Dion's random ramblings

Monday, October 08, 2007

A prayer for the world... Acceptance, God's Character, Christ's ministry, and our responsibility.

Yesterday I had the great joy of preaching at Calvary Methodist Church in Midrand (just between Johannesburg and Pretoria). My friends Alan Storey and Siviwe Waqu are the ministers of this incredible congregation. I have the great fortune of traveling throughout Southern Africa visiting many of our Methodist Churches. Each Church that I visit has some unique and special element that makes it a gift from God to the world, and a gift from the faithful members of that congregation to the Kingdom of God (I like to think of Churches as being gifted, and being gifts).

Calvary is one of the most remarkable Churches in the world! I have the great pleasure of preaching there every few weeks (mostly when Alan is traveling to Sudan, or the USA, or somewhere in South Africa, to do the 'Manna and Mercy' course (do a google search for 'Manna and Mercy' and 'Daniel Erlander'). It is always humbling, because he is a far more gifted and prophetic preacher than I shall ever be. However, what makes the experience so wonderful is that this is perhaps the most integrated congregation in the 6 nations that make up the Southern African Methodist Conference.

I will never forget the first Sunday that I was asked to preach there (way back in 2004). In the morning service as I presided over the sacrament of Holy Communion I had an elderly white woman, a young Indian woman, a young black professional man, an older black homeless man (who lived in the shelter at the Church), and myself a young white male, behind the communion table. It reflected the diversity of the Kingdom of God, all ages, all races, varied demographic, economic, and theological positions, various sexual orientations, and varied needs and desires. Yet we were all united in service of Christ our King - united in our common need for salvation, forgiveness, and acceptance and love in the Body of Christ. That was perhaps the first time in my life that truly understood the mystery of the Eucharistic meal.
This is truly what the Gospel LOOKS like... Not just what it sounds like!

Yesterday I preached a message on 'Acceptance' (you can download the MS Word transcript of the sermon here: Acceptance7Oct07.doc - if anyone is interested) - it was based on that question 'What does the Gospel look like?' Sitting in the congregation were young people, old people, white people, black people, gay people, straight people - in some ways it felt like preaching to the choir, or trying to convert the already converted. Yet, I realise that there are still issues and prejudices that needed to be address and dealt with. My prejudice against those persons who will not lovingly open the Church to all. There were men in the congregation who struggled to submit to the leadership of women. There were parents who struggled to accept the new perspectives, lifestyles, and choices, of their Children. There were HIV + positive people who were struggling to accept their status. There many, many of us, who needed hear that acceptance is part of God's nature, that it is central to the ministry of Jesus, and that it has to be foundational in the ministry of every disciple for the Kingdom of God.

So, what did we do? Well, we prayed! We were lead in prayer by Siphiwe Ndlovu, an incredible lay preacher (and a former colleague of my wife Megan). He lead us in a prayer that blew the cobwebs out of my soul! Afterwards I commented both to him, and Alan, that Siphiwe's prayer was enough... I did not need songs, liturgy, sermons - all that I needed to was that prayer. I will pray it over the next few days, or weeks, in the hope that it will become a part of the common life I share with all the people who God loves and accepts - even the one's that I struggle to accept.

The context that shaped Siphiwe's prayer was an experience on a previous weekend where he and other members of the Congregation engaged in 'Kairos' prison ministry. Kairos prison ministry is much like the Emmaus movement, but it is directed lovingly towards persons who are in prison.

Here is Siphiwe's magnificent prayer:

We bring now our chains to you who have set us free from the clutches of sin and death and brought us new life. Even though you have freed us we continue to be bound, our sin forever seeks us, fears and anxiety form our shadow, suffering and many problems hold us captive, unwilling to release us, to live fully the life to which you have called us. So we cry out to you this morning. Look upon this world with merciful eyes. Look upon us with merciful, love-filled eyes and release us. Free us from that which entangles us.

