Charles May Consecration sermon 12 September 2015 - Holy Cross Day
Ka lebitso la Modimo,
Ntate, Mora le Moea o Halalelang, Amen
John’s Gospel chapter 17 verse 24: in his great prayer to
the God the Father our Lord Jesus Christ says with reference to his disciples:
‘Father, they are your
gift to me’.
Your Grace, Bishops, distinguished guests, Charles and
Tebogo, sisters and brothers in Christ: I greet you in the Name of God. Nna ke kopa ho dumedisa bohle ba diocese ea
Highveld letsatsing lena le leholo la kajeno.
I should like to thank the Archbishop for inviting me to
speak on this occasion because the Dioceses of the Highveld and of Christ the
King were founded within a few weeks of each other early in 1990, in the midst
of a time of enormous change and challenge in the life of this nation. We have
travelled hand in hand since then; as a new bishop I travelled closely with
David Beetge through the war years and it has been a joy since then to travel
with Bishop David Bannerman. We start chapter 3 today.
You will know that today’s bishop-elect, Charles May began
his ministry in our diocese, at Ennerdale, and now he is coming home to the
destination God has planned for him in the Highveld. I am not sure what he has
been doing between then and now – mohlomong
o ne a potapota lefeelleng - we are just hoping that after these years in
the wilderness he can now bring his great missional passion and gifts to bear
in the service of this diocese and its people.
What you may not know is that Charlie had to give up a
promising career as a professional goal keeper in order to enter the ministry
of our church; history might have been very different – we might even have
avoided the amaswayiswayi being
relegated from the premier division and breaking Bishop Sigisbert’s heart. At
least we can talk about this diocese now being in safe hands.
Now let me speak to Charles and Tebogo and the rest of you
can listen in.
Charlie, I don’t know why you think you are here today; it
is surely not to be promoted or glorified but to take another step in the
journey of identifying with God’s people in their journey, which you began long
ago. When David Beetge and I were preparing to begin this ministry we had a big
disagreement with the then Archbishop Desmond because we thought it was more
modest to be installed than enthroned; but Desmond would have none of it
because he insisted that in the theology of St John’s gospel, our Lord Jesus
Christ was enthroned on the Cross and we were entering into that on becoming
bishops in the church of God. That is quite a reflection for this Holy Cross
You have of course come here today to receive gifts: a
bible, a cross, a ring, a staff and a hat among other things. These are all
symbolic and I will speak of them in a moment.
But first of all today you have come to receive the gift of
God’s people placed in your hands for you to care for them.
Some years ago I put myself into an 8-day retreat in the
mountains taking with me only the Gospel of John. In the depths of that week I
took myself off into the mountains to a favourite spot where a lovely waterfall
drops into a beautiful clear pool and there I tried to listen to chapter 17,
the great prayer of Jesus to his father. As happens in retreat, one phrase
grabbed my attention with particular force: they
are your gift to me.
Of course I started doing one of those prayers that Bill
Cosby attributes to Noah: ‘You can’t be serious – them? The people in our
diocese? That priest? That parish? A gift? You must be kidding!’ Then came one
of those silences that God specialises in when we are talking nonsense: ‘of
course they are a gift – can’t you see it?’
It was there in that moment that I came to internalise the truth: there
are times when the people I have been given to care for are an obvious gift,
full of love and generosity. There are times when their identity as gift is
more concealed: God will use them to teach me all kinds of stuff that I don’t
want to learn – grace, humility and perseverance: maybe better gifts than the easy
This is what you have come here today to receive: a crowd of
people spread from the airport to Pongola, hugely different, urban and rural,
primal and professional, old and young, delightful and difficult, speaking a
string of languages and seeing life through such very different eyes: yet
loving their church and looking to you to care for them and lead them. They are
God’s gift to you.
As you go on, there will be days when that gift is obvious. You
will be treated with extraordinary generosity: I work on the rule, ‘the poorer
the congregation the bigger the lunch’. When Peter Storey was a Methodist
bishop with responsibility for Mocambique during the war years, he visited once
to find that they had kept the last tea bag in the village for him and he was expected
to sit and enjoy it in full view of all the people. That kind of extraordinary
regard will come your way, all undeserving as you are. There will be Sundays
when you drive back from the Brook weeping and singing the whole way for no
reason but the sheer privilege of being with God’s people as they worship and
care and welcome you. You will go around the townships from house to house in
Holy Week, finding in one matchbox house after another an elderly lady in
tattered clothes and shoes full of holes, the symptoms of destitution
everywhere in the home – yet overwhelmed with joy that her church has come to
see her for ten minutes and pray with her. You don’t have to do anything clever
for that; you just have to wear the shirt and go there as a sign of her
church’s involvement in her life – and she will weep as you lay hands on her
and pray. And you know that when you leave she will call all her friends and
family and say, ‘guess who was here?’ You
don’t deserve that – but it is a gift.
