Seeing More Clearly – Pastoral Letter from the Synod of Bishops
Seeing More Clearly
Pastoral Letter from the Synod of Bishops
Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA)
21st February 2019
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 Monday 18th to Thursday 21st February. ACSA includes the countries of Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, St Helena, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa. We welcomed Bishop Dale Bowers, the new Bishop of St Helena, into our fellowship. We rejoiced that Eddie Daniels will be consecrated Bishop of Port Elizabeth on Saturday 23rd February. We were joined by the Vicars General of the Dioceses of Mzimvubu and Zululand. We said farewell to Bishops Martin Breytenbach (St Mark the Evangelist in Limpopo) and Garth Counsell (Table Bay), who will retire before our next meeting – and gave thanks for their ministries among us.
We welcomed Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his team from The Episcopal Church (TEC) for two of our morning sessions. He shared with us the journey of TEC in the areas of marriage and human sexuality; and Safe Church – issues which we worked on during Synod of Bishops.
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 wrestled with issues facing the church, local communities and our various countries.
In our readings from Mark 8 Jesus encountered various kinds of blindness. The religious leaders were not willing to see spiritually and demanded a sign even when Jesus had been working miracles among them (Mark 8:11). Jesus’ disciples failed to understand what he was doing. He said to them, “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” (Mark 8:17-18). A blind man came to Jesus for healing. Jesus said him, “Can you see anything?” (Mark 8:23). At first he could not see clearly, but as Jesus prayed for him again his sight was fully restored.
Similarly we found that, as we looked carefully and deeply into a number of difficult issues, God began to open our eyes so that we could see and understand better. May God continue to do that work in us, and use us to lead the church into clearer vision on these things.
We received a report from the Archbishop’s Commission on Human Sexuality. The main goal of the Commission at this stage is to bring revised Pastoral Guidelines to Provincial Synod in September this year. As part of this process, the Commission will continue to conduct regional consultations in various parts of Southern Africa. Dioceses, parishes and organisations have been asked to hold workshops based on case studies and using questions that have been prepared and sent to the Diocesan Reference Teams. Feedback should be sent to the Commission by the end of June: email@example.com .
In all of this we were challenged by the call to learn to live with our differences, and even to live with contradiction. We realised that it will be a long term process in which we listen to God and one another. We have made mistakes in the past and will make mistakes in the future, but we are determined to journey together in the love of God and mutual respect. We are committed to finding and upholding the values of Jesus in marriage and relationships.
Safe Church Ministry
We spent a day workshopping how the church can best respond to abuse in all its forms and overcome it, so that all people can experience the Church as a safe and inclusive space. This is a process taking place throughout the Anglican Communion. Through several case studies and discussions, we considered:
- The Charter for the safety of people within the churches of the Anglican Communion
- The theological Principles that need to undergird our responses
- The Process of dealing with complaints and allegations, including forms that can be used to report them and sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Structures that we need to put in place, such as changes to the Canons of the Church, response teams in every Diocese, and a central register to keep records.
Each Diocese is expected to set up a multi-disciplinary Safe Church Ministry Team. Training of these teams will take place later in the year, and changes to the Canons will be proposed at Provincial Synod in September. Each of the Bishops made a commitment to the Safe Church process in ACSA.
Throughout the workshop it became clear to us that a culture of secrecy about abuse is “demonic” and leads to darkness. Perhaps it comes from a fear of telling the truth, yet it is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32) and leads us into the light. We need to approach these things with deep humility, aware of our own failures, keeping the difficult balance between pastoral care for all involved and legal processes that may be required.
Resignation of the Bishop of Zululand
The Bishops considered carefully our response to the resignation of Bishop Monument Makhanya of Zululand after allegations of sexual misconduct were received. We supported the Archbishop’s acceptance of his resignation and have commented on this more fully in a Pastoral Letter addressed to the people of the Diocese of Zululand [DOWNLOAD USING LINK] Parallel processes are being set up to care pastorally for all involved, and to institute the required Canonical steps to investigate the allegations.
Diocese of Angola
The Synod of Bishops agreed that, after a long journey, the Missionary Diocese of Angola should be granted the status of a full Diocese, with Bishop André Soares as its first Diocesan Bishop. This is an immense achievement and a source of great rejoicing as we recognise how the Anglican Church in Angola has grown. We are looking forward to the inauguration of the new Diocese and to the installation of the first Bishop of the fully-fledged Diocese after Provincial Synod in September.
Missionary Diocese of Nampula
Following the decisions of Synod of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee last September, the inauguration of the new Missionary Diocese of Nampula – formerly part of Niassa in northern Mozambique – will be celebrated on Saturday 16th March. Former Regional Suffragan Bishop Manuel Ernesto will be installed as the first Bishop of this Missionary Diocese.
College of the Transfiguration
We rejoiced at the news that the College of the Transfiguration (COTT) has a full complement of 61 students this year, and gave thanks for generous donations that have made it possible for several poorer, women students to attend. Nevertheless it remains a challenge to support our only residential Theological College – and we appeal for your prayers and generosity. A COTT Foundation has been established to raise much needed funds.
We also received a preliminary report from the Commission into Theological Education, and look forward to their recommendations at Provincial Synod. We spent some time responding to the report of the Advisory Board on Theological Education by sharing our Diocesan processes to identify, train and nurture those whom God is calling into the ordained ministry. This included a report on progress at St Christopher’s College in Maputo. We found that we can all learn from one another, but were encouraged by how similar our approaches are.
Canon Law Council
Synod of Bishops spent time receiving a report from the Canon Law Council about proposed changes to the Canons at Provincial Synod. Among the more far reaching proposals are:
- Major changes to Canon 4 on the Election of Bishops;
- Changes to Canon 18 on factors to be taken into account when considering those who are nominated for election as Bishop;
- An amendment to Canon 21 to address the situation where a Diocese falls behind in its assessment to the Common Provincial Fund or Provincial Pension Fund;
- Changes to Canon 26, to clarify the role, deployment and licensing of Self-Supporting clergy;
- An amendment to Canon 34 to clarify the requirements for the marriage of clergy who have been divorced;
- To rearrange the layout and presentation of the Canons so that they are easier to follow and use.
Please pray for Provincial Synod as they prepare to debate and decide on changes to the Constitution and Canons of ACSA.
Other Important Issues
There is never enough time to address everything in depth, but we also had other useful discussions:
- We agreed to a policy for the use of social media;
- We heard about the need for deep work to be done to establish racial justice – not only in Southern Africa, but throughout the world;
- We received an update on the state of the Provincial Pension Fund – and were reminded that it is critical for Dioceses to keep up with their contributions;
- We had a very helpful talk and discussion on stress, trauma and self-care.
In our final reading from Mark 8:27-33, Jesus challenged his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”. When Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah” Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Peter and the other disciples found this hard to accept – but Jesus insisted that the cross was the only way.
In the same way we would have preferred to avoid facing up to the difficult issues before us, especially since they often expose our own failings and weaknesses. But by the power of the Holy Spirit we did our best to address them honestly and in love. We believe that we have come to see many things more clearly during this time.
We commend our reflections and work to you and ask you to continue to pray for us in our leadership role. In the name of God we implore you to open your hearts, minds, ears and eyes to what God is doing and saying in the church and world today. Thank you for your partnership in the gospel. We love you in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
1 Web Site Reference