Dion's random ramblings

Monday, October 15, 2007

Encouragement for Christian Women!

Bryanston Methodist Church and Rosebank Union Church are co-hosting a Women's Conference on the weekend of the 26-27th of October at the Rosebank Union Church.

This is a wonderful opportunity for Christian women to be inspired, blessed, challenged to grow, and equipped to face many of the challenges that are common to women in South Africa.

If you would like more information about the course please take a look at the Women's Conference website, or contact the Bryanston Methodist Church office (011 463 2333).

I know my wife is going to be there!

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

The MCSA's resolution on same sex unions.

It was a tough and taxing day at Conference today. I don't have a great deal of energy to offer critique on the adopted resolution. So, here's the resolution - I'll post more later.

--- The Resolution (excluding the text in bold):

This Conference of 2007, in considering the ongoing same-sex discussion, declares its determination not to permit different viewpoints among us to further divide our church. In the face of our differences we recall and reaffirm the 1958 Conference resolution declaring that "it is the will of God for the Methodist Church that it should be one and undivided."

In the light of that declaration, and informed by the 2001 Conference commitment to being "a community of love rather than rejection," and the 2005 Conference resolution inviting Methodists embracing "many different and even opposing views on the issue? to ?journey together," this Conference seeks a way forward that both respects and holds in tension differing views among our ministers and people.
Conference therefore resolves:
i) That the grace, affirmation of diversity, and commitment to the unity of the church central to the same-sex resolutions of the 2001 and 2005 Conferences be re-affirmed;
ii) That our ministers and people continue to engage this issue in Christian conversation and respectful listening, so that all of us may more fully understand and articulate the variety of viewpoints held within our church;
iii) That we will seek to be a Christ-honouring community:
Celebrating the rich diversity of those called to follow Jesus, honouring the sacred worth of all people and practicing our Wesleyan heritage of warmth, welcome and hospitality;
Recognising the authority of Scripture, and noting that in our quest for understanding, there is no one, monolithic and incontrovertible interpretation of it;
Acknowledging that there are therefore some issues upon which there may never be total unanimity within the church and upon which we must "agree to differ" without reducing our respect for, and trust of, one another;
The following piece was removed from the original resolution we sent through (you can see the original word document in an earlier post on this blog). Here's what was removed:

Affirming Methodism's long-held practice of trusting our ministers to decide who they will or will not marry, and trusting them to exercise their pastoral judgment with integrity in deciding which relationships they will bless, governed by their understanding of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience;
Covenanting to gracefully and equally protect the consciences and actions of those ministers who do not wish to conduct same-sex unions as well as those who wish to do so.
iv) That, in consequence of all the above, the Presiding Bishop and Secretariat of our church be requested to take whatever appropriate legal or other measures necessary to fully implement this resolution.
The removed section above was replaced with the following text (below):

Conference approves the publication of Bible Study material which will assist members of the Church to reflect on the issue of Christians and homosexuality and same-sex relationships;

Conference directs that a meeting be convened to consider the wide spectrum of viewpoints on the civil unions of same-sec souples in order to listen to each other, identify points of agreement and differences and seek a way forward that will enhance the unity of the church. DEWCOM is mandated to convene this engagement;

Conference recognizes that any decision and subsequent action on the issue of civil unions between same-sex partners must await the outcome of the ongoing process of engagement as specified by Conference 2005 (Yearbook 2006, 8.3, p.75) and, in the interim, expects Methodist ministers to continue to offer pastoral care to homosexual individuals as to all others.

What was of great interest to me is that the original resolution that our commission sent forward to the main group ended with the words "to offer pastoral care to homosexual couples as to all others." However, the Conference changed it to "homosexual individuals" since there was a feeling that the use of the word 'couples' would send a message that the Church accepted and affirmed gay persons.

There are both things to celebrate, and things to mourn, in the final resolution.

Firstly, I mourn the fact that even though the first part of this resolution, that I worked very hard to word with care and respect, that was tempered by the wisdom of Prof Peter Storey, and that made great concessions to those who hold a different view from me, was accepted - the spirit of it was negated by making the radical distinction between 'the right to think differently', yet denying many of us 'the right to act differently'. So, it would seem that the fraility of the Church ensured that once again we were willing to SAY what we should be, did not have the courage to DO what it would take to become what we should be... Secondly, the exclusion of the word 'couples' is simply a ' head in the sand' decision... It shows that our Church does not yet accept that there ALREADY are gay and lesbian members and clergy! While one is dealing with the concept of homosexual Christians you can objectify them as individuals. However, I don't know very many gay and lesbian Christians who are not in some relationship, and so are seen as more than just individuals. Here in Africa the denial of community is a denial of belonging and of course a denial of true identity. Sadly we were party to that today.

