Dear People of God
'Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing which has taken place' say the shepherds to one another - and in doing so, invitation us all to come with them to the manger and kneel before the tiny infant who becomes our Saviour and Servant King. Babies and children move our hearts in special ways, putting us in touch with something within us that we do not want to lose - perhaps that 'childlikeness' which Jesus says is necessary for entering the kingdom of heaven.
Once again, I have been touched by the Christmas party which Lungi, Nyaki, Pabi and I hosted, for the third year, at Bishopscourt, for 200 girls and boys from Anglican orphanages and children's homes. It is always a day full of fun and games, as we join 'children being children' in spite of the harsh realities they have faced.
Thanks to generous sponsorship, we have now bought a trampoline for use every year. We also had a clown, volunteers from the City Council's Childline, and St Johns Ambulance on stand-by for bumps, scratches and other first aid. The Anglican Students' Fellowship lent a hand, as did the stalwarts of the Church Men's Society, and many of the 'mothers' of the diocese were here to give home carers a break. Hope Africa has also become a key supporter and board members enjoyed interacting with the children. We are always grateful to the Science Centre for sending their mobile laboratory, with complex, stimulating, games. I tried a science puzzle on eye-hand coordination: tracing a maze while looking at your hand only through a mirror. I founded I needed more 'flexibility' in my thinking, to move my hand as I wanted!
The children love the swimming pool, so girls from Anglican schools, Herschel and St Cyprians, acted as life guards. Others offered face painting. St George's and Bishops schools' boys could not attend but sent generous donations of food and Christmas parcels. Nyaki lent a hand, even though he had to leave early for an Art examination that afternoon, and so Pabi joined her mother and her team, doing 'double duty' for them both. It is always a delight to see the parking area full of mini-buses from the homes and other cars, and children taking over the whole estate.
The kids are great theologians and philosophers, asking questions with a curiosity and directness that adults never match: 'Archbishop, why do you wear such a big ring?' 'Why did you invite us here - I thought only important people came to Bishopscourt?' One little child asked, 'When Father Christmas arrives here to collect the presents, where does he park? Do you keep the addresses of all the Christians in Cape Town for him?' They certainly made me laugh at their vivid imaginations! Yet the sense of appreciation from the kids is always humbling. God willing, we will meet again next year. Some of the children will have moved on - do pray the older ones can establish a settled life - and others will have joined them. Please keep them all in your intercessions. Perhaps you can make a donation to children in need either through Bishopscourt or Hope Africa, or in your own diocese or parish.
As we ponder on the mystery that the vulnerable Christ-child was also the incarnate Son of God, we can let our hearts be touched by all children in poverty and need. Pray especially for those who suffer systemic oppression, particularly through such abuses as child slavery and militarisation. We thank God for all NGOs and others who work with children, and pray for them to prosper, and bring genuine tangible hope, and new beginnings to the boys and girls they seek to serve.
I also strongly commend to you the Promising Life campaign of the Micah Challenge: Christians supporting the Millennium Development Goal of dramatically reducing mother and infant mortality. See micahchallenge.org.za.
Ten days later I travelled to Maputo for Bishop Dinis Sengulane's wedding to Lina Valoi. First, we attended the funeral of Fr Germano, giving thanks to God for this faithful pastor and PSC rep, who had died two days earlier, as custom dictated we deal with death before turning to celebrate life. We then went to bless the new house that +Dinis and Lina are building; and on to Lina's home to complete the lobola process. It was a fascinating 'indaba' process, as representatives of the two families engaged in dialogue. Finally the bride-to-be was called from her bedroom to check the groom was indeed the right chap, and that she was prepared to marry him. There was great rejoicing at her affirmative answer - celebrated with a wonderful lunch!
'Everyone' was at the church wedding the next day, from ACSA, ecumenical interfaith partners, state, business, labour, every part of the nation and with many international guests. The church was packed, and the fans struggled to produce a cooling breeze. We rejoiced as the bridal couple chanted psalms and joined the choir in song and dance. +Dinis used the opportunity to launch a new hymn book and a guide to Christian living - 'excellent resources' said one guest, a convert from Islam, on scanning the booklet after the service. The vibrant, colourful occasion was even broadcast live on TV! Afterwards, around 700 of us were entertained at the reception, including the president's wife, prime minister, and current and former cabinet ministers. It was a multilingual party, with representatives from the US, the Church of Norway, partners ALMA and MANNA, and French and Portuguese speakers too.
On Sunday, the bishops who were present (including five of us from ACSA) were sent for 'mission experience'! I preached, presided at the Eucharist, and baptised a baby, for an English service, attended by +Dinis and Lina, and two other newlywed couples. We also had prayers for a widow, 30 days after her husband's death, and marked the 30th anniversary of the Portuguese and English congregations joining. The context was truly of life and death, from baptism, birthday and wedding celebrations to grief and mourning. The tiny church was packed: if we had been in Joburg, fire inspectors would have banned us from meeting because of fire hazard!
We then travelled to +Dinis and Lina's new home, for the traditional welcoming of the new bride. Further family negotiations then took place, to confirm assent to the lobola, while we ate and chatted. Then there were smiles and we knew all was well, the process was complete, and they were legally, theologically and culturally married!
This is my last letter until March, as, from late January I shall be away, to follow the 'Full Spiritual Exercises' of St Ignatius of Loyola, which involve a 30-day retreat. I'm looking forward, with anticipation, and some apprehension, to this stretching spiritual journey, and discovering how God wants to meet me and deal with me. I'm praying that in my personal walk with him, and in my ministry, it will be a time of refreshment, fresh focus, and, I'm sure, deep challenge and new calling.
Before I leave, it will be my great joy to preside at the consecration of the Ven Margaret Vertue as Bishop of False Bay on 19 January. In March the consecrations of the Revds Dintoe Stephen Letloenyane and Stephen Moreo, as Bishop of the Free State and of Johannesburg, will be in my calendar, together with a Synod of Bishops meeting. Provincial Synod also meets this year, in October. Please begin praying about this too, and considering motions you wish your diocese to bring before us.
Let me end with the traditional Christmas blessing, which reminds us that God in Christ meets us each of us just as we are, and touches us with love that is tailor-made: May the eagerness of the shepherds, the joy of the angels, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ-child be yours, this Christmas, and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you always. And may you also have a happy and blessed 2013.
Yours in the service of Christ
+Thabo Cape Town