Oh Lord we bring to you this morning those among us bound by fear. Lord you know us, you see us, we who are immobilized by fear of failure and rejection; we who are unable to speak the truth or have meaningful relationships; we who are fearful of tomorrow; we who are bound in the mentality of scarcity, afraid to release our resources of time and money to free others from the chains of poverty and hunger. Oh Lord you see us and you see our chains ? so look upon those who are caught in improper relationships, unable to escape. Have compassion upon us, those for whom the fear of death and crime are real as a result of having had guns pointed at us and our privacy violated. Those of us who have tasted death and live in perpetual fear that it will come soon. See those of us caught in many addictions ? drugs, alcohol, busyness, work and sin. Jesus, you came so that we could have life in all its abundance, our fears bind us and limit our lives, our addictions call us back to feed them again and time again. Come again and again, come everyday and free us!

Oh graceful God, we pray for those bound by grinding chains of poverty. Parents who have to sacrifice their dignity to stand at traffic lights to beg from people who will not even look at them. Children who have to forego school and opportunities to learn and grow because they have no money, families for whom the rains are not good news because their roofs leak or they have no shelter.

Kids who are unable to enjoy the carefree ways of youth, caught in an adult world of being providers for their siblings; bound in chains of a world they can hardly cope with. Laughter has dried, questions of what games to play replaced with heavier questions of what they shall eat or what they will do if their parents die.

And Lord we pray for those who are bound in the system of wealth and the pursuit of it. Those for whom riches and fantasies of having more mean everything; those who sacrifice the relationships with spouses and children as they want more of the things that make them look good on the outside while they are dry and empty on the inside. Look upon those caught in an untenable situation of debt with no relief in sight. Come, Lord and loose their chains!

Even as we pray for freedom and release, Lord you know that for most of us chains are all we know. We are so used to being bound that the idea of freedom is threatening in itself. So we continue to resist your freedom. We long for it and yet do not have courage to take hold of it. We pray for courage to be free, to live free, fulfilling and life-giving lives. Root out all systems of oppression, those that are institutional and those that are entrenched in our hearts and minds.

And Lord we pray for those who are bound and live behind prison walls. For those who have wronged society we pray that you will bring them to a place of repentance and a new life. We pray for those who are in jails of the world. We pray for those who are in the jails of Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Darfur and for all those who fight to free their people from the chains of dictatorial powers. You Lord are on the side of the oppressed and the bound, for you know too well what it means to be bound, to be tried unfairly and to be given an unjust sentence. So we know that when we pray to you, we pray to the one who can emphathise, and one who intercedes on our behalf. The world is bound in chains ? come now and free us ? for whom the son frees, is free indeed. Amen

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Visionary leadership - it takes courage!

This is a picture of me with Dr Ernest Baartman, the visionary leader who founded the Black Methodist Consultation in 1975 (you can read my Oxford paper for more on this).

This was visionary because he had the courage to see what the Church needed (black leaders) in an era when others could not, and would not, see it. He was visionary because even though he knew this would be a dangerous, and threatening, endeavor, he was sustained by what few others, even many of his black colleagues, could not see - the vision of a predominantly black denomination, in a white dominated country, lead by black leaders. This could have cost him his ministry, but because he could see what God wanted he swam against the stream, and did the extraordinary thing that helped to transform our Church for the generations that followed.

It takes great sensitivity to see what others cannot see. It takes courage to make that vision become a reality, even in the face of great adversity and opposition.

