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

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