St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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To the Laos - October 2009

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Dear People of God

First of all, may I say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has prayed for me and my family, sent messages, or otherwise supported us, following the death of my mother last month.  She was a remarkable lady, who had devoted her life to bringing up our family in the face of great hardship, and who had taught me so much of the life of faith which I was then able to make fully my own.  She had reached the grand age of eighty, and, though we knew she was unwell, her death was nonetheless a shock to me.  Yet I have felt so supported, so held up, by the prayers of so many during this time.  Thank you, ke a leboga, to you all.

Last month also saw meetings of the Synod of Bishops, and the Provincial Standing Committee.  I hope you have seen the Statement that the Bishops issued.  It is on the ACSA website, www.anglicanchurchsa.org.  Alongside responding pastorally to the new reality created by South Africa’s provision of civil unions for same sex couples (about which I wrote last month), we debated a wide range of issues including theological education, spirituality, youth, social questions and practical matters like our budget.  The prime task of the Church remains the same as ever – to preach Jesus as Lord and Saviour, sharing his good news with all people.  In order to ensure we did not lose sight of this in the business we had to attend to, within Provincial Standing Committee we changed the format of our agenda, and spent more time each day in prayer and in Bible study groups.  We focussed on listening to the word of God, so that in discernment groups and in plenary debate, all that we discussed and decided was rooted and grounded in our worshipping life, in Scripture and in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

One area on which we are continuing our work to produce a vision and mission statement for the whole Province, that will help us affirm our common identity and the priorities to which God calls us, alongside the great differences of circumstances we face within our Dioceses.  Thank you to all of you who responded to my call last year to send in information about parish vision and mission statements.  Our objective is not to dictate to local churches, but rather to keep our common life in mind, so we can be partners together in the gospel – and to make sure that, wherever it makes more sense and provides greater efficiency, we act provincially to resource and support dioceses and parishes.  The Anglican AIDS and Healthcare Trust, and the Liturgical Commission are two existing examples of this – though we need to view their work within a more comprehensive understanding of Provincial life and see how we can do more and better.

Another major theme of our meetings, and one very close to my heart, was the environment.  Stewardship of our creation is a fundamental vocation from God – not least because if we fail in our task then it is not just our physical planet that suffers, but actually we ourselves, and all God’s children, together with every other living animal and plant.  The enormity of what we face was brought home to us by a very powerful short video, produced on dvd, by the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute.  SAFCEI, in which our own retired Bishop Geoff Davies is playing a leading role, are doing some remarkable work, and this is just one of the many excellent resources that are available from them (see www.safcei.org.za or write to PO Box 106, Kalk Bay, 7990).

As a result, PSC passed three resolutions – encouraging greater partnership with SAFCEI at every level, including calling on all parishes to become ‘eco-congregations’;  giving thanks for the ‘Season of Creation’ material produced last year, inviting parishes to consider making every September a ‘Season’ when we consider creation and our responsibility towards it;  and exhorting us all to take every possible step to reduce our carbon footprint, and, as a mark of commitment to this, to support the 350.org Campaign and the International Day of Climate Action on 24 October.  My hope is that before long every Diocese will have their own coordinator for environmental matters – and perhaps every parish too – and that, drawing on the work of SAFCEI and others, we will learn and put into action specific steps as parishes and individuals to become more eco-friendly.

Let me say a little more about the 350.org.  This global organisation reminds me very much of the Jubilee 2000 campaign – when churches and others all around the world lent their combined weight to put pressure on governments to change their stance on debt to the poorest nations of the world.  None of us alone could do this – but together, we made a sufficient impact to force politicians to take the necessary steps.  Now we can confidently do the same for the well-being of our world!  ‘350’ gets its name because this is the highest level of parts per million of carbon dioxide within our atmosphere that is safe and sustainable – yet current levels are around 390.  The immediate goal of the thousands of events being held in over 150 countries of the world is to demand that at the UN Copenhagen Climate Conference in December, governments make firm commitments to get us back to 350 as quickly as possible.  (The website, www.350.org, has more details.)

I will be taking part in a ‘Red Hot Faith-filled Climate Procession’ with other faith leaders, that will begin outside Parliament in Cape Town, and weave around the city centre before culminating in a picnic in the Company Gardens.  We shall all be dressing in, or painting ourselves, red, to point to the current unacceptable overheating of our planet!  We hope to have fun, as we make our voices heard!

What will you do on 24 October?  Find out if there are events in your area (check with 350.org), and join in!  And, if nothing else, make this a focus of your weekend services.  Pray for ‘Climate Justice Now’ (indeed, you might like to do this daily, just as in the past we prayed for political justice).  You could have a minute’s silence to remember the destruction already being done to our world.  Some churches, across denominations, are planning to chime their bells across towns and cities all at the same time on 24 October.  Be imaginative, and make sure there are pictures in the papers!  We want our governments, as well as those of the richer nations of the world, to take seriously the need to treat God’s creation with proper respect, care, and justice, for ‘the Earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it’.   

Finally, I am sure you will join me in expressing congratulations, love and prayers to Archbishop Philip Russell, who celebrates his 90th birthday this month!    

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town
 

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