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Synod of Bishops – September 2021 – Communiqué

A PDF version of this Communiqué, issued after the Synod’s meeting on September 20th and 21st is available below the text.


Communiqué

I wish you to be shepherds with ‘the smell of the sheep’” – Pope Francis

The Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa held our September meeting over two days on a virtual platform this year. The previous day the Synod spent a difficult but rewarding day in discerning the mind of Christ to fill two vacant Dioceses. We are glad to announce that Bishop Brian Marajh will assume the episcopal seat in Kimberley and Kuruman, and the Revd Dr Vicentia Kgabe has become the Bishop-Elect of Lesotho. The Bishops also agreed to the translation of Bishop Vicente Msosa of Niassa to the newly-established Missionary Diocese of Zambezia. The Synod of Bishops also, albeit reluctantly, agreed to the retirement of Bishop Luke Pato of Namibia.

This Synod of Bishops was a special occasion in the sense that it was the last time that the Bishops from our Portuguese-speaking Dioceses shared with us in our deliberations. We were joined by the Vicars-General of the newly established Dioceses of the Igreja Anglicana de Mozambique e Angola (IAMA).

Great gratitude and appreciation were expressed to Vicars-General who all excelled in providing leadership in vacant Dioceses, a number for unusually long periods during coronavirus lockdowns. The Bishops voted unanimously in favour of them being conferred with the title of Honorary Provincial Canon. The Synod of Bishops reflected on the implementation of the new Canon 4. In six elections that used the new provisions, only one Diocese was able to elect a Bishop. It was agreed that more fine-tuning to Canon 4 is needed if it is to serve the ACSA more effectively. A motion to this effect was passed by Synod and will now serve before Provincial Synod. The motion will ask Provincial Synod to approve the increase of the number of ballots from eight to ten before an election is referred to the Synod of Bishops. This arrangement will be valid only until the next Provincial Synod in 2024.

The Synod of Bishops discussed and endorsed a report proposing that the Diocese of Natal consider multiplying by establishing new, smaller Dioceses. Synod noted the positive experiences of Dioceses in other regions which have multiplied in the past, and the solid case which the Diocese of Natal presented for multiplication. It resolved to support the consideration of a motion on the matter at Provincial Synod. It also noted the need for a formal motion from the Synod of the Diocese of Natal to Provincial Synod in order to meet the requirements for due diligence.

Advocate Pansy Tlakula, Chairperson of the Information Regulator (South Africa), and a team from her office addressed Synod on the complexities of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) and its implications for ACSA. Synod of Bishops learnt that as long as personal information is used for the purpose for which it was gathered we should not have problems. ACSA is to ensure that each Diocese and each parish must see to the appointment and registration of a POPIA compliance officer. The golden rule to adhere to in order to ensure compliance is G-O-D: personal information is to be Gathered, Organised (kept safe), and Destroyed when appropriate.

The Synod of Bishops learnt from Bishop Dintoe Letloenyane, Liaison Bishop for the youth, of the positive spirit amongst our youth. They seem to rise to opportunities in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Their ready use of online platforms to celebrate children and young people; the development of liturgies that are used to great effect on virtual platforms; their consistent messages to their peers not to be tempted to take part in the looting and arson in South Africa in early July; and their call to refrain from alcohol and substance abuse which the lockdown experiences seem to encourage are all positive and encouraging signs.

We rejoiced at the news of the publication of an abridged version of the Anglican Prayer Book in the Kwanyama language (indigenous to Namibia).

Canon Rosalie Manning from the Safe and Inclusive Church Network reminded the Bishops about the need to have on file from clerics (and bishops) any possible adverse information as to their conduct relating to the different categories of abuse. The Synod of Bishops was deeply saddened when it needed to confirm a Diocesan Tribunal sentence of degradation of an accused priest. The charges included sexual harassment.

The Bishops received a challenging report from the working group on Guidelines for Couples in Same Sex Unions. The need for a possible pastoral response was again emphasised and it was referred to Dioceses for further study. One of the slides in the presentation summed up our present situation: “Human Sexuality: our discomfort in talking about it. Our difficulty in learning about it. Could result in our misunderstanding of it, render us impotent in responding to it.”

Canon Manning gave us an update, on behalf of the ACSA COVID-19 Provincial Advisory Team, on our legal obligations in terms of the COVID-19 protocols. She also shared statistics and the impact of the pandemic and how it has brought about other challenges, for example, in areas such as mental health and Gender-Based Violence. Synod agreed to endorse the call for all to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Chairperson of the Task Team on Discrimination in Anglican Schools, Professor Mary Metcalfe, gave a progress report. The team have started to engage with heads and other representatives of Anglican schools. The engagements are a way of seeking collaboration to address discrimination at our Diocesan schools. The Bishops and Vicars-General were encouraged to take leadership in these initiatives.

