8 February 2017

In preparing for this occasion the story of the little known Biblical figure of Ananias came to mind. We read about him in Acts Ch 9 which tells us about the conversion of Saul to Paul. It relates how Paul, an enemy of those Jews who have come to claim Jesus as Messiah, went around harassing and arresting them. But on the way to Damascus to claim more victims, he had a vision of Jesus, he was struck blind, and he was told to wait for further instructions.

In the meantime, a shoemaker who was a convert to the “Way of Jesus” had a vision. His name was Ananias. In the vision he was told to go and find Paul, and cure him. Ananias protested: citing Paul’s murderous reputation. He was overruled, got himself going, found Paul, cured his blindness, and baptised him. This same Paul eventually went on to achieve great things in the Lord. He became the most well-known evangelist, and achieved more in this regard than all the apostles of the Lord Jesus combined. Almost half of the books of the NT is credited to his name.

And Ananias? After the healing and baptism of Paul, he simply disappears from the scene.He is never heard of again in the pages of the Bible or in Church History. There is, as far as I know, no church named after him, no feast day. Even Paul never mentions the name of Ananias in any of his writings. And yet, yet we have to stop and wonder about this little known man of Scripture. He was there when God needed him, in obedience he did what was asked of him, and in the end, that was all that mattered.

When you come to think of it, life itself, is full of such Ananias people – people who are called by God to respond to a particular need, then they step off the stage and allow others to get on with it. There’s a bit of the role of every educator in the story of Ananias. Teachers stand at the beginning of men and women who go on to achieve great things. Do we know who taught Einstein, or Mandela? Yet without the foundational work of their teachers who knows if they could ever achieve their full potential.

So in the early 1960s a group of English speaking people in Pretoria had a vision about top quality Christian education for English boys in Pretoria. These people were based at the Cathedral of St Alban, and with the support of the Diocese and St Alban’s Cathedral, the project got under way. It was a project of the Cathedral community, of the Diocesan Trustees, and of parents and educators with a dream to establish a school that could equal the reputations of Eton College in England, St John’s in Johannesburg, and St Mary’s DSG here in Pretoria.

Today, more than 50 years later, we enjoy the fruits of the labour of those pioneers. And as with the story of Ananias, those pioneers have moved of the centre stage. The Church which was such a pivotal player in the establishment of this school, has gone on to focus on other missional priorities. It has left the business of growing a world class institution in the hands of renowned headmasters like Anton Murray, Ronnie Todd, Grant Nupen, Tom Hamilton, and many gifted and dedicated teachers and support staff.

Today I am here as Bishop of the Anglican Church to hand over the baton to you Mr Kidwell. I have briefly referred to the historical ties of the school with the Anglican Church. The Church has invested much in the establishment of this school, because education is and remains a missional priority of the Church. At the same time the Church acknowledges that it does not have the core competencies that are necessary to deliver excellence in education. That is your vocation, yours and that of the staff who have been recruited to ingrain in the boys who attend here a pursuit for knowledge, and especially a hunger for the exploration of God’s truth. Help the boys to explore the truth about God’s creation and its beauty. God’s truth about the social sciences. God’s truth about the advances of industry and technology.

Somehow you and the educators with you, as you teach here the basics of literature, science, and technology, must find the link between that curriculum and the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of God. The educational philosophy of the College must remain Christian. The Christian faith must be taught here. The Christian character of the College must be reflected in the governance and leadership of the school.

I conclude with a short word about context. You take the baton as we continue to experience the birth pains of the new South Africa. Our places of learning are not exempted from these birth pains. The incident down the road at Girls High last year is a stark reminder of that reality. We who are grown-up today must acknowledge that we have been brought up in silos. Race and language were used to separate / to divide us. Apartheid was a carefully engineered social construct. We now need to take even greater pro-active initiatives to break down the silos that kept us apart, and made us strangers to each other. If we ignore this reality then our boys will spend five years here, and some will leave while they remain in their silos.The current model where we expect children from diverse races and cultures to simply be assimilated into the dominant culture, is wholly inadequate.  We need to create spaces for honest dialogue about our past.  Teachers themselves need assistance to come alongside children from cultures that are different from their own.

My second and last comment relates to the gap between the rich and the poor. It is a serious threat to our young democracy. The high levels of crime and the #FeesMustFall campaigns must be seen against this backdrop. I want to ask that you and the teachers here encourage sensitivity about our unequal heritage and how it impacts on our future.

This is a bit of the context in which you take over the leadership at this our College. To say that it is daunting is an understatement. But St Alban’s College has set a precedent. It was the first white school to take in black learners in SA. You will do well. Like Ananias who propelled Paul with the help of the Spirit of God into a new better life, so you and your teachers will do for the learners whom God has entrusted to your care.

Be assured of our prayers and support. May God give you strength, wisdom, courage, and the gift of discernment.