I witnessed such leadership briefly at our Conference last week when Dianne Moodie courageously reminded the Conference of the pain and struggle that clergy and laity experience because of the Church's rejection of people - the majority could not feel her pain. I heard it in the voice of Alan Storey as he urged the Church to create a small ray of light in the midsts of darkness, by allowing 1 minister and 1 church in every District to openly minister to gay people with the Church's blessing - the majority could not see the need, I wonder what will happen to all the gay people who are Methodists in our nation? Will they simply give up and leave the Church? I saw it in the bravery of Mbuyiselo Stimela, the only Black minister who has openly supported the cause to make the Church more hospitable and welcoming to gay persons of all races and colours - our colleagues could not see his courage, instead they have threatened and belittled him. I saw this in my friend Barry Marshall who argued with passion that the Church cannot be in 'conversation' over the matter of persons with a same gender orientation while the voices of these people are silenced, rejected, and ignored - the majority did not hear the silence, but at least he spoke. I am seeing vision in the correspondence of my friend Kevin Light who can no longer compromise the community that he serves by ministering 'through pastoral loopholes' - sadly I fear that he may move on from our Church, or be forced out, perhaps he will lead many to follow him. He is right when he says that the only persons who are made vulnerable by 'loophole' ministry, are those being ministered to. Ministers can claim ignorance at transgressing an unspoken law, but once a pastoral act is deemed unlawful, it is those who are ministered to that bear the brunt of such rulings.

I don't know if I have the courage, sensitivity, or insight, to see what others cannot see, and make that vision a reality.

Of course I have read about such vision many, many, times in Scripture, in the slave Moses who leads slaves to a promised land. In a sheep herd, David, who slays a giant, because God says he can. In a teenage virgin who gives birth to a saviour, even when everyone else believes that she is crazy adulteress. In the life of a King who is born in a stable, who does not destroy his enemies but dies for them... Yes, these are all visionary leaders - people who see what God sees, and then find the courage to make God's vision a reality. In fact, one of them is God... Thank goodness God can see what others cannot. If it were not for that admirable quality I would never have found His grace!

We need more people like Dr Baartman, like Dianne, Alan, Mbuyiselo, Barry, and Kevin...

What follows is a reflection of how this principle relates to a particular passage from Scripture... By now you may have given up reading... I won't hold it against you!

Trevor Hudson and Jenny Hillebrand left a comment each, a few posts back, thanking me for my frequent blog posts - a friend of mine calls blogs 'personality spam'! I think he is right, most often my posts are simply a means of processing my feelings, thoughts, fears, desires, and hopes... If any of it is wortwhile to anyone else that's a huge bonus! Thanks for reading.

Today I sat with one of our students, Nkosinathi Nombula, preparing him for his New Testament 2 examination. One of the questions in the exam asks the student give advice to a woman who has read Ephesians 5:21-33. She is being abused by her husband and has come to believe that she must continue to endure the abuse because this section of the Bible says she must submit to him and respect to him. Thankfully the examiner understands that in order to get a more responsible insight into what the Pauline text is saying to its readers one must read it in the context of the issues that the whole of the letter to the Ephesians is addressing, and particularly within the context of Ephesians 5 and 6. If you have the time please read Ephesians 5:21-33 and ask yourself what advice you would give the abused woman. Well, Nombula and I spent some time working through the question and established a few things. First, I reminded him that the letter to the Ephesians must not be directly related to the 'popular' understanding that Paul was a paternalistic chauvinist - not that Paul was liberated in the modern sense. However, it is important not to read the text too simply from within the framework of our contemporary prejudice of Paul's views of women. It is likely that this letter was not written by Paul himself, but by a later, more sophisticated Pauline author or redactor - simply because of the complexity of the grammar, sophistication of the ecclesiology, and because of the similarities in content and structure to the letter to the Colossians, upon which many scholars believe the letter to the Ephesians is styled. Secondly, we were reminded that the central issue in the letter to the Ephesians was that of God's purpose for the Church which can only be achieved by the costly sacrifice that will be necessary in order to be truly united (many scholars agree that the 'hermeneutic keys' (i.e., those keys that unlock the interpretation of the rest of the letter) are Eph 1:10 and Eph 4:13). So, the author crafts his argument about the cost of unity between Jewish and gentile believers in the first few chapters of the book (a mixture of admonition, prayer, and encouragement). Then between Eph 4:1-6:20 the author gives practical suggestions about the cost of this unity. Now, this is where the radical bit comes in! Many have emphasised Eph 5:22 (that wives must submit to their husbands), yet the emphasis of this passage is to be found in the dynamics of the four examples of costly unity that are presented. The dynamic is fundamentally about power and powerlessness! The power of husbands, versus the powerlessness of wives in that era - the emphasis is NOT just upon the wife submitting to her husband, rather here the author takes a bold and radical step of confronting the powerful with the truth that as long as they oppress the powerless, they abuse and harm themselves. This must have taken courage in an age when the authority of men went unquestioned. But of course, the powerless are empowered when the powerful curb their power, so he also has some advice for wives. Next he speaks about the relationships between the authority of parents over their children. Can you imagine how the respectable members of the Ephesian Church would have reacted to being told they must not exasperate their children, as if their children have rights!? He then goes on to further press the point by challenging slave owners to adopt a vulnerable and open relationship with their slaves. That must have taken courage in a time when the authority of slave owners over their slaves went unquestioned. Last he addresses the relationship between 'the spirits' that so often lead us powerfully into darkness and slavery, and the 'the Spirit' that brings us life and freedom. Of course we often teach Ephesians 5 in isolation from the Ephesians 6 (as if the way we treat our wives, husbands, children, and those who work for us has no spiritual impact), conversely we make the mistake of thinking that the armor of spiritual warfare has nothing to do with the words and actions that characterize our unity and love for one another...

