Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
To the Laos - Post Retreat and Lent
Dear People of God
I greet you in the precious name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2). As Holy Week approaches, I pray that by the grace of God you may be able to walk closely with Christ's disciples, and observe our Lord's passion with fresh eyes - so that you may also with experience the fullness of Easter with fresh joy and newness of life.
I am writing this letter after my first full week back in Cape Town, following my long retreat. It was almost 40 days, if I include travelling time. It has been a gentle re-entry to 'normal life', via the Synod of Bishops, where, for the first time we celebrated the presence and gift of our two sister Bishops, who enriched our time together in many ways. Then came two joyous consecrations: first, the new Bishop of the Free State, and then, a week later, the new Bishop of Johannesburg. We ask for God's rich blessing upon Bishop Dintoe and Bishop Steve, and their ministries.
But I am still absorbing, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, what my time away has meant to me - and am sure there is still a whole lot more absorbing to do. I feel that during my time away, the Lord has helped me dig deep, deep, wells of resources on which I shall be drawing for a long, long, time to come. Please do pray that I may learn well all that God has taught me, and that it may be reflected faithfully in my talking, speaking, writing and living, both for God's Church and for God's world.
Much of this profound spiritual encounter was, not surprisingly, about my personal journey of faith and the struggles of my own life. But all of this shapes who I am, and who I am becoming, in Christ, in the ministry to which I'm called. And so what it means to be Archbishop of Cape Town was also much on my heart and mind and in my praying, during my time away. To keep us rooted in our own contexts, we had time set aside each day to intercede for others, and all of you, especially bishops, clergy, and office-holders across our many organisations, were remembered. Though I was far away in North Wales (in the middle of winter!), I nonetheless felt very connected with Southern Africa.
As I reflect, it seems there was no area of life or ministry that did not receive the tender touch of the Holy Spirit - in healing, or redemption, or challenge, or refocus, or renewed calling. It was like 'meeting Jesus afresh - again, and again' as I encountered Jesus in new ways that drew me into deeper relationship with him.
Surely this is what Jesus asks of all of us, when he says 'Follow me!' This summons will last us for the rest of our lives. And therefore, each of us, whether clergy or laity, have to take some sense of 'ownership' of our own spiritual journey of faithful following, and not merely be passive passengers, content to let other church leaders carry us along.
'Be renewed by the transforming of your minds' wrote St Paul (Rom 12:2), though the Greek for 'minds' is closer to the whole person than the English word - and it is true that our beliefs and understandings affect our whole person. So, though Provincial Standing Committee has declared this the 'Year of Theological Education' for ACSA, our entire beings should be involved in 'growing in knowledge and love of God', as the Blessing puts it.
Therefore, I encourage you, in the year from Easter 2013 to Easter 2014, to take your spiritual education into your own hands. Build on whatever your church offers, but also commit to going further: perhaps through making a pilgrimage, meeting regularly with an appropriately trained spiritual director, joining contemplative outreach or quiet days, or going on retreat.
+Thabo Cape Town
At Synod of Bishops, we also reflected on Theological Education, and called for continuing support, especially for COTT, through our offerings for Theological Education Sunday on 18 August. We also thanked God for the progress made in Grahamstown with everything from accreditation to refurbishing the infrastructure. We also prayed for the continuing full recovery of Prof Barney, and especially his wife Dimsa, from their recent car accident.
Synod also focussed on the broader educational needs of our nations. We commended all educators, administrators and concerned citizens who strive to ensure quality education for all, and called for strong action to be taken where there is need.
Coming back from such a sheltered time away, I found it traumatic to read of so much continuing violence, especially within South Africa. Every newspaper seems full of terrible stories of sexual assault, rape, and murder of children and women; and of wider brutality within our societies, even perpetrated by the police. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms. But we must do more - speaking out, and acting wherever we can, to change attitudes and change behaviours. I heartily commend the 'ring the bell' campaign as one contribution to stopping domestic violence.
We are continuing to work slowly and steadily with the Dioceses of Pretoria and Umzimvubu, and the particular challenges within them that face us. We wish to assure our people in these Dioceses that we share their pain and have adopted strategies that, we hope, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead to healing and wholeness in the Body of Christ. We implore you to pray for these pastoral interventions so that we may be whole, in answer to the prayer of our Lord Jesus, who prayed that we 'may be one' (Jn 17:11,21).
You can read all about these discussions and others that we had, on such subjects as the wonderful growth in the Diocese of Niassa, and plans to move towards establishing a new episcopal area and electing a Suffragan Bishop; and liturgical renewal and plans to revise the Anglican Prayer Book, in our statement. This is available on the ACSA website, my blog, and Facebook.
As I write, Pope Francis is about to be installed in Rome. I have been heartened by the press reports of this humble man who takes seriously his vows of poverty and simplicity, who understands the needs of the poor, of social justice, of the 'two-thirds world', and who is a caring pastor and capable administrator. Please join me in praying that he will be able to shoulder the very great responsibilities that come to him, in our diverse and challenging world. We also assure Cardinal Napier, and Archbishops Tlhagale and Brislin of our love and prayers at this time.
News has just broken that the leader of the Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, will attend the Pope's inauguration. The first time this has happened since the 'Great Schism' of 1054! This is a most wonderful, and rather unexpected, development in Christian unity, for which we thank God.
Later this week Lungi and I will be in Canterbury for the Enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Please do keep Archbishop Justin in your prayers as he too takes on a demanding and very public role, in the Church of England, and across the worldwide Communion; as well as his wife Caroline and family.
And may God bless you with his loving presence, his grace, his compassion that is without limit; and may he bring you newness of life in the Risen Christ, in every area of your lives.
Yours in the Service of Christ