St Paul to the Ephesians ch 1 v 15:

‘Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that you may know him better’.

My dear friends in Christ

Thank you for arranging this unveiling and for turning up in such wonderful numbers on a Sunday afternoon. Actually I suppose this is the opposite of an unveiling because when you do that, you uncover something beautiful for people to see, whereas today you are wrapping up an old thing so you can stick it in the cupboard and get a new one!

In fact I am relieved that this service is not a Confirmation; we have just been adding up and I have so far confirmed 11,501 candidates, with just one Confirmation service to go.

Speaking of getting a new one, I think you all know that the elective assembly’s inability to unite behind a new bishop has caused the decision to be given to the House of Bishops of our Church. The matter is now entirely out of our hands. I have been in touch with the Archbishop who is trying to make space for the Bishops to make the election in September so we have our bishop in the new year; if that is not possible they will attend to it in February and we should have our bishop in about a year’s time. The Bishops now make this decision and our role is to offer respect and obedience to whoever is sent to us by them. If you hear silly stories that someone else thinks they are choosing the bishop, they are just that – silly. Only the bishops now have the authority to make that decision on our behalf.

The Archbishop has also consulted me in the past few days about the appointment of a Vicar General to lead the diocese until our bishop arrives, and he will make that appointment shortly. 

I have personally met with each of the candidates in the elective process privately for pastoral purposes in the past few days, and with the clergy, and with the Chapter and lay officers of the diocese. All of these leaders have given an undertaking to support each other, the Vicar General and the incoming bishop; it is now our task as the people of the diocese to do the same, ensuring that everything continues to run smoothly and meeting all our obligations from month to month so that this body is in good shape when someone arrives to lead us forward. Although the election process has been extended, we can all relax  and get on with  God’s work faithfully and in unity in the meanwhile.

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When we teach children to pray we sometimes say they must learn three words: thank you, sorry and please. I am not sure that is a good way to teach children but it gives me three pegs on which to hang a few thoughts today.

Firstly, thank you.

Paul thanked God for the faith of this little group of Christians, and for their love for God’s people. I could not think of a better way to stand before God today in this diocese, than to be thanking God for the extraordinary love which flows among the people of this diocese, and has been given so freely to me and to our family. That love arises from our people’s faith in Christ which has in many cases endured through tough and deprived conditions in our people’s lifetimes. 

We should remember today what it was like in this country when we began in 1990. F W de Klerk had just unbanned the ANC and the PAC and Nelson Mandela had only just been released from prison. It was extraordinary of you to invite a young white priest, born outside this country, to serve as bishop of this new little diocese. Over the years I have tried to support clergy and lay ministers as they have visited our people in their homes, from Sharpeville and Boipatong in the south through Sebokeng and Evaton and Orange Farm to Lawley, Turffontein and Riverlea. Almost without exception I have been welcomed with respect, with joy and with extraordinary generosity. I have worked on the rule of thumb that says, ‘the poorer the congregation, the bigger the lunch’. It has been a quite extraordinary privilege and all I can do is to say to you and to God, ‘thank you’.

It is wonderful to think how God prepares us. My parents emigrated from the north of Ireland when I was 3 years old because that was no place to bring up their little boy; in fact the church where I was baptised was bombed to the ground by the IRA. I don’t think anyone told them what was going to happen! When I was just 12 years old my father came home with a newspaper with a photograph on the front of people running and falling in the dust and the smoke, with a one-word headline: SHARPEVILLE. I knew nothing of Sharpeville or of South Africa but that moment lodged in my memory and came back to me when I was about to be installed there at St Cyprian’s as the first bishop of this diocese. I have felt deeply privileged many times in this ministry but never more so than standing behind the altar in that church with a huge crowd of God’s people bopping about in worship and singing their hearts out to God. 

Just recently I was chatting with a Sowetan woman whose father was educated at St Peter’s School in Rosettenville, and who serves me as my spiritual guide. We were speaking about the turbulent years which we passed through at the beginning, when we lived in a war zone and had to visit the bereaved and bury the dead in horrible times of conflict. She said something which I had not recognised in myself: ‘You loved them’.  The miracle is that the love which you have shown to us has gradually drawn out love in us towards God’s people in this diocese, in each and every place and across the whole spectrum of our people. That has been profoundly enlarging and enriching and I can only thank you for the unbelievable joy and depth which that has planted in my own being, and for allowing me to grow in ways which I could never have done elsewhere or with anyone but you.

Of course it would be silly to try to thank anyone individually but as I have thought about today, I have found a procession of people marching through my memory, all of whom I have been so privileged to know: Ben Photolo and Bob Harnott, Vincent Leutsoa and Willy Bishop, Magdalene Tshaka and Enoch Sekhane, Peter Leyds and Ivan Laurie, Boytjie Peffer and Papa Swartz, Anna Ntlhe and Aileen Green, Cynthia Green and Piet Joubert, Roelf Hattingh and  Mrs Mochologi and Dorothy Paulsen,  and many many others. And so far I have only mentioned the ones who are not still alive!

