Up Close with Bishop

By George Mahlaela

Bishop Allan on the day of his consecration

Bishop Allan on the day of his consecration

The Right Revd Allan John Kannemeyer, the 11th Bishop of the Diocese of Pretoria, was born on the 21 December 1959 in Mossel Bay, Western Cape. He is the eldest of six children whose father was a fisherman working on a fishing trawler while their mother worked in the local food and canning factory.

The Bishop, who was consecrated on the 14 May 2016 and who prefers to be addressed as Bishop Allan, describes the defining moment in his political, social, spiritual and cultural awakening as when he joined the church youth group in 1979 in his home town of Mossel Bay. He has been in leadership positions from a young age. The trajectory of his life shows that he has been elevated in many cases by his peers to positions of leadership despite his reluctance to be in the limelight. He humbly served in his early days as a youth leader and grew into serving in leadership structures of the Provincial Youth Council and the Anglican Students Federation.

Through his involvement in the youth group, he came to see the trap of poverty and enslavement that they needed to get out of. The late Fr Patrick Jacobs identified leadership qualities in him and soon in 1981 he was chosen to attend a four months residential National Youth Leadership Training Programme (NYLTP) in Durban. This offered him the first opportunity to travel outside of the Western Cape.  It was during this time that he was forced to consider the personal claims of Jesus on his life and this did not only result in a spiritual awakening, but it also started to open up the career path that he was to follow. For the first time he started to think of a vocation to priesthood.

After he had finished the NYLTP, Bishop Allan did voluntary youth work as an organiser in the Archdeaconry of Mossel Bay. The following year in 1982 he was appointed as Diocesan Youth Worker. Much of his work focused on political conscientisation, social awareness and facilitating leadership sessions for young people.

Bishop Allan was made Deacon on the 15 December 1985 after three years of theological training and formation at St Paul’s College, now known as the College of the Transfiguration, in Grahamstown. His diaconate and first year of full time ordained ministry was served under the late Fr George Eksteen. Bishop Allan describes Fr Eksteen as “An old-school priest whose life exemplified prayer, discipline, and a selfless commitment and love for God and the people of God. He expected the same from his curates. He brought home to me the seriousness of my vocation, the necessity for a morality that was consistent with my vocation, and the need for hard work.”

Eight months later on the 27 August 1986, Bishop Allan was ordained a priest. He eventually developed into full-time ordained ministry, where he was made rector of a parish at a young age in recognition of his maturity in leadership.

In January 1987, he was chosen from amongst many applicants from all over the Church of the Province of Southern Africa to participate in an exchange programme with the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) in the United Kingdom. The nine month overseas visit broadened his horizons considerably. This is how he describes the experience “I was able to see and experience places that I’ve only read about, I experienced the ‘catholic’ nature of the church, and was stretched beyond imagination in my thinking about church and society.”

On his return from the United Kingdom, he settled into parish ministry. From 1987 until 2000, he served at parishes in Mossel Bay and George where he also served as an Archdeacon, Chaplain of the Diocesan Youth, Director of St John’s Guild, Director of Post Ordination Training and in Vocational Guidance Ministry.

Then in 2001, he joined the Diocese of Pretoria where he served at Sunnyside, and at Irene during which he also became an Archdeacon.

Following an invitation by The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba, the Archbishop of Cape Town in 2010, Bishop Allan started work at Bishopscourt, the headquarters of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, serving as the Archbishop’s Provincial Executive Officer. It is in this capacity that he developed further in his experience and this is what he says “Again my horizons were stretched considerably. I worked and liaised with Bishops and Archbishops, with ecumenical partners, and with ordinary people and leaders in civil society from all over Southern Africa and the world. I got a broad overview and was intimately involved in the handling of the many issues that demanded the attention of the Archbishop and the Synod of Bishops. Here also I facilitated the formation of the Anglicans ACT Vision and Mission Statement of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.”