You may be tempted to spend undue time and attention on
those whom the world considers prominent or influential. Of course they are
also needy human beings and you need to respond to them both pastorally and
prophetically when the time is right; but they are no more your priority than
the poor and the humble – nor are they your special friends or necessarily your
allies; they may prove all too fickle. Remember what Isaiah said about leaning
too hard on a broken walking stick; ‘it
is a splintered cane which will run into a man’s hand and pierce it if he leans
on it’.(Is 36:6)
Of course there will be lots of boring days when you sit in
meetings or in traffic just doing the routines: remember the principle that the
rightness of every calling lies in the capacity to endure the tedious parts
because of the fruit that comes from it. You have to do what Bishop Philip le
Feuvre used to call the ‘faithful desk work’ that goes with all the public
stuff. I remember a Sunday night when Archbishop Desmond had been with us at an
evening service in Yeoville in the 1980s, and as we left after 9 in the evening,
I asked him, ‘are you going home now?’ He replied, ‘No, I am going to the
office to clear my desk before my day off tomorrow’.
Bishop Bruce Evans said to me at this point in my own ministry,
‘Being a bishop is hard work – and you must pray, pray, pray’.
At this point I would like to give you a little gift from
our diocese. (Call servers to bring
weaving.) If you like you can see those ducks as a reminder of the dove who
is coming to equip you for the office and work of a bishop. But what I want to
show you is the way the weaving works: the colour which runs horizontally is
held in place by the hidden framework of string that runs vertically and
invisibly holds the colours together. I think of the colour as the people and
local communities of the Church: but one of the strengths of Anglicanism is
that there is a hidden network running the other way and holding it all
together – the bishop, the diocese, the archdeaconries, the guilds like the MU
and the Bernard Mizeki Guild, the youth structures and the Sunday School, HABSA
supporting the social development ministry in this diocese, and so forth. When
they work together there is a wonderful synergy which creates both strength and
beauty; when they compete, the whole picture starts to unravel. If some of the
colour decides to go for a walk it collapses in a heap on the floor because
nothing is supporting it – and that leaves a hole in the picture.
Part of the work of a bishop in our church is to take care
of both the horizontal colour - the people and the parishes - and the vertical
structures of the guilds and diocesan organisations which hold the colours
together. Part of your calling is to work for the harmony and the synergy, and
discourage the unravelling. You are literally supposed to see the big picture
and hold it up for all to see. (Ask
servers to take weaving away.)
You will of course have painful days. One of our parishes in
the Vaal which I don’t want to name had become a hot-spot of HIV and AIDS. For
some reason the servers there had developed the habit of calling me ‘Bra Bish’
– so every time I walked in they would all stop work and chorus, ‘Hey Bra
Bish!’ It was fun until one day we went to visit the head server at home, where
he was lying in bed like a skeleton with his mother washing him with a cool
cloth. As we entered the bedroom he raised one hand weakly and said, ‘Hey, Bra
Bish’. Let these people into your heart and they will break it: that is when
you are a gift to them, as well as them to you.
Then of course there will be days of disappointment, days of
struggle, days of conflict: days when you can’t understand why they have
projected all their unhappiness onto you, when a priest you have invested your
life in lets you down, when the place you have poured your days and your love
into simply refuses to come through to peace and healing. Remember that you
can’t win them all – but also remember the 80-20 principle; in all
organisations 20% of the people cause 80% of the grief and leaders spend 80% of
their energy on that 20% where the grief is. But stick at it; if you keep
loving that 20% and believing in them, you will find that 20% gradually
shrinking towards 10, and of course you will then have to invest less energy
than before in the trouble spots!
Somewhere down the line you will start to be surprised by
joy: your worst enemy will start trusting you and the priest whom you have had
to be toughest with will suddenly send
you an sms on Father’s Day saying, ‘u are really such a good Dad to me’.
If the people of this diocese are God’s gift to you today,
then the other gifts start to make sense.
You will receive a bible, as the sign of your teaching
ministry: mine is falling apart but it has Desmond’s name in it and I am going
to keep using it as long as I am doing what that book was given to me for.