In our diocesan birthday book we put some great snapshots of our life including the one of the so-called Vaal disciples, a group of young people whom we set out to train for ministry and leadership many years ago. We must have succeeded because that group included Gijimane Radebe, Lebogang Mangoenyane, Huddleston Thonga, Thabo Katsana and just one woman – Mapula Malinga, now Mrs Rambau. If there is one individual who holds this diocese together on a daily basis, it is Mapula: I think the day I recruited her was probably the cleverest day of my ministry as bishop.

I wish I could also show you the snapshots which only exist in my memory: the day when there had been a bit of tension between me and the leadership of this parish and I came to do the first half of the Good Friday service; as I left in the middle, there was Cecil Tarr in the car park holding out his hand and saying “I want to be reconciled with you”; a few weeks later he was gone. 

Or the day in Orange Farm when we had been given a piece of land but we didn’t yet know the people so sometime in 1990 we started knocking on the doors of the little houses across the road and lo and behold, there was Monica Mbhele hosting a tiny meeting of the Mothers’ Union. Out of that came two congregations, a creche and a school of 1300 children! You can imagine how I felt a few weeks ago  when I went to say farewell to St Monica’s and there was Mrs Mbhele at the communion rail.

Or going to the Martyrs of Africa in Evaton West and being asked by the Mothers’ Union to go and visit Sophie, who turned out to be living in an RDP house, paralysed from the waist down by AIDS, trying to cook her vegetables in a coffee tin on the floor by the bed, her things upside down because she was beaten up twice a month by her family who were ashamed of her; God bless those mothers who washed and fed and cared for Sophie until she died.

And very recently when someone who had left the diocese after causing terrible grief in a particular parish, returned and wanted to serve as a lay minister; when my memory reminded me that there was unfinished business and he came to full repentance and reconciliation with the people concerned and the church as a whole just last week. Those are precious snapshots of God at work.

Then there have been the young people; for me a particular delight has been St Martin’s School but especially the way St Martin’s as a whole and Jim Welsh in particular have been instrumental in helping us to set up two new and actually bigger schools in the heart of Orange Farm. This week’s farewell from the youth, appropriately on 16 June, will be one of my most treasured memories. 

You have heard me tell the story of how the servers at St John’s in Boipatong where I was this morning, as usual on the anniversary of the killings of 1992, somehow developed the habit of greeting me with ‘Hey Bra Bish!’ when I arrived there. But then we went to visit one of the servers who was desperately ill at home and this skeletal figure in the bed raised one hand feebly and said, “Hey Bra Bish’. I told that story when I was asked to preach at the consecration of Charles May, one of our sons,  as Bishop of the Highveld last year and now wherever I go in the Province, at PSC or the Synod of Bishops, I get greeted with ‘Hey Bra Bish’.

So often our delightful young people have lifted my spirits and carried me through patches which would otherwise have been too heavy for a human spirit to bear. “I have not stopped giving thanks for your love for all God’s people’.

Some years ago I met a very glamorous, amusing and highly intelligent girl who consented to be my wife. Not only has Gill loved and supported me through thick and thin but she has found her own ministry and served several parishes in this diocese while following her own professional career and bringing up three children quite brilliantly. More than that she has challenged me, kept me up to the mark and often given me the benefit of her incisive insight into what is going on in some situation or another. We were married at a time and place which was very egalitarian and did not think of men lording it over their wives; it was always a matter of being friends and partners, sharing the chores and taking turns changing the nappies. It has never been true that there was a strong woman behind this man; Gill was always beside me holding hands and doing it together. I commend that model of marriage to the menfolk of Africa – it is much more fun than the patriarchal model! We are so excited about being able to do things together much more, in the next phase of our lives.

When David Bannerman retired as Bishop of the Highveld he reminded his people of the words of St Augustine who was a bishop in North Africa 1500 years ago. ‘With you I am  a Christian’, he said, ‘for you I am a bishop’. The good news is that when I am done being for you, we are still going to be with you as members of the family of God living in the diocese. When we have had a good long holiday and given my successor some space, we look forward to serving him or her in whatever way may be helpful. Gill and I are just learning to be grandparents; as you know, grandparents don’t call the shots, they just sit in the background quietly offering support, giving advice when they are asked for it and keeping quiet when they aren’t; we are looking forward to just being among the grandparents of the diocese while someone else calls the shots and does the work. 

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 So thank you – and ‘sorry’.

There is no way any sinner could have taken leadership here for a quarter of a century without making some pretty disastrous mistakes from time to time. I have made some bad decisions, said and done wrong things, and failed to do many things which I wish I could have achieved. I do not want any of this to hang over my successor’s head or leave bitterness in anyone’s heart: so I simply want to apologise and ask your forgiveness so that none of this persists into the future.