However, it is not all bad news! The great news is that we ensured that the Church remained united! Secondly, we also reaffirmed that at least our desire is to be a Church of affirmation and acceptance, and not a Church of rejection. Thirdly, when we voted on this resolution I noted the hands of a few Bishops, some ministers, and some laity - persons of different genders, races, and ages, voting in favour of the acceptance and blessing of same sex couples. That is a significant stride! Lastly, the right to offer 'pastoral care' to homosexual persons is now enshrined in our Church's policy. I cannot think of anything more pastoral than seeking God's gracious acceptance and blessing of persons of any gender or sexual orientation who lovingly commit themselves, and all that they are and do (including their relationships) to live under God's blessing. So, I shall continue to offer Pastoral prayers of blessing for gay individuals, and if they should happen to be together, it will be the individuals that make up the couple that will be engaged and cared for.

As a final thought - have any of my colleagues ever thought how ludicrous it is to think that we can exclude our gay and lesbian Christian members from being blessed in our services? Every time that I conclude a service with the Benediction I am asking for God's blessing on the whole of the congregation before me - I know for a fact that in my congregation at Bryanston there are a number of gay persons. If I were to apply the letter of the resolution above without interpretation I would have to ask all gay persons either to leave the Church before I pronounced the blessing, or ask them to sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary, so that it is clear that I am asking for God's blessing on the individuals, and not the couples.... Not very likely.

Well, this is the news today. We have won a small space that we can inhabit in humble love. We have chosen to live in the small space where people who are rejected by society can find at least some blessing, love, and pastoral care - that is significant. There is much work ahead before SYNOD next year.

Please could you take a look at my good friend Dr Wessel Bentley's blog? His reflection is better than mine, AND he has pictures!!! You can read his blog here http://www.wesselsplace.blogspot.com. In the picture on the right (thanks Wes), you'll see (from Right to Left) Dianne Moodie (Edenvale), Ken Carr (East London), Barry Marshall (Port Elizabeth), me (from wherever I happen to be), Wessel Bentley (Pretoria), Alan Storey (Midrand, Johannesburg), and my good friend Kevin Needham (Cape Town)! What a great evening!

Tomorrow we celebrate the future of our Church as we ordain 29 Presbyters and 4 Deacons - a third of them are women. We celebrate with joy that God still calls persons to the ministry, we give thanks that these people are gifted, that they could have chosen to do, and be, many other things, but that they have chosen to respond faithfully to God's call to give their best, and be their best, for God. We will pray that God's Holy Spirit will fill them with power and the conviction to live out the Gospel values of Jesus Christ, and that through their faithful and loving ministry the world will be changed and recreated to God's glory.

Then, I fly home! I can't wait!!!

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Privilege, responsibility.... and good friends.

This post comes at the end of the first 'proper' day of the 118th Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. For those who are not Methodist (or not particularly Christian), the Conference is the place where the Church sends representative persons to debate, strategise, and work out, how best we can serve the world and honour God. Well, in theory that's what should happen! In reality it is often much less saintly than that! Often there are conflicting and difficult issues over which tough and challenging decisions need to be taken... Naturally, this leads to some rather spirited debate, and significant engagement with people who hold different, and often opposing, points of view. You see, the problem with us religious people is that we ALL think we occupy the centre of God's will (i.e., I am right because God told me so, and let me find a way to show you how wrong you are).

Wessel blogged the most memorable quote of the day, given by our Lay President, "Minds are like parachutes - they only work when they are opened".

Today we heard the reports and addresses from a number of important Church leaders and commissions that have been doing significant work. Among them were the reports by the Presiding Bishop, the Lay President, the Connexional secretary (which was very humorous and well researched), and reports by the John Wesley College relocation Committee (a very important committee in my life, since I am both a member of this task team, but of course also the Dean of the seminary that is touted to move to Pietermartizburg in KwaZulu Natal - a very significant piece of news is that the NEW seminary is to be called Seth Mokitini College (named after the very first Black President (Presiding Bishop) the Methodist Church of Southern Africa elected in 1963. A father in the faith who helped to change Southern African society, and the Church, significantly). However, there were also other important reports such as the report on the Methodist Jubilee economic recapitalisation campaign, and the equalisation of stipends.