You see, visionary, courageous, leaders can see what others cannot. What does God want you to see that others cannot?

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Friday, September 28, 2007

They are worthy! The 2007 Ordination service of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa

Forgive me for not posting this sooner [Link to photos below]. I have had a few days of re-creation, Megan, Courtney, Liam and I took 4 days of rest and relaxation with her parents in Waterfall just outside Durban in South Africa. It was wonderful! However, it is about time I posted a few thoughts and some photographs from the Ordination service in Stellenbosch last week Sunday.

Within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa the annual Ordination service has become the crowning celebration of the Connexional executive meetings (in the period of the triennial conference), or Conference. This service celebrates that women and men still choose to respond to God's call to ministry - even when they are gifted, capable, and able to do many other things. The service took place in the picturesque town of Stellenbosch, just outside of Cape Town, this year. Our Presiding Bishop, the Rev Ivan Abrahams, presided over the service (shared with the Presiding Bishop of Ghana). In total 29 persons were ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament (called Presbyters in South Africa, Elders elsewhere in the world), and a 4 persons to the ministry of word and service (Deacons, from the Greek word diakonos which means to serve).

The liturgy for the Ordination service contains all of the necessary elements of Christian worship, praise and adoration of God, thanksgiving for God's good gifts, confession of our sin, and a charge to serve God more faithfully and obediently. Apart from the Ordination and communion there are also very pointed reminders that ministry is not reserved for those who are Ordained. In fact it is the 'Lay President' of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa who asks some of most pertinent questions of those to be Ordained, and the Presiding Bishop who charges the congregation of laity and clergy to respond obediently in discipleship to our Lord - all participating together in realizing God's mission in the world.

I have been to more than 10 Ordination services since my own - I have had the privilege of serving as a Presbyter at most of these (a Presbyter is an Ordained minister nominated by an Ordinand to lay hands on his or her head, together with the other Ordained ministers and Bishops when the Ordination prayer is said. Theologically it symbolizes the apostolic succession from one generation of ministers to the next). A special moment in the Ordination service is when all of the Ordained persons who are present (from all Churches and orders of ministry) are asked to stand and renew their promise to faithful service.

I had the incredible joy of serving as a Presbyter for two of my past students, both good friends, at this Ordination service - the Rev Juan Smith (with whom I am pictured above) and the Rev Dorah Ngcakani. Juan and I are good friends. We go a long way back - he was a Phase 1 minister in Cape Town when I was a young minister there. He and I are very alike (just take a look at our hairstyles!) in personality, passion, and love for Christ. This young man is a great gift to Christ's Church! I am thankful that a person who is a graduate, bright, committed, energetic, and capable, has chosen to give his life in service of Christ. It is what the Lord deserves, and it will bring great blessing and fulfillment in his life. Dorah, is a mother to me. She is an extremely accomplished woman. She holds a string of degrees and qualifications, having served as a school principal, Educational inspector, and senior member of the South Africa department of Education. She helped me with advice, guidance, and a patient ear when I was a very 'green' Dean at the Seminary. She is far more capable to do my work than I am, yet she was humble, restrained, wise and gracious as I tried to find my feet. Thank you Juan and Dorah for the blessing of sharing in this incredible day with you!

