MODISA – THE SHEPHERD SPEAKS
(Address to Diocesan Standing Committee September 2016)
Between the Sessions of Synod a Diocesan Standing Committee shall perform in the name of Synod all pressing and necessary duties and shalI confer with the Bishop on all matters of urgency (Rule 7.44). This founding statement about this assembly allows us to fix our gaze on a few matters which need serious reflection, prayer, discernment, sensitive discussion, decision and focussed work.
September being Heritage month in our country and the blow-up about hair and language at Pretoria Girls High School force the subject of culture and our failure to bring to the fore our divided past. We have here another symptom of the latent unease current amongst the diverse cultures and races of our land which we fail to take seriously.
The crux of the challenge was aptly put by Bishop Slattery at a media briefing on 1 September 2016 when he told the story of Loreto Convent in Nana Sita Street. Twenty-five years ago, he said, there were 800 white girls being educated there. Today there are 800 black girls. This is the story of inner city apartments, schools, churches and all social structures. It is our story too. And it is less than ideal. We cannot be a rainbow nation if we remain in our own little enclaves.
We must realise and accept that a natural process of contact between previously segregated cultures and races does not bring about the outcomes that we wish and pray for. We need to work and think consciously about how to make interaction between different cultural groups happen and we need to structure contact situations accordingly. So the people of the Good Shepherd in Eersterust for example can organise a celebration of Heritage Day with the folks at St Agnes at Stanza Bopape. Similarly the Waterkloof folks can travel to their namesake in Mamelodi for a celebration of cultural diversity. Mixed congregations can celebrate the cultural diversity with which we are all blessed.
A careful reading of the New Testament shows the extra-ordinary attempts to teach Kingdom values into a world where a diversity of cultures and races co-existed in the early church. Antioch, Jerusalem, Corinth, and Rome were cosmopolitan centres which had Jews, Greeks, Africans, and even Arab members in its churches. Paul’s seminal teaching on the Lord’s Supper in his epistle to the Corinthians, for example, was not only given as a result of the class difference amongst the membership of the church, it was also and especially given to respond to the socio-cultural differences (traditions and attitudes of different cultures and races) towards food and drink. Food and drink, like language and hair, are distinctly cultural traits. Paul writes into this context and provided the Church with a sound theological teaching that is premised on the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. In an attempt to address the diversity of gifts, cultures, and nationalities amongst the people of God who have responded to the message of the Gospel of Christ, he further blessed us with the metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ. The unifying mission of Christ seeks to place equal value on all members of the Church. It is incumbent on us to be mindful of our calling to be the Body of Christ. We are called to seek unity in diversity, and to celebrate the gifts that others bring rather than be fixated with each other’s differences. There is surely more that unites us than divides us.
I invite you to consider, with me, another reality of a latent unease. As a Diocesan Church we’ve just emerged from a conflict that dominated discussions in the recent past. I refer here to the conflict that drove a wedge between members of the Cathedral, between some members of the Cathedral and some in the Diocesan leadership, and involved the wider Church in the Diocese and the Province as well. We have been left with some brokenness amongst us, and I consider it our Christian calling to at least attempt to do something about healing this. This would be better than behaving as if nothing had ever happened, which is our present default position. We need to work for the healing of memories and to attempt to bring about reconciliation where there is brokenness.
To this end I have entered into conversations with individuals and have stated my intention to converse about some of the unpleasant experiences of the past, in a bid to understand, heal, reconcile, and move on. I envisage a conversation facilitated by two highly regarded retired clerics where people can come to tell their stories, hear each other in a safe and non-threatening space, be encouraged to reach out to each other, and receive the sacrament of reconciliation if they so wish at the end of this process. Please pray for this initiative. More information of this process will be released as the process unfolds.
Now to touch on some more mundane matters. The preliminary estimates for 2017 have been released. It is essentially a budget that seeks to respond to the Church’s mission in our Diocese. I have always believed that money follows mission, rather than the other way around. In other words, if we do what we are meant to do well, the money will follow. People are more likely to give to a church where it is clearly evident that the priest and church leaders are doing the Lord’s work. A good priest and church leader will not even have to preach about the stewardship of money. Other important themes can be given prominence instead, like our stewardship of the environment. So I appeal to our clergy and lay leaders to sharpen their skills. We all have a calling to serve. Let’s commit to do the best we can at all times in all matters, and see the blessings which follow.