Professor N Barney Pityana, who heads the Archbishop’s Commission on the College of the Transfiguration, Theological Education and Ministerial Formation, spoke powerfully on the challenges and opportunities which COVID presents to the Church when he referred to the special spiritual and theological moments which we are presented with during the pandemic. Deep questions about who and what we are must be reflected on in theological terms. At present our focus on Mission and Evangelism is compromised and we seem to shy away from grappling with and exploring the difficult questions which our present context presents.

Synod of Bishops received a report from Bishop Carlos Matsinhe of Lebombo on the development of the new Province of IAMA. We noted the consent of the Primates of the Communion to the establishment of the new Province, the adoption of the Constitution and Canons in the first Provincial Synod held on the 1st of September 2021, the creation of eight new dioceses, and the appointment of Vicars-General. The Bishops endorsed the process and commended it to Provincial Synod for final approval.

We gave thanks for the sterling work of the outgoing director of Growing the Church, the Revd Trevor Pearce and welcomed the appointment of his successor, the Revd Bruce Woolley. The Bishops pray that the Province will share their excitement about the upcoming Anglicans Ablaze Conference. ACSA will be hosting an international conference, so it will be good to see solid support from home.

Membership of the Provincial Order of Simon of Cyrene was to be conferred on Ms Di Oliver and Advocate Ronnie Bracks. The Revd Courtney Sampson and Revd Rachel Mash were to be bestowed with the Archbishop’s Award for Peace with Justice. We noted with pride the Lambeth decorations in the form of the Cross of St Augustine for Services to the Anglican Communion to the Revd Dr Rachel Mash and Bishop Luke Pato, and the Langton Award for Community Service to the late Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya.

PDF version follows:

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News Synod of Bishops

Communiqué from the Synod of Bishops

Issued after their meeting from February 23 to 26, 2021.

Dear People of God,

Grace and Peace be with you!

The Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa met, prayed, discussed, and shared together under the leadership of Archbishop Thabo, Archbishop of Cape Town, and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

Due to the restrictions imposed on our various nations due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Synod of Bishops was held virtually. Notwithstanding the vagaries of technology and participants being occasionally disconnected, Synod was a success and the normal sense of collegiality enjoyed in our meetings was again evident.

The busy schedule centred around the daily offices and input from Mr Douglas Board, speaking from London, and Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell of the Jesuit Institute from Johannesburg. Their inputs on our Encounter with God, and our Spiritual Journey were deeply challenging and moving. Synod was inspired and empowered by their input, and deeply appreciative of the hard work put into their presentations.

Synod observed a moment of silence and offered prayers in memory of Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya who died recently from COVID-19 complications. She was a valued member of the Bench and will be greatly missed. May her soul rest in peace and rise in glory. Synod noted that the Archbishop of Canterbury has conferred, posthumously, the Langton Award for Community Service on Bishop Ellinah. The award, named after Stephen Langton (Archbishop of Canterbury in the 13th century), is made “for outstanding contributions to the community in accordance with the Church’s teaching”.

Synod of Bishops approved and gave authority under Article ii to dealing with Canon 4, Of the Election of Bishops, in the light of the lockdown restrictions imposed across all the countries of ACSA. This special resolution will permit the Archbishop to promulgate and hold Elective Assemblies, under special provisions, in those Dioceses currently without Episcopal leadership. The Elective Assemblies have twice been postponed due to lockdown restrictions, and it is imperative that we elect and consecrate episcopal leadership in these Dioceses. Synod expressed deep appreciation for the work of the Vicars-General who have served the Church so selflessly during this time of interregnum. Their ministry has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Synod of Bishops gave further authority under Article ii on the holding of Vestries, Canon 27, that these may continue under the conditions approved by this Synod.

The motion approved at the last Provincial Standing Committee on Gender-Based Violence, and the need to increase the representation of women in positions of leadership in the local Church and the Province was endorsed. This important work was discussed in light of the serious threat posed by patriarchal dominance which seeks to destroy, often violently, the God-given ability of women and their call to leadership in the Church.

Synod of Bishops reflected on the challenges presented by the COVID-19 Pandemic. These included the economic and health issues before us. Time was spent exploring how we believe God is calling the church to minister and grow under these ‘new-normal’ circumstances.

Synod of Bishops noted the Provincial Synod to be held in September of this year, and the new date for the Lambeth Conference in 2022.

Synod was presented with the exciting and important developments within the Portuguese-speaking Dioceses of ACSA, which are to become a new Province in the Anglican Communion, named Igreja Anglicana de Moçambique e Angola (IAMA) (the Anglican Church of Mozambique and Angola). This development is indicative of the growth within ACSA for which we give God the glory. During Synod news from the Anglican Communion Office was received that approval has been granted for this project to continue in its exploration and preparation. Final approval for the creation of this new Province is still to be granted, but an important first step has been successfully completed.

Professor Mary Metcalfe, speaking on behalf of a highly qualified team, presented a progress report on their investigation into racism in Anglican Schools. This is an ongoing investigation. The work completed thus far has set a precedent for a way of listening and beginning the work of addressing the removal of the pain and disabling effect of racism, which for so many has been a lifetime of experience. It is clear this is a process and cannot be quickly addressed.