Tomorrow we will break into smaller groups to consider resolutions related to our ministry and mission - among these will be the resolution on the same-sex matter that I proposed and Rev Mvuyiselo Stimela seconded.

Here's a copy of our resolution to the Church (Same sex resolution for Conference 2007.doc) - what we seek is hospitality, warmth, and the openness of Jesus Christ for ALL Methodists. It is a misnomer to think that there are no gay Methodists! In fact I know quite a few in our denomination, and even a few in my local Church. The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we would minister love and grace to all persons. Moreover, I have come to discover that if we are to be a Church that would seek God's justice and mercy for all in society (for the poor, and the rich, the empowered, and the powerless, the loved and the unloved, the accepted, and the rejected...) then we need to first find justice within the Church! After all the scriptures do ask "how can the world believe that we love God, whom we have not seen, if we hate our brothers and sisters, that we have seen"?

Ascent to a particular second order element of doctrine has never been a condition for acceptance in Christ's Kingdom - no, rather what Christ asks is whether we love and accept him (which also means loving and accepting those whom he loves - very challenging for someone who is as sinful as I am!)

OK, enough of the sermon. Another wonderful reason for coming to Conference is that it is always a great time to catch up with friends! Of course I see the friends here that I often see in the regular course of my work, people like Paul Verryn, Neville Richardson, Madika Sibeko, and my good friend Wessel Bentley. But, I also get opportunities to spend some time catching up with friends that I don't often get to see. This even Wessel, myself, Barry Marshal, Kevin Needham, and Ken Carr went for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant in Cape Town. It was great! We laughed until our sides hurt, we ate with our hands, and we felt something of what the Kingdom of God feels like - a place of love and acceptance.

I miss all of you back home! Thanks to those of you who are checking in from time to time! Megie, Courts and Liam I can't wait to get to the coast when I get back!! To my students, I still can't tell you anything about your stations for next year. As soon as there is news we will let you know.

Midnight, 20 September 2007, Cape Town.

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Problem SOLVED - uploading Presiding Bishop's address

Here's the message I posted earlier this morning:

I've been experiencing problems uploading the MP3 file of the Presiding Bishop's address to Conference - I'll upload it this evening, so please be patient! Can you believe that there is neither wifi, nor 3G, here at the Conference centre in Belville, Cape Town.

Sorry! Dion

Thankfully I have now posted the Presiding Bishop's podcast. You can download it here:

Presiding Bishops address to MCSA conference.MP3

Thanks for the patience!

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The Presiding Bishop's address to the 118th Conference of the Methodist church of Southern Africa

I have recorded, and will post, an MP3 copy of Bishop Ivan Abrahams' address to the 118th Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. The theme of this year's Conference theme is 'Come Holy Spirit heal and transform your Church'.

I will also post copies of the Bible studies, which have been lead by the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Ghana, the Rev Dr Robert Aboagye-Mensah. I just need a little time to edit them.

Here is the MP3 of Bishop Ivan's address to the Southern African Methodist Conference. It is a file of about 8.5MB. I'm afraid that I have not had much time to edit it yet.

Presiding Bishop's Address to MCSA Conference 2007.mp3

Rich blessing from the 'mother city'!

Dion (Cape Town, 20 September 2007)

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Unemployed in Cape Town - preparation for the General Annual Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa

This post comes from the promised land - Cape Town! I am very fortunate to fly into this place of blessing and grace every few weeks. It is one of the great blessings of my vocation. If you are short of time could I ask you simply to skip the next few paragraphs and read the quote below? It is moving, wortwhile, and a poignant reminder of the task that lies before us as a Church that seeks to match our personal piety with acts of Kingdom Building social holiness? Of course if you have more time you are welcome to read my other personal reflections below!

As many would know I spent 6 very happy years as a circuit minister in Somerset West, and in fact our first child, Courtney, was born there. Sadly, she is the only one in the family who has defected and become a 'Bluebull' supporter since our move to Pretoria 4 years ago - there you go Joch Seeliger!

