temperatures so far have been around 34 degrees C, dry and hot.

On Monday, a briefing and breakfast was followed by Morning Prayer, in which the worship was inspiring. We attended a joint session of the houses to look at the church's budget, then had lunch and listened to a session on the work and ministry of the Anglican Church in Palestine, led by Archbishop Hosam Naoum, President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.

There was also a small group that picketed for Palestinians, then we were officially welcomed to the House of Bishops and our recorded video messages were played. The House then reconsidered an amended motion criticising the theology of Christian Zionism.

A motion on full communion with the United Methodist community in the US was carried with applause, and the convention was also reminded of the formal communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria.

Monday night was “Kentucky night” with various activities, but I took a break at 4pm to recharge for Tuesday, when – very late in the day, SA time, I am one of those paying tribute to the retiring PB.


††Thabo Cape Town

Watch the trailer for A Case for Love:

Sunday 23 June 2024

Reflections from the Episcopal Church's General Convention in the USA

My Cape Town-Newark-Louisville flights – to attend Bishop Michael Curry's final General Convention as leader of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States – were not bad, viewed against the backdrop of my flights of recent months to places such as Rome and Jerusalem. (Bishop Michael, the Presiding Bishop (PB) of TEC, is of course best known outside his church for his electrifying sermon on love at the marriage of “Harry and Meghan” in 2018.)

On arriving here in Kentucky, I checked into my hotel and took a walk around the surrounds before taking a nap to recover from the journey. We are six hours behind the time in South Africa and I took the opportunity to connect with the family and the office to assure them I had arrived safely.

At 7 pm Kentucky time (1 am my body time!), I attended a big dinner arranged by the Union of Black Episcopalians to honour Bishop Michael. Americans do things on a huge scale!. Most of the lay leaders of the church were known to me as part of family but the Bench of Bishops has changed a lot. (However, retired bishops also attend their General Convention, so I knew a lot of them.)

The PB stressed the importance of rootedness and referred to the forthcoming American elections, in which President Joe Biden will be pitched against former President Donald Trump. Bishop Michael said that “voting is the most powerful non-violent tool each Episcopalian possesses”. He urged every Episcopalian to vote in November. As he faces retirement, he also assured everyone that God will never give up on any of them and urged them too not to give up on the Episcopal Church.

After dinner I retired to what will be my room for the next nine days, had chamomile tea and slept until jet lag woke me up at 4.20 am. I am writing these notes from lying in my bed in Louisville, the home town of  Muhammad Ali.

I listened to a podcast recorded in German, read with deep feelings by the narrator. I did not understand but heard the correct and beautiful way in which she pronounced the “schädel” (skull) of my ancestor, of  Kgoši Makgoba. (We think his skull ended up in Germany after he was decapitated in Makgoba's Kloof in 1895 by forces serving the Transvaal Republic.) I had not planned to reflect on this, but it was a beautiful moment when a German friend sent me a podcast, coinciding with my arrival here.  


Archbishop Thabo

Friday 14 June 2024

Charge to the Synod of the Diocese of Cape Town


Charge to the Synod of the Diocese of Cape Town

The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop of Cape Town

Commemoration: Anthony of Lisbon

Witnessing to and working towards God’s New Creation”

Readings: 1 Kings 18:41-46; Psalm 65:7-13; Matthew 5:20-26

May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, I greet you all in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and welcome you to the 67th Session of our Diocesan Synod. I also extend a warm greeting to all our special guests, including our ecumenical and interfaith partners, the bishops of our neighbouring dioceses, my counterpart in REACH, the heads of our schools, recipients of the Diocesan Award and members of the Order of Simon of Cyrene. A special welcome to Cameron Benjamin and John Solomons, who will receive the Diocesan Award tonight, and to John Gardener, who will be admitted into the Order of Simon of Cyrene, the highest honour we can confer on an Anglican lay person in the Province of Southern Africa.

Thursday 13 June 2024

Archbishop calls on Israel and Hamas to accept UN ceasefire resolution "immediately and unconditionally"

 A statement read for Archbishop Thabo by Dr Mamphela Ramphele at a news briefing held at Desmond & Leah Tutu House, Cape Town, on June 12:

Last week I joined Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of the Catholic Bishops' Conference and Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary of the SACC, on a solidarity visit to the heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem. (We were also joined by the Rev. Dr. Tyrone S. Pitts of Churches for Middle East Peace in the US, and our visit was very helpfully supported by our ambassador to Jordan.)

In Jerusalem, we heard of the pain and the suffering that has resulted from Israel's razing of much of Gaza to the ground, in a war in which more Palestinian civilians have been killed than in two years of Britain's notorious bombing of Dresden during World War Two. We also heard of the deep longing of the Palestinians for peace with justice and reconciliation.

I welcome the UN Security Council's unprecedented 14 to nil vote this week, adopting a resolution which calls for an immediate, full, and complete ceasefire in Gaza, for the release of Israeli hostages, the exchange of Palestinian prisoners, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas in Gaza, the return of Palestinian civilians to their homes and the safe and effective distribution of humanitarian assistance at scale throughout the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Hamas must accept the resolution immediately and unconditionally, failing which all who supply them with weapons must apply a comprehensive arms embargo against them.