I do want to encourage others who are hearing God whisper the call to the Ordained ministry (either as a Presbyter, or Deacon) to test that call! There can be no greater way to spend your life than doing the thing that God wants you to do! If you are the best, you're the person that God wants! I am currently working on a little book, that I hope to publish in the next few months. It is intended to help persons discern their call to ministry (whether it be ministry in the pulpit, home, and Church, or ministry in the marketplace, workplace, or wider world). In the meantime however, please read this document if you want to know what steps to take to test your call.

Lastly, I have compiled a little page with photographs of the Ordination (taken with my snap and shoot camera). Please follow the link for photographs of the MCSA Ordination service in 2007.

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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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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Church that displays the hospitality, warmth, and welcome of Christ's Gospel.

Last week a number of Christian lay people and ministers met in Cape Town informed by the 115th Conference of the MCSA (PE-2001) that resolved that we (Methodists) would be "a community of love rather than rejection", and the practical enactment of this value that was resolved by the 117th Conference (Johannesburg-2005) which decided that safe places be formed "...for people of a same sex orientation to tell their stories. [where there can be]... healing and forgiveness for both the church and these members".

The purpose of this meeting in Cape Town was to consider how we could increase the witness, welcome, warmth and, hospitality of Christ's gospel for all persons (much like Jesus himself speaks of in John 3:16). The purpose was to seek to break down the 'dividing wall of hostility' between persons of different positions on the same sex matter in the Church (Ephesians 2.14), and that Jesus? love is equally given for all people (John 3.16, Romans 3.23-24; Romans 6.23). A number of testimonies were shared by people of a same sex orientation, who love Christ, and yet have felt excluded from, and unwelcome in, Christ's Church. It was a challenging, and moving, meeting.

I recorded a number of these testimonies, devotions, and Bible studies. We have decided to make the report of the listening committee available (this report sums up the feelings, ideas, and experiences of the members of the meeting).

The report is in MP3 format, it is about 6MB in size, and is presetned by the Reverend Alan Storey.

You can download the report HERE (simply click on the link).

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this report does not represent the official views of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, or any of the local societies of this Christian denomination. Rather, it is a process report that resulted form the resolutions of Conference 2005. As a process report it is likely to change, adapt, and grow as it encounters persons and positions that represent different perspectives on this issue.

For an alternative perspective from within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa please download and read the following document:

An alternative position on persons with a same sex relationship. (Adobe PDF document).

So, please do pray that we will find a way forward that:

a. Is true to God's will and desire for God's Church and God's mission in the world.

b. The moral, ethical, justice, mercy, and grace filled principles of the Gospel are upheld for persons who hold very different, and often conflicting views, without denying each other's dignity, commitment to Christ, and without harming the mission and evangelical purpose of Christ's Church.

c. No person should ever feel that Christ does not love or accept them.

d. Our Churches would love the people that Jesus loves, and love doing the things that Jesus does, even if it is difficult and challenging to do so.

Please feel free to engage me on this issue!

With much love in Christ! Dion

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A resource for Society Stewards and Circuit Stewards (sometimes called Elders) in Methodist Churches

I have just completed writing up a little resource for Society Stewards and Circuit Stewards (sometimes called Elders) in Methodist Churches.

This document is an attempt at laying a foundational theology for the ministry of these important lay persons in our Methodist Churches. My document draws on four primary sources (all listed of course):

1. Tim Attwell's ecclesiology paper for DEWCOM.

2. My document that discusses orders of ministry (with particular reference to Ordained Deacons in the MCSA), also prepared for DEWCOM.