Lay Canon Rosalie Manning addressed Synod on both the Safe and Inclusive Church and Human Sexuality Commissions. The importance of this work cannot be over-estimated, and after discussion with the Bishops there was unanimous agreement that further work and training is required.

Synod noted the following with deep concern:

  • The impact of the insurgency in Cabo Delgado within the Diocese of Nampula in the north-eastern part of Mozambique, leading to loss of life and trauma for those living under this threat; and
  • The deteriorating situation in the Tigray Province of Ethiopia.

Synod expressed a unanimous desire that both these intolerable situations be addressed and resolved. Bishop Manuel Ernesto of Nampula was assured of our prayers at this time. The statement on Tigray published in the name of Archbishop Thabo was duly adopted. Synod also noted the damage inflicted on Mozambique by recent cyclones and assured the people of Mozambique of our prayers and support.

Synod was also told that the mortal remains which were exhumed during the building of the airport in St Helena are yet to be re-interred. Synod was requested to pray and bring moral pressure to bear for the remains to be accorded the dignity of reburial as a matter of urgency.

Several Bishops have been asked to stand in positions of leadership in both public and community life. Bishop Carlos of Lebombo chairs Mozambique’s National Elections Commission; Bishop Charles of the Highveld is the chair of the Church Unity Commission. It was also reported that the Revd Dr Vicentia Kgabe, Principal of the College of the Transfiguration, was invited to join the Board of the Theological Education by Extension College (TEEC). Synod also congratulated Bishop William, Christ the King and Bishop Vicente, Niassa, as well as Bishop Moses Madywabe and Bishop Eddie Daniels, on the anniversaries of their Consecrations. The news that the Revd Thandeka Vikilahle has been appointed as the first woman Dean of Mthatha was received with great joy.

A commitment was made to rediscover the important role the South African Anglican Theological Commission (SAATC) plays in our prophetic leadership and witness to the world. Bishop Raphael of Saldanha Bay chairs this Commission. There is a need to source additional and younger members of the Commission, and for discussion to filter deeper into the ACSA.

Time was spent exploring the role and future development of education in our Church. This included discussion on the important role of the College of the Transfiguration (CoTT), noting that the changing dynamics caused by the Pandemic and lockdown will necessitate a prayerful and bold process of envisioning. A strong plea was made that we support CoTT and not lose this heritage of which we can be justifiably proud. Synod approved the creation of a committee to explore further the developments already under way concerning CoTT.

Discussion also ensued on the role our Anglican Schools play in the life of the Diocese, the Church and Southern Africa. These schools play an important part in the life of the church and require our full support. Synod noted that the position of Executive Director of the Anglican Board of Education (ABE) is being advertised due to the contract with the Revd Roger Cameron having concluded. Synod expressed grateful appreciation for the sterling work and ministry of the Revd Roger Cameron. Synod agreed he would be made an Honorary Canon of the Province.

Synod of Bishops received a report from Bishop Dintoe, Free State, on our young people. Great appreciation was expressed for their leadership and life within the church and assured them of the support of the Bench of Bishops, and of our desire to see them assume their rightful place in the life of the church as an investment for our future and as an asset at this time.

Synod of Bishops discussed the issues around the motion from Provincial Synod giving the ACSA’s support for Palestine. A group appointed by the Archbishop has endeavoured to listen to both sides of the debate and has agreed to continue offering support to the people of Palestine in the light of the oppression and restrictions imposed upon them. The similarities with Apartheid cannot be ignored. Neither can we ignore that Scripture is used to condone this oppression. The use of Scripture challenges both the gospel and the church to address this issue in the light of Christ. In this we note the motion did not support the use of violence on either side of this conflict. Synod takes this matter seriously and has asked the Archbishop to bring it before Lambeth 2022.

Synod of Bishops gave their approval of a petition questioning the granting of permission for fracking in the Kavango Region of Namibia. The probability of environmental degradation occurring due to fracking is too great to ignore and must be carefully investigated before permission is granted. Synod was unanimous that drilling must be halted with immediate effect.

Bishop Charles, the Synod’s Liaison Bishop for the SACC, tabled an SACC Statement on the danger of South Africa being destabilised by the refusal of witnesses to appear before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Synod shared the SACC’s concern that disrespect for the law can destabilise South Africa. Given the country’s immediate past, South Africa cannot afford such a threat. Synod of Bishops supports the SACC’s call and asks parishioners to be vigilant in ensuring equality before the law for all. We call on all to respect and work to uphold the law. No one is or should be above the law.

In these uncertain times, the words of the First Letter of Peter on hope ring true: “Cast all your anxiety on Jesus because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) May it be so for each of you. Amen

[The Communique has been updated since first published to add the concern over St Helena, to correct the name of the new Province, and to make two other small corrections.]