‘To God be the glory, great things he has done …’ This song rang in my heart at the beginning of this month, when, with 1400 of you, I was at the Anglicans Ablaze Conference in Johannesburg. It was a remarkable time together, deeply spiritually moving, and stirring heart and mind with profound teaching from wonderful speakers.
Though we come together in far larger numbers in our Dioceses, this was the largest pan-ACSA gathering anyone can remember. It was all I hoped it might be, and much more – for God never ceases to surprise us, even if we know in our heads that he delights to do ‘immeasurably more than we can ever ask or imagine’ (Eph 3:20). I have longed for us to find ways to celebrate the best of our traditions, including in liturgy, alongside other forms of faith and worship which equally exemplify authentic Anglicanism; all accepted as part of our legitimate diversity. Well, we certainly enjoyed this, as you will know if you’ve seen pictures of Bishop Martin Breytenbach playing his guitar while wearing a cope! Our worship was both properly dignified, and yet lively and exuberant in our response to God’s love poured out upon us.
It was an amazing celebration of the goodness of God, and of our distinctive though challenging Anglican calling. For it seems to me that our ability to hold together in love, and overcome barriers (whether ‘secular’, of politics, history, race, language and so forth, or ‘church’, of styles and traditions) can be an icon, modelling the societies God calls us to promote across the Province. I left Bryanston a changed person, and believe our church has also been changed, by God’s grace. It was as if God gave us a taste of the holistic renewal he desires to bring to us – across every aspect of the life of faith, from evangelism to discipleship to mission to social justice to the environment. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ says the Psalmist, and there is no aspect of human living that God does not want to redeem and renew.
How shall we take forward this excitement, this teaching, this inspiring sense of newness of life for us all (which feels like a personal challenge of ‘re-evangelisation’ to each of us, to take our faith ‘to the next level’), and share it across our Province? I am sure that those who were in Johannesburg will already have begun to do this. The celebration of the Anglicans ACT Vision (at the heart of Anglicans Ablaze), on 25 November, is another opportunity. I also invite you to read, prayerfully and reflectively, the ‘Message to the Church’ in which the Listening Team summed up so much of what God did for us during our time in Bryanston. This follows on below my letter.
By the time you read this, I shall be heading for New Zealand, to the Anglican Consultative Council, for which I ask your prayers. The ACC is, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primates’ Meeting, one of our ‘Instruments of Communion’. Meeting every 3 years, it brings together ordained and lay representatives from all 38 Anglican Churches, and so is the only body not made up of just bishops! Revd Canon Janet Trisk and Mrs Louisa Mojela are our other representatives. From 27 October to 7 November we will have a busy time discussing a great range of subjects in the life and mission of the global Anglican family.
The agenda includes the current state of the Anglican Communion, and the decisions made so far by churches on whether to adopt the Anglican Covenant, as well as looking at relations with other churches and the work of a host of global Anglican networks. One of these is the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN), which I chair, and there will be a major presentation around its work. Other major topics on the agenda include inter-faith relations, countering gender-based violence, communications, and Christian witness in contemporary contexts.
The environment has been much on my mind recently – not least the need to plant a growing number of trees to offset my extensive travel (I am fully aware of the irony of this, and the need, highlighted at PSC, to use technology to reduce our travel ‘footprint’). This planting is part of a radical overhaul of Bishopscourt’s gardens, in which, with the help of the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s ‘Early Detection and Rapid Response’ Team, we are steadily clearing out invasive alien species that threaten to overrun us, and to suck up all the ground water. I wish that my predecessors had realised 30 years ago how vital this task is. If it had been tackled then, it would have been a far easier and far cheaper job. I encourage all of you who have any gardens or land, to take special care in your stewardship of them.
Various speakers at an event this week to encourage such ‘weedbusting’ highlighted how poor care of our environment exacerbates poverty in direct and indirect ways. This is a theme in the seven studies ‘Sabbath Reflections: Capitalism and Inequity versus a Gospel Mandate’ which we will formally launch at ACC. In these, my predecessor as chair, Bishop George Browning, considers how contemporary societies must ‘address rapidly growing inequity and ... confront an economic system which operates as if resources are infinite and humanity can somehow exist as if it is not part of an unfolding ecological crisis.’ He explores how a fresh understanding and practice of the biblical concept of Sabbath can reconnect economics to ethics, and shape human society in a manner that is consistent with the creation upon which it depends. These are vital questions we must face, if we are to ensure that it is not ‘business as usual’ in our international financial structures. There needs to be a radical overhaul if we are to reverse the shocking trends of growing inequality and economic injustice through which a small minority can become ridiculously wealthy at the expense of the poorest, and even of the middle classes. If you are interested in downloading these studies, you will find them at http://acen.anglicancommunion.org/resources/documents.cfm.
Yours in the service of Christ
+Thabo Cape Town
We came, close to 1400 of us, because we wanted to be, and wanted the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to be, Anchored in the love of Christ, Committed to God’s Mission, Transformed by the Holy Spirit – believing this is not just our vision, but God’s vision for us.
We came with excitement, anticipation, commitment; even if a little unsure of what to expect, perhaps a bit lost or fearful, or aware of obstacles in our lives and in our church. But we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and has done far more than we could ever ask or imagine! God is love, and has met us in love, and called on us to abide in his love.
God offered us a turning point, and we have found it so: a turning point for many individuals, and for our church, which may also go on to become a turning point for our parishes, our communities, our nations.