3. A superb little booklet written by Ken Leverton (from which almost the entire last point comes) - "Your ministry as a Steward" Leverton, K, 1996:21. Methodist Publishing House. Cape Town. Sadly this little booklet is currently out of print (hence the need for my little document).

4. The Laws and Discipline of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (10th Edition! Note the edition number please, I did not have the 11th edition at the time of writing. As soon as I get a copy, I'll update the references).

So, here's the document entitled:

Your ministry as a Steward in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.doc

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Update on Church's response to ministers who registered a 'qualified yes' to the questions of discipline and doctrine.

Well, it has been an interesting week with a lot to and fro between various persons in positions of authority (or lack thereof) in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in relation to the ministers who gave a qualified yes response to the questions of discipline because of the civil union bill / same sex marriage issue.

Today, Greg Andrews, gave a detailed account of how the events unfolded in the Cape of Good Hope District. You can read his post on his blog HERE.

Then, this morning a letter was circulated (a week late in my estimation) from the office of the Presiding Bishop to comment on this issue and the 22 of us who registered the qualified response. One colleague asked why this letter had not been drafted a week earlier, it could have avoided a fair amount of struggle, embarrassment, and upheaval!

Here's the letter. I would love to hear what you comments are.

Statement by Bishops on the Same Sex Debate.doc

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Objectionable... Thanks for the prayers... Keep praying!

Update 7 October 2009

Today I was contacted by two readers of my blog who sent me an email raising concern about a picture that was taken of a statue of Paul Kruger ('Oom Paul') in Rustenberg some years ago (May 2007).  The statue of Oom Paul had a bottle of alcohol which some passer by had obviously placed in his hand during the previous night.  One of the commentators asked why I did not remove the bottle instead of taking a picture.  I'm afraid that was not possible since the statue is behind a barred fence and is raised.  I would not have been able to reach it.

Notwithstanding, I concede that I made an inappropriate remark by suggesting that the statue, with bottle in hand, made 'Oom Paul' appear intoxicated.  In my desire to be Christlike, as a peace-maker, I have removed both the image and the comment from this post and I apologize to the two gentlemen who contacted me to request that I remove the remark and picture (I have not named them here since their requests to me were not public but sent via email - if they give their permission I will gladly publish their names).  I also apologize to anyone else who may have been offended by my remark.

The original post of 12 May 2007 continues below.

Right, now back to SYNOD. Thank you for your prayers for our meetings this week. I am pleased to say, that whilst they were not easy, I do feel that they turned out very well in the end. Of course, victory seldom comes without cost.

Firstly, 19 of our ministers were suspended for some part of their SYNOD in Cape Town for taking a stand on the issue of officiating at same sex unions. You can read the official SABC news release here.

My friend Wessel also has some news on the events in our SYNOD. I would encourage you to read his blog as well.

As many of you know, I am an inclusive and affirming Christian. In short, I believe that scripture says much more about justice, love, and grace, than it does about sexuality. Moreover, Jesus clearly shows that we as Christians need to reach to those who are marginalized, rejected, and on the fringes of society. Moreover, Megan and I have come to know and love many friends, and some family, who have a same sex orientation and are deeply committed to Christ. For some years now I have been part of a group within our denomination that has been trying to encourage the Church to have a far more open and affirming stance towards persons of a same sex orientation. I do sincerely believe that Christ would want all persons to be part of the body of Christ. It is a sad indictment upon the Gospel when we exclude anyone from Christ's love and grace! I do not expect every other Christian to feel the same as I do. However, I certainly would want to have the freedom and privilege of extending Christ's grace to, and not be curtailed or stopped from doing so by the Church itself.

Moreover, I have served on Methodist Church's 'doctrine ethics and worship commission' (DEWCOM) which is charged with helping the Church to formulate it's doctrine and beliefs. (You can read some of the papers and working documents that we have produced here) In particular, Wessel and I were the authors of our Church's current position of 'ecclesiastical unity in Christ', that affirms that even though there are persons with different viewpoints about sexuality, we have faith in one and the same Lord, and so we choose to 'sit with one another around the table of Christ'. In short we compiled the responses we received from a discussion document, did the theology, and then wrote the following report for Conference.