Despite the renowned teaching role of the bishop, you won’t be able to do much
of it unless you plan it quite carefully; because you have to travel around you
will mostly be doing the ministry of encouragement, banging the drum and trying
to keep the people of God moving forward and if possible more or less in line
with one another. Bishop Richard Kraft used to say that it is fine for the
bishop to preach the same sermon all over the place because the bishop is the
bearer of the vision for the diocese, and once the diocese has clarified that
vision through synod and in other ways, it is ok for you to go around
reinforcing it in the minds of the congregations. That is true but it can stultify
you if you never sit down to study, to prepare or to teach. Look for
opportunities to do that.
Of course you now have to try to bring all kinds of people
along with you; you will have to carry the whiteys, and you know what Bishop
Steve is always saying about the darkies. You can imagine the trouble that I
got into recently trying to tell Ennerdale about Moses meeting God among the
bushies...You may have to choose one leadership style in one place and another
Then on this Holy Cross Day you are to receive a cross, to
remind you of the Johannine understanding of enthronement. Unfortunately this
can become a bit of a jewelry show among bishops; you will tend to collect
them. (By the way let me warn you – if you have to go to an away match with all
the bishops in the same change room, don’t leave anything valuable lying
about.) I have a simple square wooden cross which Rich Kraft gave me and which
I wear in Lent to remind me of the hard reality of what it means to take up the
cross, regardless of the role in which we take it up. However much you rush in
the morning, take a moment when you put it on to remind yourself what it is
about and whom you represent when you hang it round your neck.
Then comes a ring:
the ancient sign that a bishop is now married to his or her diocese. Of course
Tebogo may think she now has a new rival with whom you are spending too much
time; you have to work out that balance as you go along.
But there is a bit of ‘for better or for worse, for richer
or for poorer’ about today. This bride is God’s gift to you; don’t be in a rush
to move on to the next one. You are here to be faithful, to stick at it, to
care for these people in sickness and in health.
Very soon you will be asked to make the oaths and
declarations which mark your collation into office; this is your ante-nuptial
contract. Unfortunately people forget their ante-nuptial contract the way they
forget their marriage vows. These undertakings tie you to loyalty to the Anglican
Church of Southern Africa, its constitution, canons and governance. You are
going to be asked , ‘Will you accept the
discipline of this church and faithfully exercise authority within it?’ The
centurion who met Jesus reminds us that you have to be under authority in order
to wield it well. When you are collated you bind yourself to respect the
Archbishop, the Provincial Synod and the Synod of Bishops, to follow the law of
this Church, to promote the multiplicity of decisions that we make at meetings,
and to hold others accountable to those laws and decisions. You can’t do that
if you play fast and loose with them yourself.
Some time ago I invited a lecturer from the College of the
Transfiguration into our diocese as rector of a parish and then found out that he
was moonlighting in another job while accepting a stipend from his parish. When
I confronted him with the canon which required him to get permission to do
that, he replied, ‘I am not too good at
canons, Bishop’. I pointed out that he had been teaching future clergy who
in turn were now presumably ‘not too good at canons’ either. Of course we don’t
want to be legalistic but the proper role of law under God is to protect people
from abuse; that is why we have a standing policy in this Church that every
single office holder should undergo a course in the Pastoral Standards of the
Church especially if they are working with children. Yet to this day despite
the urgings of our Provincial Chancellor Judge Ian Farlam, we do not teach
ordinands canon law. We keep sending players onto the field with no grasp of
the offside rule, and then act surprised when they get yellow-carded.
Just recently as you no doubt know, a tribunal of this
Church found a priest guilty of assaulting a member of the public. The sad part
was not only the attitude and conduct of the perpetrator but the fact that his
ordained friends apparently declared that their loyalty lay first with their
friend, rather than with the protection of the public as entrenched in the
principles and values of this Church, to which they had sworn allegiance in
their own oaths and declarations when they were licensed.
When you accept collation at this service, you bind yourself
to be one of the guardians of the principles and standards of this Church. You
will have to promote those values by your example firstly, as a role model;
secondly by the way you govern your diocese fairly, justly and consistently;
thirdly by ongoing education of your clergy and other people in pastoral
leadership positions; and when prevention fails, occasionally and painfully by
So you are first called to model submission to the framework
of authority to which you are committing yourself today. Your ring does not
create an abusive marriage with your diocese. You are not being entrusted with
power so you can bully clergy or people with it. You are not invited to take
the widows’ mites which are squeezed out of the pensioners week by week for
your own use – or the use of your lawyers. As St Paul says that is a disgrace,
and you are in fact banning yourself today from doing that.
Then when you have settled in your mind how you are going to
govern, the carefully chosen words of today’s liturgy will apply: ‘You will endeavour with a shepherd’s love
to exercise, with wisdom and mercy, the authority and oversight entrusted to
you by Christ our King’.