At the end of his three year contract at Bishopscourt in 2013, the Synod of Bishops conferred on Bishop Allan the title of Provincial Canon in recognition of his contribution to the life of ACSA while at Bishopscourt. He readily left Bishopscourt mainly to return to parish ministry in Pretoria because he so much missed pastoral work because he felt deeply that this was where his vocation truly was.

Shortly after arriving back in Pretoria the Diocesan Bishop offered him the incumbency of the Cathedral against his wishes. This appointment could not have come at a worse time. We all know about the storms that reigned in the Diocese at that time and the brokenness of relationships between the Cathedral community and the Diocesan leadership. On hindsight, it seems it was by sheer providence that the then Dean Allan was the chosen one with the strength and capability to skilfully restore this brokenness to some stability. His appointment was indeed an inspired choice. He navigated a difficult set of circumstances with great strength of character and a clear sense of purpose and calling as a priest and as Dean. For him it was always not about the individual, but about what is good for all the people of God. He has been able, with the help of God, to make the Cathedral church a place of good news for all in the Diocese.

Many have clearly seen at work in Bishop Allan the gifts that God has blessed him with especially over the three years as Dean. His openness, integrity, humility and vision for God’s mission, his organisational skills and interpersonal competencies, are gifts that made a huge difference not only at the Cathedral, but also in the life of the wider Diocese. His calm and well-reasoned input in the assemblies of the Diocese always contributed to sensible decision making.

About his much maligned experience as Dean at St Alban’s Cathedral, he says “Here my training, skills, experience, and gifts were tested as it had never been tested before. My tenure as Dean forced me to dig deep into my spiritual reserves. I walked into an explosive situation where suspicion, distrust, and an almost total collapse of ministry characterised life in a deeply divided Cathedral congregation. On the other hand I had people in diocesan leadership who demanded that I do their bidding in dealing decisively with obstinate members of the Cathedral. This was a hard place to be in. The old dictum that ‘the Lord who calls is also the Lord who equips’ was proven true. My bridge-building gifts, diplomacy, wisdom, and the never failing guidance of the Holy Spirit enabled me to return a sense of calm to the Cathedral and to make it a place of Good News again. Sadly, not everyone in the Cathedral or in Diocesan saw it that way.”

Bishop Allan may not have higher formal academic qualifications but he ensured that he suitably equips himself with a Certificate in Management Principles for Church Leader obtained from UNISA in 2003; a PEAK Leadership Programme from the University of Stellenbosch in 2012 which is an international business leadership programme based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and is tailor-made for church and community leaders and an Urban Leaders Certificate from the University of Pretoria in 2015.

He also has a proven and practical track record of intellectual maturity and a depth of spirituality which he has applied in a variety of situations at all levels of the Church where he served in the Parishes, in the Archdeaconries, in the Diocese and in the Province.  He has a reputation at all these levels for a resolute sense of justice and fairness. These are qualities he acquired in the rough-and-tumble of practical life in which he got immensely blessed with the glorious crown of ubuntu, humility, respect and servanthood.

The following is what Bishop Allan says about himself:

“I am gifted with leadership qualities, a pastoral heart, diplomacy, bridge building, i.e. reconciling people, and wisdom. I am competent in administration and organisational development. I am also honest, straightforward, and do not tolerate arrogance. I’d like to think that these qualities endeared themselves to those who saw it fit to appoint me to positions of responsibility in the church. I sometimes think I’m too forgiving.”

He describes his personal vision as “Striking a fair balance between being and doing. I strive to be a person of Prayer and the Word, seeking strength and guidance that can only come from close companionship with God.”

Bishop Allan is happily married to Connie for 28 years. They have been blessed with three wonderful sons. Two of them have graduated from the University of Pretoria which Bishop Allan describes as a personal long standing goal he has now proudly achieved. He further says their third son “fell in our laps” eleven years ago and that the Children’s Court has recently assigned them as his foster parents.

Bishop Allan and his wife, Connie

Bishop Allan and his wife, Connie

“Our ambition has always been to provide our children with a solid platform in life. Amongst this we count the gifts of faith and a solid education.  I strive to have a positive impact on my family. My wife and I complement each other and we use our unique gifts and talents to grow the whole family. I strive for the same in my ministry. I try to see the gifts in others and how best we can complement each other for the advancement of the work of God” says Bishop Allan about his goals for his own family and for the Church.