It has been a time of renewal, of genuine renewal, as God sees it. It brings cleansing, healing, wholeness and newness of life for us, in every aspect of what it is to be human, made in the image of God, sharing in the body of Christ, loving our neighbours and God’s world. It is renewal that is about the abundant life which Christ promised. It is about evangelism and discipleship and integral mission and social justice. This is God’s comprehensive, holistic, renewal, far wider and deeper than we had expected, and he desires it to be at the heart of our church. He has come to us with power, yet he has also dealt with us gently and naturally.
We have been here to learn, and God has blessed us with some wonderful speakers. We have learnt that ‘the plural of disciple is church’, and that we need to move from being ‘welcoming’ to ‘inviting’ churches. We have learnt to have courage in God’s love not to minister from the damaged, wounded, places of our lives (which so often leads us to damage and wound others) but to live out of a brokenness that finds its place in the brokenness of Christ upon the cross, and shares in the weeping of God the Father for his children and his world. We have also learnt that power and authority belong to God, not to us, no matter what position we have. It is God’s gift. We must hold power lightly and share it.
We’ve also learnt that God will hold us, safe in his love, when life brings difficulties or obstacles, as inevitably happens. So we will not be afraid when everything seems to grind to a halt – if God says wait, then we will wait, but keep listening and ready to learn more. We will have courage to see the issues that we battle with as stepping stones not stumbling blocks, believing that God lets them come to us so that he can teach us what it means to take us through them to a better place. We’ve learnt that we should trust God to take us through our fears; to cleanse us from shame; to take our hardness and dissolve it in his cleansing waters of life. We have heard his call to let go of – or allow him to prune – all that holds us back.
We believe our time together has delighted the heart of God. God has given us a fuller vision, not only of being ‘Anglicans who ACT’, but of what we might become if we dare to live into the fullness of all that Anglicanism can be in Southern Africa, under God’s grace. In this way, he is calling us to become more, not less, Anglican! We have been the largest, and most diverse, gathering from across ACSA that anyone can remember: we have enjoyed being together as Archbishop and 12 more bishops and bishops-elect, as clergy, as religious, as laity, and as young people (we acknowledge that we have not had children among us, but affirm that the promise of God’s vision is for our children also). We have experienced God’s love breaking down the barriers of the social, political and historic divisions within our nations, and breaking down the differences of tradition, style, and labelling within our church. ‘God’s love is the glue that holds us together’ the Archbishop told us on our first evening, and we have come to know the truth of this for ourselves.
We believe this holding together in joyful, celebrated, diversity is a precious gift which God calls Anglicans to model to the world around us. It is as if we have experienced a foretaste of what the societies of our nation have the potential to become. For we have found ourselves enriched by one another, and know we have more to learn from each other. We have been delighted to experience something of what it means to live with this ‘mixed economy’ of church identity (as we heard Archbishop Rowan has described the best of our historic traditions alongside authentically Anglican newer forms of worship and church life), as we share together, anchored in the love of Christ. We have heard a clear call to hold on to the new links we have forged across old divides, as we go from here to our homes.
We thank God for the great blessing he has brought us through our times of worship (including our early morning Eucharists), and through our praying with and for one another. We have especially enjoyed having so many young people with us. As was said, their passion and energy, when joined with the wisdom of experience, is a winning combination!
Our time together has been significant. It has truly become a turning point. We have been changed, and our church has been changed. We have received a wonderful vision from God for our future, ‘a vision for the appointed time; and if it seems to tarry, we will wait for it, for it will surely come, it will not delay.’ We know we will face many challenges when we go home, even within ACSA. We are also more than aware of the enormous challenges in our communities and nations, and of the huge and ever faster changes our world is experiencing. But we are not daunted. We know that our calling is to keep listening to God, and to be faithful and obedient, and open to God’s leading, and then to leave it to him to ‘do his bit’, recalling that ‘Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’
We also believe that God is calling us ‘to bless and not to curse’: to step back from the critical habits of contemporary society and stop complaining about our church, our societies and our governments. Where we see faults and failings, we should instead be beacons of light and hope, and bearers of God’s redemptive promises. ‘Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise’ we will let our minds dwell on, and our mouths speak of, such things.
Deep within us, our spirits speak in the words of the song that has been so significant during our time together: ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’ In our listening, praying and speaking, we have felt God offer images of holy fire and living water: flames that blaze, with flying sparks that spread the fire, and a flaming arrow pointing the way ahead; and waters that cleanse like wetlands, or dissolve hardness, or well up in unquenchable life-giving springs.
We are learning we need to be increasingly anchored in the love of Christ. We have learnt not only to say ‘God is good, all the time’, but also ‘God is love, all the time’ and ‘God loves us, all the time’ and ‘God loves me, all the time.’ And, having learnt this lesson, we have heard the voice of God coming to us as it came to Moses and the ancient Hebrew people, ‘You have been in this place long enough – it is time to break camp, and move on.’ Amen.
Deut 1:6 – We have been here long enough: now is the time to break camp, and move on.
Habbakuk 2:3 – ‘… a vision for the appointed time … If it seems to tarry, wait for it: it will surely come, it will not delay.’
Haggai – Rebuilding the Temple
Luke 5:38 – new wine in new wineskins
John 15 – ‘Abide in my love’ …
Romans 12:2 – ‘…be transformed by the renewing of your minds’
I Cor 3:6 – ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’
Phil 4:6-8 – ‘Whatever is true .. honourable … just … pure … pleasing … commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’
1 John, especially 3:14–4:21 – ‘God is love’ … ‘We love because he first loved us’ …
Bishop Graham Cray: ‘Mission will never be effective without authentic discipleship; and discipleship will never be taken seriously unless we engage in mission’ and ‘Renewal without mission is self- indulgence; mission without renewal becomes legalistic or triumphalist or disillusioned.’
‘Our theology would improve if we thought more of the church being given to the Spirit, than of the Spirit being given to the church.' John V Taylor