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[Archbishop Thabo Makgoba] Dear People of God

Dear
People of God


I am writing to you just as we complete the February meeting of the Synod of
Bishops, where we continued to travel together as we wrestled with our
episcopal leadership of the Church. When we meet, we do so conscious that our
vocation is not simply to serve you, the people of our Church, but to serve God
through you -- a tiny distinction perhaps, but an important one.

We met in a spirit and rhythm of prayer, beginning with Eucharist each day,
followed by midday prayers and Evening Prayer together, on the edge of the Wild
Coast, north of East London, where we were surrounded by the rhythm of God seen
in the beauty of nature. The matters we discussed were firmly rooted in
mission, issues that affect how we serve God through and with his people. So we
heard reports on the COP21 climate talks and on the encouraging development of
our educational initiatives, which involve establishing new schools and
strengthening existing ones. We also reflected on theological education and on
work to ensure that clergy and full-time lay workers are adequately taken care
of in retirement. In our most vivid act of solidarity and identification with a
God who knows pain and marginalisation, we undertook a walk of witness to the
site of the 1992 Bhisho Massacre and then worshipped with the people of the
dioceses of the Eastern Cape at Bhisho Stadium.

We have issued a joint statement from the Synod,
but I want to report to you in more detail to give you the full context of one
of the more challenging matters we discussed. One of the key tasks before us
was to fulfil the mandate given to us by Provincial Standing Committee and to
finalise pastoral guidelines for couples in South Africa who are in same-sex
civil unions. Against the backdrop of the international debate on this issue in
the worldwide Anglican Communion, our discussions were frank, open and robust.
We sensitively considered our role as the Anglican Church in Southern Africa
within the broader family of the Communion, cognisant of the divergent strands
of theological thinking within the Province of Southern Africa and of the
different pastoral challenges that the different dioceses and the different
countries of our Province are facing.

The document we have agreed upon will go to Provincial Synod for adoption in
September, and will be published a few months ahead of Synod in the First
Agenda Book. I believe that its adoption by Provincial Synod would be an important
first step in signalling to the LGBT community that we in the Anglican Church
of Southern Africa, through our top deliberative and legislative body, see them
as welcome members of our body as sisters and brothers in Christ. In the words
of the guidelines:

'We reaffirm our assurance to them that they are loved by God and that
all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation,
are full members of the Body of Christ. Many of these are baptised and
confirmed members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral
direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their
lives and the ordering of relationships.'


In another section, the bishops declared that: 'We are of one mind that
gay, lesbian and transgendered members of our church share in full membership
as baptised members of the Body of Christ...'

This has important implications in parishes where, for example, same-sex
couples who are living in civil unions under South African law bring their
children for baptism and confirmation. No child brought for baptism should be
refused merely because of the sexual orientation of the parents, and particular
care should be taken against stigmatising not only parents but their children
too.

We also tried at the Synod of Bishops to draw up guidelines for clergy wanting
to bless couples in same-sex unions, or who want to enter same-sex unions
themselves. We constituted a group of bishops reflecting a cross-section of our
views to discuss such guidelines. On this issue, I had to report back to the
Synod, the only agreement we reached is that we were not of one mind.

Our differences do not only revolve around the theology of marriage, but are
also a result of different pastoral realities in different dioceses. For
example, most of our dioceses across Southern Africa are predominantly rural,
and for many the urgent priorities of food security, shelter, healthcare and
education crowd out debate on the  issue of human sexuality. In some rural
dioceses, responding to challenges to the Church's restrictions on polygamous
marriages is a much higher pastoral priority.

As a consequence, the Synod of Bishops has agreed that we will continue to
regard ourselves bound by the broad consensus in the Anglican Communion, expressed
by the Lambeth Conference in 1998, which is that we 'cannot advise the
legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in
same gender unions'. Having said that, we did address the questions of
whether that decision is immutable, whether it has replaced scripture, and when
a Province of the Communion, or a diocese within a Province may deviate from
it.

Of one thing I am absolutely determined, and that is that the Church in
Southern Africa should build on our history of refusing to allow our
differences to separate us, and that we should continue to work patiently
through them together. We overcame deep differences over the imposition of
sanctions against apartheid and over the ordination of women, and we can do the
same over human sexuality. As the bishops say in the pastoral guidelines:

'Given that we share such broad and deep foundations of faith, when, as
Bishops in Synod, we consider questions of human sexuality, we feel sharp pain
and great distress at our own differences and at the breaches and divisions
within the wider Anglican Communion. Yet we strongly affirm that we are united
in this: that none of us feels called to turn to another and say ‘I no longer
consider you a Christian, a brother in Christ, a member of the body of Christ’.
None of us says ‘I am no longer in communion with you.’ We find that our
differing views on human sexuality take second place alongside the strength of
our overpowering conviction of Christ among us. As long as we, the Bishops of
this Province, know unity in Christ in this way, human sexuality is not, and
cannot be allowed to be, for us a church-dividing issue.'


So on a personal level I came home from the Synod tired but full of hope. I am
encouraging our Province in dealing not only with the issue of human sexuality,
but also on those such as climate justice and inequality, never to abandon the
hope that comes from knowing the grace with which we are held in the palm of
God's hand.

God bless you,



†Thabo Cape Town


 



Posted: 2016/02/23 (10:46:30 AM)


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