Dion's random ramblings

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In support of a friend - Bishop Paul Verryn

I returned home last night from 3 days of 'media isolation' -  I was on a farm about 70km from Beufort West with our team doing some strategic planning for 2010.

When I got home I noticed scores of emails and messages on facebook and twitter about Paul Verryn.  I fired up my broswer and found that Paul had been suspended by our denomination, the (MCSA) Methodist Church of Southern Africa.  It is a matter of grave concern for me - I worry deeply for Paul and also for the MCSA.

You can read about the suspension in this Sowetan article (the image of Paul at the top of this post comes from the same link).

I have been party to numerous disciplinary hearings in my years as a Methodist Minister - I served on disciplinary committees and have had two occasions to appear before them.  I am not certain of the reasons for the disciplinary action.  I was not able to reach Paul on his cell phone.  Regardless, even if I knew the reasons I would not post them publicly at this stage.

However, from what I have heard from mutual friends and read in the media I have come to understand that Paul is being charged either for approaching the High Court of Johannesburg to have a curator appointed over the refugee children who have sought sanctuary in his Church.  Our Church's polity (the law that regulates the Church) states that only the Presiding Bishop or the General Secretary may initiate any legal action on behalf of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.  As such regardless of whether the action is valid, necessary, or otherwise, any person who acts on behalf of the Church as a whole without sanction is subject to disciplinary action.  If this is the reason for the disciplinary action by the MCSA then I would ask why the Church had not take the action in the first place?

The second 'strand' of rumors also relate to the underage refugees in the Central Methodist church.  What is clear is that the Church has far too many people living there.  This is a problem of inadequate intervention by the national and provincial government!  The state has the primary responsibility to deal with such matters, and since they have not adequately acknowledged the problem in Zimbabwe, they are not willing to deal decisively with the Zimbabwean refugee crisis!  Paul and the central Methodist Church did what any Christian should do - they offered shelter and care to persons who were living on the streets of Johannesburg.  The overcrowding that has since resulted would never have happened if the local government had responded to Paul's calls for just treatment of the refugees, adequate temporary housing, schooling and care.  The Xenophobic attacks of 2008 accentuated the crisis and these seems to have been very little respite in the struggle and controversy at the Central Methodist Church.  Some have suggested that Paul is facing charges (from whom I don't know) that he has not cared properly for the persons living in the Church (and in particular the many unaccompanied minors who have sought refuge there).

The reason for his High Court appeal was precisely to have a curator appointed for the children.

Regardless of the reasons for the disciplinary case (it may be something completely different), I would ask you to please pray for Paul and for the MCSA.  This is not necessarily a combative relationship.  For example, if any person brings charges against any other the Church is duty bound to suspend the minister in question until the matter is resolved.  The disciplinary committee may find that the person is not guilty of any contravention of Church polity.  However, they have a responsibility to investigate the charges in defense of justice.

So, please can I encourage you not to get caught up in rumors and the divise game of blame?  Please do support Paul with your prayers.  I know him to have done his very best for those who are in need!

Let's wait to see what the facts are and then we can offer informed and helpful comment and directed prayer.

I am afraid that I am running at an incredible pace for the next few weeks with lots of travel (national and international), so please do update any information you find in the comments on this page.  If you would like to leave messages of support for Paul here you are also welcome.  I'll make sure that they reach him.

You can find some of my other posts about Paul Verryn here.


  • Dear Dion

    As much as Bishop Verryn and I had our differences in the past, I applaud him for having the courage of his convictions and for being the hands and feet of Christ to those most in need while most of civil society and large sections of the Church stood still.

    I support Paul as he tries to find a solution for the "problem" of Central Methodist and as he takes a stand against indifference and intolerance.

    As with my previous blog post re Ecclesia, I continue to believe that the MCSA is in crisis mode. Perhaps this is just my perception but the events and decisions of the past number of years, and particularly in the recent past, lead me to this conclusion.

    My prayer is that the Church will recognise Paul's heart in this and his unwillingness to wait for the heavy machinery of church politics to get the wheels turning while children suffer.

    I also pray that the MCSA will move from the governance of man towards the governance of Christ in all its dealings with its people.

    Please keep us updated as matters in this case progress.


    By Blogger Arthur, at 3:36 PM  

  • Thanks for blogging about this, Dion! Yours is the first post from my Methodist blogging firends I have seen -- I knew you were incommunicado, so didn't exp0ect you to be the first.

    Paul has many friends in ecumenical circles, through his involvement in theological education and other things. I'm sure lots of us are praying for him and for you all.


    By Blogger Steve Hayes, at 3:42 PM  

  • Hi friends,

    Here is an update on Paul's response to his suspension from The Star newspaper. Thanks to my friend Steven Lottering for sending the link.

    God bless,


    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 6:39 PM  

  • Here is some further information from the 'Friends of Paul Verryn' facebook page (please search for it and join if you feel so inclined). Thanks to Wendy Landau for setting it up.

