Tribute to Bishop Rubin Phillip of Natal
The Right Revd Rubin Phillip, Bishop of Natal and Dean of the Province, retires
within a few weeks. The Bishop of Christ the King, the Right Revd Peter
Lee, paid this tribute at the recent meeting of the Provincial Standind
I must have met the fiery young priest Rubin Phillip, at one of the most
remarkable moments in Anglican history in this Province: the Synod of the
Diocese of Natal in August 1976, held under the emergency regulations after the
riots of June that year in Soweto.
This was when we were warned that if we even discussed some of the agenda
items, the whole synod of 300 people stood to be arrested; this was when
Thokozani Bophela, bearded and in a red shirt, declared that ‘this is our
parliament’ and we would discuss what we liked; this was when Michael Lapsley
was in full cry on conscientious objection and the provision of chaplains to
the South African forces in Namibia; this was when the house came down when
Philip Russell, himself a conscientious objector in the second World War, stood
in support of the COs in a vote by houses.
This was the cradle Rubin Phillip had chosen for himself, and which formed him:
for his powerful resistance to evil was both a personal demand for freedom and
a political choice – friend, admirer and adherent of Steve Biko as he was, for
whom Rubin and Rose’s beloved youngest son was named. But it was also all
rooted in his Christian faith and worked out in the church.
It so happened that God, desiring to empower (and not distract) his church at
that hour of crisis, poured out a new move of the Holy Spirit, with some
unexpected results. One of those was that one of the highest of high churches
in Durban where Rubin happened to be serving on the staff, St Gabriel’s in the
coloured community of Wentworth, began reaching out in shared worship, ministry
and cross-racial sharing to a very conservative, almost all-white and
distinctively evangelical congregation in Durban docks - Christ Church
Addington, where I happened to be serving at the time. Those were times of
greater significance than we probably realised at the time; times of growth and
of heart-searching in many ways.
Bishop Rubin went on to serve a string of parishes in Natal with distinction,
notably in Overport and in Westville, before becoming Dean of Pretoria for a
brief spell and then returning to Natal in 1995 as Suffragan Bishop and then
Diocesan in 2000. In all this he maintained an extraordinary involvement in
NGOs and other bodies reflecting his catholic taste in social issues –
everything from land reform to dispute resolution by way of anti-retroviral
medication. In this context he has received two prestigious peace awards, one
locally from Diakonia and one internationally from Germany. He has only been
able to sustain all this through incredible passion and very hard work; his
driver is on record as saying that he has picked him up from the office in the
morning dressed just as he was when he dropped him there the night before.
As Diocesan he has achieved many things, most notably perhaps the long
negotiations for the sale of our historic St Aidan’s Hospital to the Department
of Health. For the past few years Bishop Rubin has combined all this with the
role of Dean of the Province, itself carrying a bundle of other portfolios like
chairing the Council of the College of the Transfiguration and deputising for
the Archbishop in elective assemblies, conflicted dioceses and sensitive missions
of every kind.
In all this Rose Philip, despite massive family distresses, has not only given
her support but pioneered new work in early childhood development in the
Diocese of Natal.
Needless to say, the fiery old Bishop Rubin is not retiring in order to rest,
but to give more focussed attention to some of the multitude of causes which
have captured his heart.
We say thank you and nihambe kahle to Bishop Rubin and to Rose.