We in the church thank the Tutu legacy organisations, the Tutu IP Trust and the Desmond and Leah Tutu foundation, for their daily act of solidarity with the Palestinian people by displaying the kufiya-clad statue of our Archbishop Emeritus outside their offices. As South Africans, we must not waver in our support for an end to Israeli occupation and the complete liberation of Palestine. There is no room for compromise on this issue. The future of Israel and the security of its people lie only through achieving justice for the Palestinians.

The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town

Monday 3 June 2024

An Archbishop's Reflections from Six Eastern Cape Dioceses

I've been in and out of the Eastern Cape in recent weeks – soon after returning from the meeting of the world's Anglican Primates in Rome, then the SACC's National Day of Prayer for the elections, held in Johannesburg, I was in Gqeberha at the Nelson Mandela University for a public lecture we sponsor, then in Makhanda for the celebrations of DSG's 150th anniversary.

After returning to Cape Town for office commitments – and another lecture at the University of the Western Cape – it was back to my old stomping ground in Komani (which used to be Queenstown, and where I was based as suffragan in the Diocese of Grahamstown) for the election of a new Bishop of Khahlamba. In one of a series of successful elections in dioceses recently, the assembly elected the Very Revd Siyabonga Sibeko as their next bishop, in the sixth ballot on the first day.

Back to Cape Town, then last Friday it was off to the Dioceses of Mzimvubu, Mthatha and Mbhashe for the weekend, and today I return home after briefly calling on Canon Ntshingwa, who is not well at all, in the Diocese of Grahamstown.

I have enjoyed the countryside, where we've travelled on both good and bad roads, passing through both decaying and thriving rural communities and towns.

In Kokstad on Saturday, the bishops consecrated the new Bishop of Mzimvubu, the Right Revd Phumzile Cetywayo, in the incomplete cathedral structure. The original “eco-cathedral” was burned down but there is still a bare altar and evidence of the fire. It was cold, and the tent-covered structure within the cathedral was far less glamorous than our vestments and altar elements! But the service and the music was godly and brought all of us “nearer” to God. The meal afterwards was particularly special, although of as a pescatarian, I could eat only the veggies and samp.

At 14:30 we took the N2 and detoured to Tabankulu, a town I have been yearning to visit. When in the 1990s I was counselling mine workers suffering from crushed spines in rockfalls, many were from Mozambique and Lesotho but a lot of the injured came from here, giving me a deep spiritual need to see the area. We drove towards its mountainous background until we reached the town and stopped at the local Anglican Church.

We then had the option of returning to the N2, or going via Flagstaff, another special place where my mother-in-law was born. But on the advice of the lady petrol attendant, we went back to the N2. As we arrived in Mthatha, it was drizzling. We slept there and the rain poured gently through the night.

On Sunday, the final results of the country's national and provincial elections were coming through, with the country again becoming abuzz with noise and energy. Our governing party for the last 30 years has the most votes, but not enough to give them a majority in the national parliament. The same day, Orlando Pirates, my favourite soccer team, won 2-1 over Sundowns to clinch the Nedbank Cup! But nobody won these elections with that kind of margin. Three colleagues and friends wrote to remind me that a while ago I called for a government of national unity. With no party having a majority, something like that seems necessary. What might it look like?

In Mthatha, I presided over a Canon 14:4 consultation with various diocesan officials, an open and democratic process before we extend, or not, the tenure of their incumbent bishop. It is not an election but it involves listening, engagement and looking at the needs of a diocese and its people. At 14:00, St Bede’s Hall at the Diocesan Centre was packed. It turned out to be a great worship occasion and after the consultations I retired to my room and enjoyed the gentle rain outside. I wondered whether there was anything from the consecration on Saturday, the Canon 14:4 process, and the handing over of toilet facilities to a school in Mbashe Diocese that was to come, that could inform political parties as they consult on the formation of a new government.

This morning, we were due in Mbhashe Diocese, at a school in Centane to donate toilet facilities. The donation is possible from a collaboration of the Makgoba Trust, the Sibanye-Stillwater mining company's foundation and the Diocese's of social responsibility outreach. This will conclude my three-week long journeys to the six dioceses in the Eastern Cape.

This afternoon, before I board the plane back to Cape Town, I will meet via Zoom the praesidium of the SACC (in my capacity as president of the council). I made my call for a government of national unity at a time when it looked as though President Ramaphosa might lose support over the scandal around money stored at his Phala Phala game farm. Now, what can we add as the ecumenical family to the discussion of how the country should be governed? Just a few weeks ago, on eNCA, I said former President Zuma must retire, but now his party is a key element in the political arena. I also asked whether Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's warning that the country might turn against the ANC would come true. Is this where we are?

We must pray that in the coming days, all will make their decisions on the basis of what will promote stability, peace, development, equality, security and the common good.

God bless.

††Thabo Cape Town