Each time that I return to Cape Town I feel a ache deep down in my heart. My time here truly was one of the most blessed and wonderful times in my life! The Church we served was vibrant, growing, and alive with possibility. I had a wonderful colleagueship and ministry with my good friend Philip Buckland, our lay leaders were a 'dream team' - I remember many blessed days with Richard Steele, Beulah Durheim, Nicolene van Vuuren, Hester Pike, Wendy Coles, and Debbie Lown! We are very fortunate still to own a little piece of heaven - a two bedroom apartment on the side of the Helderberg Mountain. The ache that I feel is a result of my longing for the friends, fellowship, and great blessing that we experienced during those happy years.

However, as I returned to the Cape last night I felt an ache of a very different kind. The occasion was a joyous one - we had gathered in Somerset West with the student ministers who are about to be Ordained this coming Sunday. From our meeting we made our way to the Elgin Country club for dinner with the Ordinands and the Bishops - a start to the Ordinands retreat. The dinner itself was wonderful! I sat at the table with my friends Juan Smith and Bonginkosi Mathenjwa (both of whom were students at John Wesley College in my first year there in 2004), as well as Bishops Paul Verryn, Brian Jennings, Andrew Hefkie, and Professor Richardson. As part of the dinner our Presiding Bishop reminded us all that we have a great responsibility before us in the week that lies ahead. Many of us (the EMMU staff and Bishops) are permanent members of the General Conference that meets annually. It is our task to direct and guide the Church in its policy, mission and decision making.

Among the items on the Agenda are the all important resolutions on the same-sex matter. However, Bishop Ivan Abrahams reminded us that there are many other very important issues, that often seem to get silenced by the more glamorous issues. Bishop Ivan read a real life account of a woman who is a Methodist, in fact a member of the Church in which he had served as a younger pastor. The story served to remind us of our responsibility and the importance of the work that lies before us.

As he read the story my longing turned to sorrow - my only prayer is that the energy of this emotion would be transferred into action, loving action that would in some way change the plight of so many in our poverty ravaged land. This story is called "Unemployed in Cape Town" and comes from the book "Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge. Report for the second Carnegie inquiry into poverty and development in Southern Africa" by Wilson, F and Mamphela, R (Cape Town: David Philip Publishers).

My husband lost his job about give months ago. It was big shock but we though we could cope. I was earning a reasonably good wage. We had to cut a few corners thought. We had to eat less meat. We had to save on all kinds of things. I had to now catch the train to work, 'cause it was cheaper than the bus even though it took a lot longer even though it took longer. I also took in other people's washing. There are a few people here who pay you a little bit to wash their clothes. I used to wash clothes every Sunday.

Then two months ago I lost my job. We were desperate. There was no money coming in now.

We had to spend everything we had in the time my husband was without a job. Now they've cut off the electricity and we're two months in arrears with rent. They're going to evict us I'm sure, we just can't pay though. My husband decided to go to Jo'burg. he went a month ago. He said he would get a job there. He sent some money the first week. But I haven't had any more money since. I don't know where he is. I haven't been able to get hold of him. I would like to go to Jo'burg to look for him but what can I do with the children?

Before he left we used to take turns to look for work because the children can't go to creche because there's no money.

Sometimes they lie awake at night crying. I know they are crying because they are hungry. I feel like feedin them Rattex [a rat poison]. When your children cry hunger-crying, your heart wants to break. It will be better if they were dead. When I think things like that I feel worse. It's terrible when a mother wants to kill her own children. But what can I do, I'm not a mother worth having.

I worry about my husband. I think he might have run away with someone else. Maybe he's got a job and just doesn't want to come home. But why isn't he sending any money? I'm sick I'm sick because of the cold. I can't take my children to the doctor when they're sick because there's no money. My mother and father said they would try to help. But they've got very little money and my brother and sister to support. It's a hard time for all of us. We're just not cared to find jobs. What can one do? You must start looking.

You can also pray to God that he will keep you from killing your children.

Last night I lay awake and I prayed. I prayed that God would make me courageous enough to make a difference. Perhaps we can do something to help people like this. I know that's what Jesus would do. I thank God for reminding me why we are meeting this week - not to make new policy and amend unnecessary laws, but to find ways to feed the hungry and bring hope to the hopeless. To find a way of helping a desperate mother so that she doesn't have to kill her children.

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