His election to the position of Bishop has indeed affirmed the long standing tradition, culture and history of this Diocese. Bishop Allan is one of many of our previous Deans who became Bishops in this Diocese or elsewhere. They include Bishop Richard Kraft; Bishop Derek Damant of George; Bishop Suffragan Robin Briggs; Bishop Rubin Phillip of Natal; Bishop Ossie Swartz of Kimberly and Kuruman; Bishop Les Walker of Mpumalanga; Bishop Martin Brytenbach of St Mark the Evangelist; Bishop Daniel Kgomosotho of Mpumalanga; and Bishop Jo Seoka.

It is because his leadership is characterised by selfless dedication and commitment that Bishop Allan ended up rising to higher levels of responsibility in the Church. He has shown a level of maturity and integrity that runs deep in him. He himself did not seek any of the positions that he ended up in. Instead it is what others saw in him, and asked him to serve in the capacities that he did. Even with regard to his rise to the Episcopacy, he was reluctant to avail himself for the electoral process. He is a rare breed of human species that readily acknowledge their shortcomings. He always quietly leaves it to others to see the strengths and gifts that God has abundantly blessed him with. For this reason, when there were approaches for his nomination, he dutifully proceeded by going on a retreat in order to prayerfully discern if this was something that God wanted for him. He would in fact be quite content if the Electoral Assembly had decided not to elect him as Bishop of Pretoria. He would have truly accepted that as the answer from God.

It is this humility and selfless approach to ecclesiastical leadership that draws many to Bishop Allan. He has a deep sense of vocation, and believes firmly in the God who calls and sends. He would not call or send himself. In fact prior to the Electoral Assembly, he asked his backers not to campaign for his support. He would not want to be seen contesting or competing for a position in the Church.

Bishop Allan is a people’s person with excellent interpersonal and social skills. He gets on well with most people. In all the congregations and Archdeaconries where he has worked, he is well loved and respected. He has a deep love for all God’s people, and will always be seen alongside those who are in need of the assurance of God’s love. He is a pastor by heart.

Bishop Allan is gifted with the ability to unite and hold together divergent people and views. He often joked that much of his work as a priest was to keep the people of God away from each other, because when they come together sparks fly! He has a wonderful and often wicked sense of humour. This, together with his friendly disposition allowed him to endure the most trying circumstances. He has been experienced as a bridge builder. His soft spoken and unassuming disposition belies a strong character, a steely will, and a pragmatic intellect. I cannot forget what he once said to me during the most torrid times of pressure and humiliation he has ever been subjected to. “Boeta G, ek het ‘n dik vel!” (Brother G, I have a thick skin)

Bishop Allan has been highly regarded by his peers when he was a Priest. He enjoyed their respect and many of them looked up to him for guidance and leadership. His experience and pastoral heart appealed to both his colleagues and lay members of the church. His devotion to the Church and the Lord of the Church is most admirable.

He is deeply rooted in the liberation theology. He has spent most of his career serving those who, under Apartheid, were marginalized and silenced. He continued to exercise in his approach to mission and ministry, a preferential option for the poor. He is devoted and committed to serving Christ through his Church, and has demonstrated this through his obedience to the call of the Church – by leaving George and Mossel Bay in the Southern Cape to come to Pretoria, then went briefly to Cape Town, and then returned to Pretoria. When he finally accepted the nomination for Bishop of Pretoria, it was in humble obedience to this call.

Those who nominated him for election to become a Bishop, believed that he is blessed with the gifts, skills and competencies that the Diocese need at this time. He has got the hard skills gained through many years of training and formation, while at the same time he brings the soft skills like patience, kindness, gentleness, even while speaking hard things. He is well respected and has support and following because of who he is, and not because of the position he holds. We all need to support him and together with him continue to grow the Diocese to another level

For relaxation and fun, Bishop Allan reads, fishes, makes cabinets and listens to music.