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


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