In particular as we meet here at the Transfiguration I want to reiterate something I have said before in so-called ‘coloured’  parishes. One of my predecessors who came from overseas as Bishop of Johannesburg became a great hero of black liberation in this country; he was actually a great man but he had a terrible blind spot in that he believed and openly said that there was no place for coloured people in the Anglican Church or in its ministry. That caused terrible hurt which persists to this day and which I have come across again and again in the homes of older people in some of our communities. Let me again express repentance and regret on behalf of the bishops of this Church; let me again thank the people in our communities for their love and for all they contribute; and let me again express the hope that we have together laid that particular ghost to rest for good.

Since drafting this, I have heard that the very same contemptuous attitude towards coloured people was heard around the fringes of the elective assembly with some ugly talk about ‘boesmen’; such racial prejudice is the sin on which apartheid was built and it needs to be cut decisively out of the life of the church of God. This diocese needs to repent of that sin and accept one another wholly as Christ has accepted us.

I have worked hard at overcoming the apartheid-era fractures between one community and another and I greatly regret that I have failed to lead this family further forward in that regard. We are still sometimes trapped in those attitudes and behaviours; until we come to terms with that, we have nothing to say to a divided and prejudiced world. 

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Thank you, sorry and ‘please’: I have a few requests to leave with you.  

Firstly as St Paul said, I pray that you may know God better. All that we try to do in society is rooted in the love we receive from God and the love which that provokes in us for our Lord Jesus Christ. We need ever deeper worship and personal prayer; we need to foster spiritual life in all our people and draw them ever more into the presence of God. May the Spirit of the Lord work deeply in this diocese to do that work.

Secondly please show the same respect, love and acceptance to the second bishop of Christ the King as you have to the first one. We all know that the elective assembly failed to choose a bishop for the diocese; more humbly we may have to say that we showed ourselves unable to unite behind an emerging leader from any background, either within or outside the diocese, partly because we still sometimes fail to transcend or transform the old apartheid-era racial factionalism which we have not shaken off. This diocese needs to reflect very deeply on what we have just said to ourselves in that event, and to ask how we are ever going to show the world a different way of being human in Christ. We must pray and trust that our fathers and mothers in God will locate a man or woman who can lead us further into wholeness.

In fact it must be both wholeness and mission; these have been exciting years but the more I look at it, the more I think the next couple of decades may be even more so. All the signs are that the south is going to be the next Midrand, with massive human, commercial and residential development. We have been good at providing ministry and places of worship to new communities; you will need to stick at that, to be welcoming to masses of new people, and to see this area as one of opportunity for the Church of God to minister and to reach out. This is not the time for caution; you will need to respect your next father or mother in God and follow their lead into the care of the community.

The late Mohammed Ali said, ‘service to others is the rent we pay for a room on the earth for a few years’. 

Thirdly that mission will require that we remain a welcoming and open-hearted people. There is no room for racism or xenophobia in the Christian heart so I urge you not to get caught up in the growing hatreds, angers and violences which are breeding in our land. We need to fight those tendencies in every corner and in our own hearts, as well as in our increasingly diseased public life.

Many of you have heard me saying that I have been struck in recent times by the words of St Paul, that the plan of God is to bring everything in all creation into harmony under the feet of Christ (Eph 1:10). That plan is going to happen whether the greedy, the abusers or the haters of this world like it or not. God is calling us to be agents of that healing and transformation, but it will never be easy because the healing work of God clashes with the centrifugal tendencies of sinful people. Here in this country, here in southern Gauteng, we are right in the workshop of God’s reconciling agenda; it is a huge privilege to be in such a crucible of divine activity. We cannot collude with the damaging patterns of racism or disdain for other human beings; rather we have to be living evidence between here and the Vaal River, of the gracious and amazing ways of God.

Fourthly and related to that, please get the giving right in this diocese. I have served in a few parishes where thanks to my predecessors, they have got the giving right; they have had the bulk of the members giving faithfully, generously and regularly in proportion to their incomes, and they have not only remained healthy for many years and been able to set forward the work of God, but they have been able to give steady support to the wider Church though their respective dioceses. We have passed a string of synod resolutions about that, but we are not yet there; please persevere until we get it right and this diocese will weather the storms.

In addition to that we need to treasure the principle which we have worked on, that the diocese is a family and while some members do give support to others, there is no unit of pastoral charge which gives nothing. Other dioceses have run into financial and spiritual trouble by abandoning that principle; I plead with you to hang onto it, to trust each other, to reject attempts to be dishonest with each other, and earn a name for generosity.    

Then lastly as St John says in his letters, ‘Little children, love  one another’.

Thank you and God bless you.

+Peter: CHRIST the KING