MODISA – THE SHEPHERD SPEAKS
(address to Diocesan Standing Committee June 2016)
Acts 2: 42 – 47
I’ve been led to use this space as a platform where I could share some of the themes I’ve been led to discern for my episcopal leadership.
So as I make my maiden speech to DSC as bishop, allow me firstly to thank the electoral college of the diocese for the trust invested in me when they elected me as 11th bishop of the diocese of Pretoria. It is a huge honour and responsibility, and I pray that I will be worthy of this special call. The diocese and Mr Modingwana and his Advisory Committee deserve a good pat on the back for their sterling work and the uncomplicated way in which a result was reached. This deserves special mention as four of the last six Electoral Assemblies were unable to elect a bishop.
Allow me also to express my gratitude and appreciation to the Planning Committee under the able leadership of Archdeacon Thabane and Clement Sibiya for the arrangements for a most memorable consecration service. In short, it was good to be there. It was a truly blessed and inspiring occasion. A special word of thanks to Canon Patterson and St Mary’s DSG for their sponsorship of the reception for the VIPs.
Now onto some thoughts on the Scripture reading that I was drawn to in preparation for today. We believe in the words of the Gospel that Jesus came into the world so that we could “have life and have it to the full”. This teaching follows on the central belief of our faith that Jesus was no stranger to our humanity. He was fully human. John announces in the prologue of his Gospel: “He came to what was his own.” He came to reveal a fresh humanity to a people who have lost the sense of what it means to be human. We know that to be a human being does not mean the same as being human. By virtue of our birth we are all human beings; but we have to learn what it means to be truly human. Those who have not learnt what it means to be truly human kill and maim; they steal and act in ways that makes it difficult to belief that we share the same humanity.
Jesus chose to become a human being with us and embraced our humanity in the fullest sense of the word, even descending to death. And the reason for this is simply to provide humanity with a way to know God. This is what John must have had in mind when he remembered Jesus saying: “I am the way, the truth, and the Life”.
The early believers were keen to model their new found community on this revealed humanity. The new life of the early church community started with Peter’s instruction to repent in Acts 2: 38 (Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven). Repentance must be translated to mean ‘turn around and go the other way’. Repentance in the early church community led to forgiveness, which was followed by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit prompted the conscious decision to leave the former ways, and to embrace the new humanity, as it was revealed in Christ. The result: an awesome fellowship in which all things were held in common, many signs and wonders, much goodwill, and praising, worshipping and serving God.
It is a wonderful picture, and it stands at the heart of what the institutional church should be or aim for. It starts with a realisation of who Jesus is, and an embrace of Jesus and his call to repentance. It results in a model for church life. We have here, in a few verses, what we are meant to be as church. I resolve as your spiritual leader to stand on this vision, and to have it inspire our own mission and ministry.
Having said this, I must first beg for your patience and ask that you please allow me the space to grow into this new vocation of being bishop. Over thirty years I have known nothing but the life of a priest, except for a short three year stint as an executive officer in the office of the Archbishop. But even there I knew that I needed to return to priestly ministry if I were to be true to my calling. So I will naturally bring that which has served me well over time. A commitment to prayer, study, service, and fellowship of the clergy and laity. During and after the election, I have battled to come to grips with what people saw in me to want to put me in such a highly responsible position of leadership. It dawned on me that the only role that the electorate has seen me in has been that of a priest. I must have done something right as a priest for the majority of the electorate to have elevated me to this episcopal role. It also dawned on me that the laity is in need of good quality clergy. It will therefore be one of my aims to equip the clergy, to support the clergy, so that they can excel, and be a source of pride in the church. The words of Paul in Ephesians 4:1 come to mind: “Be worthy of the call with which you were called.”
Ours is a priest centred church. The laity is important. The bishop is important. The children and young people are important. But the life of the Anglican church is so structured that if you have a good priest, at ease with her vocation in Christ, then the rest will follow. The priest will relate in a meaningful way to God, and the laity will follow suit. The adverse is also true.
So my calling and that of those I surround myself with to provide me with their counsel and to complement our ministry with their special skills and competencies is simply to support those who are at the forefront of doing the mission of God. We’re in it together, as the saying goes, but you more so than I am. You’re the ones who raise the funds, who preach the word by word and deed, who visit the sick and bury the dead, who disciple God’s people in catechism and baptismal preparation classes, in home groups and special discipleship courses, who reach out to the destitute, you’re the ones who get your hands dirty in the course of doing God’s work. It is through you that the mission statement of Jesus is seen to be implemented: to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the imprisoned, to provide sight to the blind, and to announce the acceptable year of the Lord. This work takes place out there in Mabopane, in Mamelodi, in The Reeds, in Saulsville, in Mogwase, in Mothutlong, at our schools and institutions and all over the diocese. It is the essential work of the church. It takes place where you are. You are at the forefront of this work. This work does not take place at KwaMalusi or 802 Pretorius Street. I and others who sit here with me, those of us at the Diocesan office, we are there to support you. Support you with our prayers, material assistance and strategic guidance. Our role is to inspire and encourage you, to enable you to be the best you can be. Our role therefore is not to Lord it over you. When you come to the Bishop’s office, or to the Diocesan office, you must know that you come to a place where you are highly valued, you come to your base, your support base. This is how I see my role, that of the bishop’s office, and that of the Diocesan office.
The Anglican Church is a biblical church. It’s catholic and apostolic in nature. It builds on the foundations of the apostles, and it draws from a history that spans over two thousand years. The way we order our common life is guided by Scripture, the Canons, the Prayer Book and our own Diocesan Rules. I mention this here because I have often been perplexed at the notion of an “us” and “them” mentality in our common life. There is no “us” and “them” in the Anglican church family. There is only the “us”. So to say that the Trustees, or the Diocese owns all properties in the Diocese is really a fallacy – a misleading argument. The Trustees, on behalf of the rest of the church, holds all properties in its name for the whole church. This understanding is most consistent with the way the early church was structured. Everything was held in common (Acts 2:44).
I shall strive to build on the foundations that’s been laid. I am the 11th bishop, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. I will of course bring my own particular style of leadership, and what I consider to be important will characterise my incumbency. I ask you to be patient with me as I grow into this new vocation. Above all I ask you to keep up the prayers for me. Together we shall do great things for God.
So in conclusion, allow me to thank you for who you are and for the particular gifts, talents and competencies that you bring to the mission and ministry of the church in this diocese.
I commit myself to the realisation of this wonderful description of the first Christian congregation as described in Acts 2:44-47: All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.