I would sincerely encourage that you read this report before making up your mind about either this issue in relation to our Church, or my stance on it.

Same sex response MCSA Conference 2005.doc

In short, as a result of this position, I (together with clergy throughout the country, including the 19 in Cape Town) tabled a resolution asking that the Church allow those of us who feel compelled to offer ministry to, and in particular seek God's blessing for, same sex couples to be allowed to do so. The motion was defeated.

However, I was so encouraged by the nature and spirit of the debate that took place around the issue. One of the saddest things for me is when Christians attack one another over issues such as this. This was not the case in our SYNOD, however, the outcome is that I have an objection against my name on the matter of our Church's discipline and doctrine (in other words, I had to register a qualified acceptance of the 'questions of discipline' - indicating that I believe, teach, and uphold our Church's doctrine with some qualifications). This position arises from a complex and conflicted process. In short whilst our Conference has allowed us to act in accordance with our conscience, a 'lower decision making body' of the Church (the Connexional executive) tried to override the decision of the 'higher body', Conference, and forbid us to conduct blessings for same sex couples. Whilst I don't want to debate the issue of blessing same sex couples, I did make the point that a lower body of the Church cannot override a higher body. However, the argument was not carried, and so as a matter of conscience I had to give a qualified response to 'the questions'.

Unlike our colleagues in the Cape of Good Hope District, I was however not suspended. Bishop Taylor (who is the chair of the Limpopo District SYNOD in which I was for most of this week) was both wise and gracious in dealing with this matter, and asked that the SYNOD not make any ruling, or request any discipline, until a higher body that the SYNOD (in this case that would be Connexional Executive, or the Conference of the MCSA that meets in August) has ruled on the matter. However, being weary of the unpredictability of our Church's leadership (which I believe was the reason why the 19 ministers in the Cape were so quickly recused from SYNOD), and being the only minister who took this stance in our SYNOD, I fear that I may still face some measure of discipline in the next few days or weeks. So please do be pray for all of the ministers in the MCSA who will face objections as a result of their conscience, believing that Christ loves all persons regardless of sexual orientation. Please also pray for our Church as we seek to find Christ's will in this regard and at the same time remain in loving fellowship with one another.

In particular I want to applaud some colleauges, who at this stage, have made a significant contribution to helping the Church understand the importance of this issue. They are,

Rev Paul Oosthuizen (a first year student minister), Rev Angus Kelly (a third year student minister), Reverends Brian and Dianne Moodie (the only two persons who took a stand in their SYNOD), Rev Wessel Bentley, Rev Mike Durrant, Rev Dr Neville Richardson, Rev Sifiso Khuzwayo, Rev Lynn Walter, Rev Sidwell Mokgothu, and Rev Rudyard Harrison (members of the Limpopo SYNOD who supported the resolution). And then I also want to honour the Rev Dave Morgan, who affirmed and encouraged me, even though he is a proponent of the opposite view to which I subscribe. He truly encouraged me by displaying grace, and Christian love.

We still have a number of SYNODs meeting in the next two weeks. Please continue to pray about this matter!

Lastly, I had the privilege of going from the Limpopo District SYNOD in Rustenburg, to preach at the Highveld and Swaziland District SYNOD meeting in Brakpan this morning. Let me just say, that it was a wonderful honour and joy to share with this SYNOD, however, the greatest joy was the fact that my friend Juan Smith, was accepted for Ordination to the Ministry of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Well done Juan! It has been many long years of hard work, dedicated training, and love for Christ and his Church!

Here is the sermon I preached as a charge to the Ordinands and SYNOD, if anyone is interested to read it:

Forget what is behind strain for what is ahead May 2007 Highveld and Swaziland SYNOD 2007.doc

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