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.

Please also allow me to acknowledge and thank my wife, Lungi, who celebrates her birthday today, for the patient support and sustenance she always provides me. Thank you for everything, Manala, and also to my children, Nyaki and Paballo, for their support.

Many thanks also to everyone in the Diocesan family who arranges and enables our mission, our ministry and our administration: Bishop Joshua and Joan, Diocesan Standing Committee, Diocesan Finance Board and Diocesan Trusts Board, Diocesan Chapter, Charleen van Rooyen and all the Diocesan staff, all the ministry teams, the heads, chaplains and staff of our schools, homes and other institutions, our legal advisers, including Francis Newham and all the other lay people who aid us. My profound thanks also to the clergy, their spouses and their families, for creating and sustaining us as a Christian community which demonstrates the redeeming love of God at work. I am privileged to be your archbishop. And special thanks to the Synod Advisory Team, to the Synod Manager and Archdeacon to the Ordinary, the Ven Terry Lester, and to all who support my ministry and pray for me and my family. It is wonderful to see all of you, gathered once again at St Cyprian’s, after Covid-19 made made it impossible for us to gather in this manner for the last session of Synod.

In our Diocesan prayer, we pray that God's Word will inspire us as a Diocese, to work for peace with justice and to bring about healing and wholeness in the Church and the world. It is my firm prayer that this Synod, albeit short, will create an opportunity not only for us gathered here but also for those watching online, to pray and to be renewed for God's service in his New Creation.

I bring you greetings from those I have visited and travelled with in the past few days, firstly from the six Dioceses of the Eastern Cape, where apart from holding an elective assembly in one and a consecration in another, I went to the Diocese of Mbhashe, where I blessed donated toilet facilities for Ngqanda Senior Primary School in Centane. When photos of the blessing were published, someone posted on the Provincial Facebook page a challenging biblical and theological question: why can I bless new toilets but not people living in faithful relationships recognised by the State in civil unions? Of course context is very important in theological discussions; perhaps we shall address the issue in our debate on the important resolution before Synod which seeks, in a non-partisan manner, to clear the way towards providing the same standard of pastoral ministry to everyone in our church, no matter what their sexual orientation.

Soon after returning from the Eastern Cape, I was persuaded last week to fly at very short notice to Jerusalem with a small delegation of other South African church leaders. It was literally an “in-and-out” trip, but the meeting I attended was important.

Joined by a Baptist minister from Churches for Peace in the Middle East, we entered the Occupied West Bank from Jordan early last Wednesday morning, and headed to Jerusalem, past the site of Jesus's baptism in the Jordan River on the left, with the Dead Sea beyond, and with Jericho on our right. After being stopped at one security checkpoint outside Bethany, we visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, where we heard of the pain, suffering and longing of our Palestinian sisters and brothers for peace with justice and reconciliation. The previously buzzing Old City in Jerusalem was deserted, which was painful to see. The Christians are urging us to support them and the livelihoods of Palestinians by resuming our pilgrimages. The cause of liberation and prosperity for all in the land we call holy is one we must commit to and pursue urgently. We will debate our response to the war in Gaza when we consider a motion on the issue during Synod.

In my Charge to the Diocese this time around, I want to draw from a variety of sources and perspectives and provide a synthesis of what the invitation to participate in God’s new creation might be today. The sources are the Bible passages set for today, especially that from St Matthew's Gospel, the Synod Prayer, and a reference to Anthony of Lisbon, whose feast we commemorate today. I will furthermore draw on the Diocesan Vision Statement and our stated values to unpack our missional intent for renewal of ourselves, our minds and the structures of our society as we seek to make them reflect the love of God for us and all creation.

First, we say of our self-identity in the Diocesan Vision Statement, that we want to be “a community rooted in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.” Having been so rooted, “we want to work and bring God’s healing, wholeness and hope to a broken and wounded world”. As we participate in that work, “we want to be characterised by joy and compassion”. Then we continue and boldly say that this we will achieve “through transformation and renewal, being a welcoming community, and through our worship and evangelism.”

How have we fared since we last met, and how are we faring now in achieving our objectives? Let us attempt to wrestle with these questions by drawing first on the example of Anthony of Lisbon, who from his perspective as someone standing at the threshold of a new cultural era in 12th-century Europe, still speaks to our hearts and ministries in Cape Town today.

Anthony is mostly pictured in art as the monk carrying the baby Jesus, the Incarnate One, in his arms, literally taking Jesus into places outside of his known world, crossing borders, and standing as a new witness of faith to the world. Anthony carried Jesus into many new and contested areas, so opening possibilities of an incarnational theology. As I have previously written, the Incarnation is about Jesus taking on the form of flesh, and living amongst us in ways that speak of hope, courage and compassion to this burgeoning world. It is appropriate that Anthony died at the walls of the city of Padua in Italy, literally on the boundaries, pointing to his challenge to us to find faith on the edges, in the unlikely places, among the marginalised. Hence his famous saying that “The breadth of charity widens the narrowness of the heart.” In our times, we need expanded hearts in order to be sensitive to where Christ is to be found and where, like Anthony, we are urged to carry him. Anthony was very clear in his preaching that that Christ is to be found among the poor and the excluded. He says, “O rich people befriend the poor, welcome them into your homes. It will subsequently be they who welcome you into heaven.” Anthony’s comment is so counter-cultural as to make it a prophetic challenge.