    We were concerned about the essence of the problem, As expressed in a post on this page, "It appears that in Johannesburg at the moment the poor, the displaced and the homeless have become extremely threatening to those who are in power. Instead... of exercising their responsibility as state and civil leaders- to generate many creative programmes to assist the thousands of people arriving in the City - from Africa AND other parts of South Africa - it is easier to focus on criticising the work done by CMM."

    This is a battle between caring for the poor and the stranger, and for opting for the side of the rich and powerful. This is a battle between doing something about urgent needs and those who would prefer to ignore the issues.

    We need to uphold and support the work of CMM and its leaders, a mission that the church has had for over 35 years. Yes mistakes get made but even those mistakes have been made in good faith. Johannesburg, Gauteng and South Africa cannot afford the work of CMM to be diminished, and in fact its work needs to be duplicated throughout South Africa.

    So we in the meeting looked at how to support CMM, its members and leaders at this difficult time. We also looked at the issue of media: expressing concern about the poor journalism of Friday and indicating in the media the concerns about supporting CMM and Paul Verryn at this time. We have started doing interviews with the media, and are planning other media work as well as a letter to the editor signed by many people to be put in papers on Friday.

    We are aware of efforts among Methodists to issue a statement or similar, and Penny Foley a member of CMM and friend of Paul Verryn is available to speak to Methodist congregations about CMM.

    That's where we are now. Any suggestions or comments? Please let me know and I will pass it on.

    [Present were nine people: most were friends but some were linked to Medicin Sans Frontiers (sp?), Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum, Southern African Women's Institute on Migration Affairs. Not present but available for interviews and support were the Legal Resources Centre and AIDS Law Project]

    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 9:18 PM  

  • Thanks for the information Dion. I only know Bishop Paul by reputation.
    Paul I thank God for your courage. Thank you that your faith is active and practical and is being felt by people in great need. Thank you for inspiration and for being an example to all, especially in the Methodist Church. I pray that this present crisis will make us all more determined to help those in need.

    Alan Stuart - teacher at John Wesley Kosi Bay.

    By Anonymous Alan Stuart, at 11:21 PM  

  • Thanks Dion for addressing the issue on the methodist blog. You have raised some good questions. I'm wondering why the charge has been laid now and not when the action was instituted. Why the delay? Were they waiting until Paul came out of the Bishop's office? If so, then why? There is more here than meets the eye.

    warm regards
    Ian Howarth

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:19 AM  

  • Hi friends,

    Thanks so much for stopping by - the news of this case develops each day. On Friday (end of January) the Mail and Guardian had a front page article on the case. What is clear is that the MCSA has not dealt with this matter well. My wife asked me if the article is accurate - indeed it is, but it does not represent the truth. As journalists are supposed to do, they asked for input and comment, and where they could find none they drew conclusions on what they knew or could assume.

    As such there is a great deal of innuendo and vagueness about the MCSA's official position.

    I heard that there has, as of yet, been no personal communication between Bp Abrahams and Paul. Quite sad - this is the body of Christ after all! I feel that this matter is damaging the reputation and witness of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa! Most of the persons that I speak to are astounded that the Church would deal with one of their own in such a cold and 'heavy handed' manner. As I say, I understand the need for discipline, but I also understand that there is a need for grace and love in our relationships - even when they are tough!

    I did have a chance to speak to Paul on the phone on Saturday and he sounded OK. He is under a great deal of pressure. But he is well supported and feels that he has a positive input to make.

    Moreover, I am of the mind that even though this situation is not desireable, at least it draws attention to the plight of the refugees.

    Might I suggest that you join the facebook page in support of Paul? It is well maintained, well supported and regularly updated.

    You can find it here: Friends of Paul Verryn

    We remain in prayer for our Church and for Paul!

    Rich blessing,


    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 10:07 PM  

  • I work in the mainstream UK media and visited the church late last year to interview some of the refugees living there. I was given a tour of the building and had the opportunity to speak to a number of people.
    I was extremely moved by what I saw and heard. These are people doing their best in extremely difficult circumstances. The sleeping quarters for children are segregated for their safety, there is a crèche which is decorated and equipped with toys, and when I visited the building was clean. Furthermore a school has been set up by refugee teachers from Zimbabwe to provide a proper education for the young people. These are all services that have been arranged by the residents themselves because the South African government has not provided provisions.
    Many of those staying at the church are well educated and were forced to leave Zimbabwe because of their political objections to the disastrous and brutal Mugabe regime. Such as the teenage boy I spoke to who was forced to leave his mother and siblings behind after his father, who was a manger in a mining company, was murdered for supporting the opposition party. After he was killed his 15 year old son was threatened with violence if he didn?t attend pro- Mugabe meetings. Forced to flee for his life, he now lives at the Church and attends the refugee school.
    These people have nowhere else to go. Are the powers that be in the Methodist Church seriously suggesting that it is better to suspend the Bishop and turf these people out onto the street where they will be even more at risk? As if they haven?t been through enough already, they need to be supported not attacked.

    By Blogger tara, at 1:06 PM  

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