Pastoral Letter from Synod of Bishops – September 2018
Light in the Darkness
Pastoral Letter from the Synod of Bishops
Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA)
Dear People of God,
We greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA), we met in Synod in Benoni from Sunday 23rd until Wednesday 26th September 2018. We were joined by the Vicars General of the Dioceses of Mzimvubu and Port Elizabeth. ACSA includes the countries of Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, St Helena, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa.
As always, our meeting took place within a rhythm of prayer, worship and fellowship. During our time together we shared at a personal level and debated issues facing the church, local communities and our various countries.
In the opening Eucharist, we were challenged by Jesus’ words in Luke 8:16, “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light”. We reflected on the fact that the histories of our countries include great darkness coming in forms like colonialism, genocide, racism, oppression and abuse. We continue to suffer from darkness in many forms, including tension around racial, tribal, economic and land issues.
Painfully, we also recognised that there is often darkness in the church as well! We dare not point our fingers at others without examining ourselves honestly. We also experience abuse, corruption, conflict and financial problems. Sometimes even the Bible is misused to bring darkness, death and oppression, whereas God’s intention is for it to be a source of light, life and freedom in Christ. All of this is a call to repentance for us as leaders and members of the church.
But there is good news: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Jesus said in Luke 8:18, “Then pay attention to how you listen”. We need to hear God’s “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) amidst all the noise and clamour around us. If we hear God and respond with faith and obedience, the light of God will shine ever brighter in us.
We were reminded in Proverbs 30:5 that “every word of God proves true; God is a shield to those who take refuge in him”. Jesus calls us to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2). We cannot do this alone, but only together as the family of God in Christ. As Jesus said in Luke 8:21: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it”.
These thoughts about light and darkness provided a background for all that we did together.
We spent most of our time considering the future of Theological Education and Ministerial Formation in ACSA, including the role of the College of the Transfiguration (COTT) in Grahamstown. We received presentations from two angles.
- Prof Barney Pityana introduced us to the conceptual framework of the Archbishop’s Commission on Theological Education. Their focus is on three areas:
- Research into what training is taking place at present, and what we need;
- Analysis and action to address the financial challenges facing us at COTT in order to be sustainable;
- In depth theological reflection about Theological Education in ACSA, in a radically changing world.
- We began to look at the possibility of developing the property at COTT in Grahamstown so that it can become income generating and sustainable in the long term.
Leadership and Governance
We exercised our minds on several issues of leadership and governance in the church:
- We held an Elective College for the Diocese of St Helena. Ven Dale Bowers (49) from the Island of St Helena was elected to be Bishop. We extend to him, his family and the Diocese of St Helena our love and congratulations.
- Exciting news is that the Synod of Bishops agreed to establish the new Anglican Missionary Diocese of Nampula – which has been multiplied from the Diocese of Niassa. It is made up of the Provinces of Nampula and Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique. Bishop Manuel Ernesto is Bishop of this new Missionary Diocese. Plans are being made for a celebration of its formation, and a team from the Province is being set up to help them with the process.
- Provincial Synod changed the Canon about the retirement of Bishops in 2016. We clarified the process of retirement, or of extending the tenure of Bishops beyond the normal retirement age. We also agreed on the need to review a Diocese financially when it becomes vacant and before an Elective Assembly takes place.
- We agreed on a proposal to review the missional priorities of ACSA, so that they are more in line with the Vision1 and Mission2 of our Province. These three priorities include the eight that have been priorities until now:
- Liturgical renewal and transformative worship
- Discipleship – including theological education, formation and leadership development
- Prophetic ministry – including advocacy in education, nurture of the young, women and gender, environment and health.
This proposal was sent to Provincial Standing Committee for debate and adoption.
We received and discussed progress reports on some important areas affecting our life and ministry:
- Good progress is being made with the Anglican Communion’s Season of Intentional Discipleship and Disciple-Making, also known as “living and sharing Jesus-shaped life”. We received a pamphlet introducing the season, which will be distributed widely throughout the Communion. We noted with joy that our Anglicans Ablaze Conference (3rd-6th October in Hillcrest, Natal) is seen as one of the key strategies to promote Jesus-Shaped Life in Southern Africa and the wider Communion.
- We received a very serious report on the Safe Church Commission. It was emphasised to us that it is urgent and important for every Diocese to:
- Set up a team to deal effectively with allegations of abuse in the church. These teams will receive training for this important ministry, and guidelines for action will be prepared.
- Respond to the questionnaire that was sent to Bishops earlier this year.
- Require police clearance certificates for all people being ordained or licensed, and those working with young people and children.
There are also plans to amend Act XV, on the Pastoral Standards, at Provincial Synod next year, in the light of new developments.
An email address has been set up for those who wish to report abuse that has taken place: safechurches[at]anglicanchurchsa.org.za . This may be done anonymously. This is also a call for us to soak the church and all God’s people with prayer.
- The Archbishop’s Commission on Human Sexuality reported to us about progress, especially in holding consultations with the Dioceses of ACSA. As before, we recognised that there is a great variety of opinions among us, and that there are strong and deep feelings on all sides. In general, there seems to be a greater openness to listen to one another and talk about these things. Most urgently, we noted that the Pastoral Guidelines for those in Civil Unions (in South Africa) are not yet complete. We committed ourselves to do that.
- We received a full report from the Liturgical Committee. They continue to work on the development of a revised Anglican Prayer Book, but they are looking at new approaches – it will be different from previous Prayer Books, reflecting the massive changes that are taking place in the world. They will pay special attention to the principles and values of our worship; the shape of our services; and the resources that are available for liturgical renewal and transformative worship.
An exciting new development is that we agreed to add three commemorations for our calendar:
- Steve Biko
- Sophy Gray
- Bishop William Colenso.
We welcomed the new ordination services that have been drafted for Bishops, Priests and Deacons and were encouraged to begin to use them on an experimental basis. We also heard the plea from the Liturgical Committee that we should make a special effort to train more liturgists and worship leaders.
We wish you God’s richest blessings individually and in your communities. Let the light of Jesus shine in the darkness around us and within us. “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light” (Luke 8:16).
1 The Anglican community in Southern Africa seeks to be Anchored – in the love of Christ; Committed – to God’s mission; Transformed – by the Holy Spirit.
2 Across the diverse countries and cultures of our region, we seek: To honour God in worship that feeds and empowers us for faithful witness and service; to embody and proclaim the message of God’s redemptive hope and healing for people and creation; to grow communities of faith that form, inform, and transform those who follow Christ.