Secondly, we are privileged today to read our context not only through Anthony’s example but through the hermeneutic of Matthew and his challenge to “leave our gifts at the altar and to be reconciled first with our sisters and brothers.” It is no exaggeration to say that we cannot go to the altar, that our worship is impoverished as long as there are serious areas of division that keep us from being a united, worshipping people. To allude to the psalmist's words in Psalm 65, and paraphrase the Matthean challenge, we need to be radically de-cluttered of the obstacles which prevent us from freely giving thanks and praise to God, a god who is known for his bounty. We need to ask of ourselves: Have we silenced sufficiently whatever self-created roaring seas disrupt our lives? Are we experiencing the liberation of the divine presence who provides joy, or are we still hiding behind unjust political and societal structures, or even bringing them into God's holy sanctuary? Matthew is clear and instructive: Leave those gifts aside, and first be reconciled. As that great prophet Elijah boldly reminded King Ahab, who worshipped idolatry, those who are faithful to God are “already vindicated” and can catch a glimpse of the Lord’s vision of victory.

Third, what in God’s church and in the world is in need of reconciliation? What is lacking in our praise and worship of God? What is required to bring our values and mission statement to bear as moral pressure on the institutions and structures of our society, to give life, and life in abundance?

In our national life, the signs of the times – as demonstrated by the results of our recent elections – have clearly shown that the crises most injurious to our social well-being lie in the areas of poverty and joblessness. The disillusionment with the governing party of the last three decades is evidenced in the collapse of support for them. Can we really be surprised, living as we do in the most unequal society in the world, overtaking even Brazil? The income gap between the rich and the poor has widened, with the top one percent earning nearly 20% of income, the top 10% taking 65%, leaving only 35% of income for the remaining 90% of our people. This poverty stubbornly clings to racial lines. The latest unemployment rate has been reported at 32.6%, with unemployment reaching a staggering 45.3% among the youth. The challenge is clear: something needs to shift in our economy, and in our structuring of society, if it is to serve the common good.

During Lent this year, I engaged various sectors of society, asking what role they were playing and could play in shaping the South Africa of the future. (You can find my reflections on this in six posts on my blog, published in February and March.) As I intimated in my subsequent Easter sermon, we still need to do a great deal as God’s church to continue the work of reconciliation and increase the levels of trust in our country. Across these and other sectors of society that I did not specifically interview during Lent, what has emerged as a deep concern is the extent of poverty and its impact on those on the margins of society, those who feel uncared for and are not benefitting from the dividends of our democracy.

If we are to listen to the cries of the poor, to Christ on the margins, then we are going to have to have very different conversations from the ones we are having at present. We need to have very difficult days of courageous conversations, followed by action. I am involved as co-patron of a series of conversations with people across the board in the mining industry, where we seek to create spaces where such hard conversations can be had between mining houses, organised labour, faith groups, others in civil society and, increasingly, the large numbers of non-unionised workers.

If we are really to work at reconciliation in our land, to leave our gifts at the altar so we can work to reconcile ourselves with our brothers and sisters who are materially poor, we must, to paraphrase Anthony’s words, explore more seriously a people-centred economy, one in which people are more important than profits. Since we are part of the global financial architecture, this is a mission to be pursued not just in South Africa, but across the globe. What I learned at the first Ecumenical School on Governance, Economics and Management in Hong Kong some years ago still haunts me. There the world's four main international Christian councils and alliances discussed how to achieve a new “economy of life” by finding an alternative to the current global governance of money and financial systems, replacing it with a system that would be less exploitative and would distribute resources and income more equitably.

Do you remember Gandhi’s powerful words that “poverty is the worst form of violence”? Also listen to the words of Trevor Noah, who has made us laugh so much as a nation while helping us examine our faults and weaknesses. He has written that when neighbours and relatives used to ask his mother, “Why show him the world when he's never going to leave the ghetto?" his mother used to answer: “Because even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world.” The poor and the marginalised, the traumatised and the oppressed, need to know that the ghettos are not and should not be the world. We must never lead them to believe that that is their lot. The church must say unambiguously that a just world is the legacy for all.

Apart from poverty, the other scourge which challenges our church and society is the shocking prevalence of gender-based violence. The statistics are brutal and its incidence is probably even under-reported. We know that our patriarchal world-views and our structures conceal so much of this crime in plain sight. It is chilling that in the three months of July, August and September of last year, South Africa recorded 10,516 rapes, 1,514 cases of attempted murder and 14,401 assaults against female victims. Between April and September, 165 members of the SA Police Service were identified as alleged perpetrators of domestic violence.