When you get that straight, you may be able to guide clergy
and other leaders in their use of the authority granted to them; heaven knows
we need that. But authority begins at home. Remember the prophet Ezekiel
complaining that the shepherds were eating the sheep when they were supposed to
be feeding them.
That is where your staff comes in. It is not a kierie. Just
recently I was putting mine together in the vestry at Boipating on the
anniversary of the killings of 1992. As I did so the server who was with me
just smiled and said, ‘the shepherd is
here’. How powerful that symbolism is – and how easily it becomes over-familiar
Unfortunately our understanding of leadership these days has
been influenced by a combination of corporate executive, government
high-handedness, and tribal induna-ship:
we act as if the bishop should be escorted to confirmations in a blue-light
convoy dressed up in leopard-skin and feathers. No wonder other churches
sometimes look at our fancy dress and raise an eyebrow. It can be a far cry
from the idea of leadership in the New Testament.
Speaking of other churches, the Charge in today’s liturgy
expects you to ‘further the unity of the
Church’; that means leading along with others in the ecumenical community.
That is quite hard when the ecumenical tide is out, our venerable institutions
have become political footballs (or maybe just marbles) and churches are busier
promoting themselves than working together. But it will come back simply
because God has made us one whether we like it or not – and we will one day
work out that we can do more together than apart. The Kingdom of God is bigger
than the Anglican franchise, and we can do so much more if we join hands at
every level from local village to national co-operation.
Speaking of over-familiarity, as I was, let me remind you
that people are going to be watching you even more than they have done
hitherto. It is good to try new things and to leave a legacy which people will remember
you by; but it is also good to do the good old traditional things faithfully
I was at St Luke’s in Evaton about five years ago for
Confirmation. You will remember that as a famous church in our diocese,
established more than a century ago in a township which has amazingly never
been bulldozed or removed. When the first Bishop of Johannesburg, Arthur Karney
began ordaining black people to the priesthood in the 1930s, he sent one of
them by the name of Jeremiah Khumbane to be the first black priest at St
Luke’s. When Khumbane moved on as clergy do, he left his daughter Grace behind
and she is still there.
So after the Confirmation I was standing chatting in the
church with Grace –a tiny bird of a woman with one of those coal-bucket hats
worn by some of the Mothers’ Union. She said to me, ‘Bishop, I was watching you
today and it reminded me of my Confirmation, here in this church’. ‘Really?’ I asked;
’oh yes’, she said – and suddenly a huge voice came out of this tiny woman –
‘and at the end of the service the Bishop said to us: ‘go forth into the world in peace – be of good courage – fight the good
fight of faith’.
Naturally I said to her, ‘Grace, when was that?’ ‘Oh’, she
said, ‘that was 1943 when Bishop Clayton came to this church and confirmed us,
here in this church’. And of course she had been fighting the good fight of
faith ever since, just as the Bishop charged her to.
As you can imagine, I went home that night and said to
myself, ‘Peter, never again will you fall out of bed on a Sunday morning and
say, ‘oh heck, another Confirmation’ ; because
if there is one person in today’s service who can remember in 60 years’ time a single word I say, or the fact
that I was grumpy with the servers or preached poorly and unprepared – never
mind the tone of voice in which I say the Blessing – I had better listen to St
Paul and take heed to myself and to my ministry’. Their capacity to go forth
and be of good courage may depend on it.
So yes, do some good new things, but make sure you do the
standard things with great care and love.
At today’s service you are also going to get a hat. Tebogo
may have to allow you to wear it around the house for a few weeks until it
stops falling off. We had great fun at David Beetge’s enthronement in a
township church near here where the garden was full of washing lines which
waylaid the entire episcopal procession; watch for low doorways, low branches
and of course electric cables running from the church to the shebeen next door.
But importantly get the symbolism. They tell me that the
bits at the back are a reminder of the Holy Spirit coming down upon you for the
office and work of a bishop. I must confess to you that I had real trouble
understanding that at the start; my theology had no problem believing that the
Holy Spirit of Christ would enable me to do the work but I couldn’t somehow
imagine God’s Spirit in the being as
well as in the doing. But I found
quite quickly that something had shifted in me, not to do with status or power
but simply in being at home in the role of shepherd, leader, carer, visitor,
encourager and presence. I pray that will be so for you, without it leading to
all the other stuff.
So there is the last but the greatest in the list of gifts: ‘receive the Holy Spirit for the office and
work of a bishop’. Receive the people as a gift and receive the symbols to
remind you of your role; but above all receive the gift of God himself dwelling
within and alongside you to make possible all the things you wish for, for
yourself and for your people. For they are God’s gift to you and you need Godself
to enable you to care for them.