My dear People of God
I write to you as having just landed from the Holy Land and packing our suitcases to travel on to England for the Lambeth Conference.
The words of the Psalmist to ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’, touched me afresh as I saw, listened and heard the longing for peace from those I met, including both Israeli and Palestinian soldiers.
Travelling from Southern Africa, while political trauma and uncertainty still prevails in Zimbabwe, to a region that has been a site of conflict repeatedly throughout history, and then on to a Conference of the Anglican Communion, itself in some turmoil, has inevitably challenged me to reflect on how Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, in the midst of discord.
I have been reminded that we should expect to find Jesus present and active in the places of greatest human struggle – whether political or theological, or in any other area of life. In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God shows us the truth, the measure by which humanity ought to live, in the difficult and complex situations in which we so often find ourselves. Yet his desire is not to condemn us for falling short of his standards, but to come along side us and reconcile us to himself, so that, by his grace, dependent on him, we can come to a growing understanding of, and be increasingly conformed to, his pattern, his attitudes, his words and deeds in all we do (see John 3:16-17, Rom 12,2).
Once more I return to a phrase from my Installation Charge: ‘we seek afresh to discover what it is to be the body of Christ in our time, and who God is in Jesus Christ, for us here and now’ – for us in Southern Africa, in the Holy Land, in the Anglican Communion. The only way to answer that question is through opening ourselves more fully to experience Jesus as Emmanuel. Through making worship, private prayer and diligent study of the scriptures increasingly central to our lives, Jesus will become more central, and we will grow in our relationship with him.
The recent meeting of the ‘Global Anglican Future Conference’ in Jerusalem is therefore right to challenge the Anglican Communion to ensure that, in the many and various cultures of our world, we remain faithful to our Lord and Saviour above all else. It is equally right that we begin the Lambeth Conference in retreat – where, away from the eyes of the media and the watching world, we can concentrate on listening to God together. And then, once the Conference and the Spouses’ Conference begin in earnest, worship and bible-study provide the grounding of each day. As I mentioned in my previous ad Laos, you can download the daily readings and reflections from the Lambeth Conference website, www.lambethconference.org.
You will also find there the details of the programme we will pursue over the following two weeks or so (and be able to follow the news from the Conference). Under the overarching twin themes of faithful, authentic, Anglican identity and of equipping bishops as leaders in mission, our daily topics range from evangelism and social injustice to the environment, and our relationships with other churches and other faiths. We also have a day in London (during which we will have a mass walk to demonstrate our commitment to helping end global poverty – an idea initiated by Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane before his retirement), and spend a Sunday in local churches. Finally, we turn to questions of our common life within the Anglican Communion, and how we follow up the recommendations of the Windsor Report, and the draft Covenant, and tackle the thorny issues of our disagreements and the need to continue reviewing and refining how we live together.
It is right that we should do this at the end, not the beginning, of the Conference. This too is a lesson of Jesus’ incarnation. It is by being with us, building a relationship with us, that Jesus transforms our lives, giving us courage and grace to turn away from all that holds us back from greater Christ-likeness, and to turn ever more towards him. My prayer is that our relationship with Jesus will grow in strength and depth through the Conference – not only the relationship of each individual, but our common relationship with him, as Anglican leaders and members together of the body of Christ – so that we become not only increasingly reconciled to him, but also to each other.
We should never forget that salvation lies not in following laws, or rules and regulations, but in our relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour, the God who is Love in human form. In the same way, relationship, love, respect, faithfulness and trust should be the essence of how we relate to one another within the Church of God. Within Southern Africa we know this – it was through our relationship with Jesus and with each other, in him, that we were able to hold together through all the differences, some of them life-threatening, of the struggle years. The ability of diverse humanity within the body of Christ to live reconciled to one another was, and always is, a gift of grace.
Grace, faith, friendship, and the bonds of affection between brothers and sisters in Christ – the care we have for one another within our parish and diocesan families – was something in which I was privileged to share last month, at the Umtata Diocesan Family Day in Indutywa. Ordinary men and women, in the dusty village streets of one of South Africa’s poorest provinces still find hope for this life and the life to come, through our churches. They are prepared to travel long distances, and give generously of their limited resources, for God’s mission to his world. Those of us who meet in our grand Conferences should never lose sight of the priority of God’s presence, touching the lives of people in our pews, and, through them, reaching out to everyone they encounter.
To sum up - wherever there is turmoil, expect God to be working for reconciliation (2 Cor 5). Pray for the peace of the Holy Land knowing that he desires to bring this gift of grace.
What then for the Anglican Communion, where some claim schism is already at our door? I remain optimistic founded on the sure hope, even Jesus Christ. True, some bishops are staying away from the Lambeth Conference, but far fewer than the third who boycotted the very first Conference in 1867. Ironically, that was called as a result of North American bishops’ concerns at what they feared was cultural syncretism within Africa, not least in the teaching of Bishop Colenso of Natal. Now it is North America’s attempts to enculturate the gospel within contemporary society that are under scrutiny.
Both cases return us to the fundamental question of what it means to be faithful to God, loving him and loving neighbour as Christ calls us to do, within the context with which we find ourselves, whether nineteenth century Africa or twenty-first century America. The answer is the same as it has always been – through prayer and Bible study to develop a living relationship with Jesus our Lord and Saviour, who desires to reconcile us to himself.
So do not be daunted by our struggles, because it is in the midst of them that we will find Jesus most present, and find hope for the future. For we know, to use the words of a famous hymn, that it is grace that has brought us safe thus far - and grace will lead us home.
Yours in the service of Christ
+Thabo Cape Town