Dear People of God
September began with our commemoration of Bishop Robert Gray. I was very moved to preside at the Eucharist in the chapel of his home, Bishopscourt, and to know myself, with this Province, a beneficiary of his life lived in dedication to God and to God’s church in Southern Africa. I was also prompted to reflect on how God is faithful to his people throughout every generation – and on how we, in our turn, are also called to faithfulness. The Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 struck me with a fresh force. While we must all build, and build with care, on the foundations laid by those who have gone before us, actually, there is only one true foundation for us all. “That foundation is Jesus Christ” says St Paul.
For all of us, our identity and calling, and our integrity and authenticity, as Christians, is based on Christ alone, and on the quality of our relationship with him. Let me restate what I said recently in my Charge to the Diocese of Cape Town: “Jesus shares in our humanity so that, united in baptism with his death and resurrection, we, by the power of the Spirit, may be ‘in Christ’, and so partake of his divinity – the promise of eternal life at one with him, which we shall know in all its fulness, beyond death. No one else can do this for us. Only Jesus is the incarnate second person of the Trinity – the ‘Word made flesh’. He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Only Jesus is the sure and certain hope of forgiveness. He alone offers fresh beginnings, through salvation and redemption. With St Paul, we quote the lovely words of an unknown Greek poet: ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).”
I also recalled how the German protestant theologian Karl Barth – perhaps the greatest theologian of the 20th century – on a visit to the US towards the end of his long and distinguished career, was asked what encapsulated the essence of his many profound books. After a moment’s thought he answered “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
This is the foundation of our lives – as individuals and within the Church. If a stranger from another planet looked at out Province, they would wonder what held us together, from the leafy suburbs of Bishopscourt through to rural Mozambique, from the villas of Johannesburg to the mine fields of Angola, across 13 languages, across all differences of economics, from the richest to the very poorest, spanning all experiences of education and culture, and embracing Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic heritage. The answer would be Jesus – for if you are ‘in Christ’, and I am ‘in Christ’, then no matter how different, we are united with one another within his body, the Church.
This breadth of diversity will be very visible next week, when the Synod of Bishops and then Provincial Standing Committee meet in Gauteng. Please keep us in your prayers as our discussions range from amending the Canons through finances to more practical matters of how we live the life to which we are called. Though there is a lot of business on our agendas, my intention is that we will have time to sit and share with one another about the lives of our different Dioceses – time in which to recognise Christ within one another, and at work in our various situations, no matter how different they are. It is through seeing this that we will be better helped in our task of building up one another (that is, all of us in the Province) in Christ, through the work of the Synod and the PSC.
Also on the Bishops’ agenda is a request for pastoral guidelines for ministering to those who are in committed same sex relationships. The reality we face in South Africa is that the government has passed legislation providing for civil unions for same sex couples. Some of those who have entered into such unions come, sometimes with their children, to our churches, and are found within our parishes. We must face this new reality with honesty. At the Cape Town Diocesan Synod last month, clergy across a broad spectrum of views (including both those who would like the church to permit blessing of same sex unions, and others who would oppose such a move) supported the motion to seek guidance from the Bishops, out of concern to make an appropriate pastoral response to those in their care; and the laity of the Synod supported them in this.
Let me underline that in our debate, and in our resolution, there was a clear commitment to affirm the stance of the wider Anglican Communion on matters of human sexuality. There was certainly no desire to promote division on this matter. But at the same time, we must address honestly the new reality that has arisen as a result of government legislation, and provide clergy and parishes with clear guidance. So pray for us, that we might pursue truth and mercy, holiness and faithfulness, and help those for whom we care to do the same.
On a different note, some of you may have read, or heard of, a report in the Sunday Times concerning Archbishop Njongo and Mrs Nomahlubi Vokwana-Ndungane. This is a difficult pastoral issue that has long been before us. Moreover it is a personal and family matter which Archbishop Njongo hopes will be finalised privately. Suffice it to say that the press report reflected only one party's view. We offer our pastoral support to both Mrs Ndungane and Archbishop Njongo at this time, praying they will be able to resolve the matter; and we continue to hold Archbishop Njongo in high regard. We commend them to God's mercy and love.
We also offer prayers for all who have lost loved ones to the H1N1 flu virus. I hope you saw my statement issued last month, calling for us not to panic, but be prudent, and carefully observe good hygiene practices. The Ministry of Health has since underlined the importance of frequently washing hands with soap; coughing and sneezing into a handkerchief or sleeve (but not hands); and of staying at home if you experience the symptoms, to avoid exposing others to infection. Of course, such good habits should apply at all times, and not only to ‘swine flu’ – just as Jesus calls us to care for all who are sick and in any sort of need.
May I end by commending the South African Defence Minister to your prayers, asking that God will give her wisdom in addressing the conditions of pay and service within our armed forces. With other church leaders, I met her this week, and was able to assure her that our concern is for the well-being and safety of all God’s people, and for sustainable peace with justice during this time.
Yours in the service of Christ,
+Thabo Cape Town
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