These sins cry out to heaven, and in order to defeat them, we need to begin by promoting a culture that is hostile to any form of sexism or discrimination, beginning with the language all of us use. I issue a call, here and now, to consciously interrupt others who use sexist and discriminatory language. Every time we laugh at a sexist joke, or trivialise or commodify women or girl children, or indulge in victim-blaming, we strengthen and normalise cultures which lead to violence and dehumanisation. We need to interrupt abuse. In doing so we will, step by step, change our culture and re-humanise our discourse. Where language goes, action follows.

I have written before that the fourth of the Anglican Communion's Five Marks of Mission compel us “to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation”. The scourge of gender-based violence must be the primary citadel to destroy! If we, like Anthony whose ministry we recall today, are indeed going to cross boundaries, then one must surely be to build a new vision of masculinity and a different way of expressing our shared lives. We take to heart Madiba’s words: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Let me go back to the challenges as articulated in Matthew and embedded in our Vision Statement and our expressed values as a Diocese. Please go to our website and read them over again. They remind us that, over and above our relationships with one another, we need a fundamental reconciliation in our relation to our only home, the earth. Climate change and the loss of biodiversity, the deforestation, pollution and habitat destruction we are experiencing, are destroying our earth, and doing so virtually irreversibly. Again, it is the poor who suffer most.

Environmental activists recall the words of Indira Gandhi when she was Prime Minister of India. Speaking tellingly of the link between poverty and abuse of the environment, she asked: “Are not poverty and need the greatest polluters? How can we speak to those who live in slums and villages about keeping the oceans, rivers and air clean when their own lives are contaminated at source? The environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty. Nor can poverty be eradicated without the use of science and technology.”

At a time when 84% of the world’s population has some measure of identification with or are conversant with some or other religion, the religious imagination is an important source for inspiring engagement with issues around the environment. It can range from advocacy to teaching and advocacy at the levels of decision making. If we do not act urgently we will destroy our planet. There is no Plan B. Christopher Ives, a professor of Sustainability Science, has written that “Appealing to faith-based world-views has potential to bypass political divides and cultural affiliations that have stifled action... Humanity’s ability to avert environmental catastrophe will depend on sustainability becoming embedded into every institution and cultural setting. Religion is no exception.” The future is in our hands.

At least five times in his letters, Paul invites us to be ambassadors of reconciliation. He challenges us not to be satisfied only with reconciling with God, but encourages us to enter the contested domains I have enumerated: the practices of injustice, greed, discrimination and violence which prevent reconciliation. We need to wrestle with these life-destroying behaviours and evangelise them into places of justice, social cohesion, peace and the common good, not only for the benefit of our generations but indeed for the generations yet unborn. This must be our solemn pledge before we kneel at the altar.

During this Synod, we will of course of necessity devote time to important diocesan issues. The measures, motions and reports we will consider paint a picture of our efforts, which of course will better reflect God’s praise and worship, God’s providence and vindication, when they are not just “projects” but are seen as our response to what God is up to in our world and our participation in bringing healing and wholeness to all.

Organisational reports highlight proclaiming the Gospel on new frontiers, feeding and clothing those in need, sensitivity training on gender-based violence, providing for the health and welfare of clergy families, taking care of the vulnerable in our institutions, teaching at Anglican schools and providing social outreach to children, young people and those who are HIV-positive or live with Aids.

We have measures and resolutions on improving our stewardship of our property with a view to better using our churches for mission and ministry, as well improving the operations of the Diocesan Standing Committee and Diocesan Finance Board. Measure 4 aims to enhance engagement, leadership development and spiritual growth among the young people of our Diocese and recognises a need for continuity. Measure 5 responds to the demand for a Diocesan Coordinator of Mission. Proposals for resolutions include one to establish a Diocesan Safe and Inclusive Church Subcommittee, which will work to make our Diocese and our parishes safe spaces for all, and another to combat violence in our city by establishing or strengthening relationships and working together with ecumenical and community partners in initiatives such as Walks of Witness.

Witnessing to Christ means being willing to share and open up, testifying and even dying for what Jesus means for you. Working towards the new creation means taking part in what Matthew’s passage and the other lessons are about: reconciliation, worship and the praise of God, emulating the prophetic courage of an Elijah in the Mount Carmels and the Jezreel Valleys of today. It means working for an end to poverty, gender-based violence, war, injustice, the exploitation of our environment and the worship of idolatry.

Our Synod Prayer asks that God inspire us through the scriptures to be ambassadors of peace with justice and to bring about healing and wholeness in God's church and world. That is the direction, the goal, that I am calling all to walk towards, inspired by the Word and steeped in the worship, praise and thanksgiving that will generate action characterised by a striving for justice and reconciliation. As we respond to God’s righteousness by accepting God’s invitation to work for true justice, we will be put in a right relationship with our God, our neighbour and our planet.

I conclude. At the end of one of his famous sermons Anthony of Lisbon says: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts, if you invoke Him he will soften harsh temptations, if you think of Him, He will enlighten your mind, if you read of Him he will satisfy your intellect.” We need at this time in our lives to marshal all of that in the service of bringing about the reconciliation which is the crying need of our fractious times. Amen.

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