The last two days have been special to say the least! I find that frequently the most significant personal experiences are not the extraordinary places that I get to visit through my work, or even the important people I have had the privelage to encounter... Most frequently the 'life changing' moments in my life's narrative are those events in which I come to a moment of 'enlightenment' - a recognition of a truth that helps me to move form one stage of being to another.
These last two days have been just that. Yesterday I flew out to Pietermartizburg at the invitation of Rev Dr Ross Olivier to come and participate in the Orientation of the founding class of Sethi Mokitimi Methodist Seminary. Ross has been a friend for some years now. I first got to know him when he was the connexional coordinator for the 'Journey to the new land program' back in the early 1990's. Later our friendship was deepened when I had the wonderful opportunity to stay with him and his wife Shayne in Jackson Mississippi in the USA. We ate clams, drove down the Naches Trace to Louisiana and spent many hours chatting and watching TV! It is a fond memory... We also went to Walmart (where I bought my daughter a Barbie doll on a shelf that was situated right next to the live ammunition for various hand guns, rifles and shot guns...)
Ross is the new President of our Church's seminary, Seth Moktimi Methodist Seminary, in Pietermartzburg. He is a courageous and gifted leader who has already done a great deal to set things in place to ensure the success of this new institution...
At the airport in Durban I hired a car and picked up Rev Norman Raphahlela (the new director of the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit), and the Registrar, Anne Burmeister and the financial manager Melani Kasselman.
Ross and Ivan Abrahams, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa met us in Pietermaritzburg as we drove through the dark (and quiet) streets of that city - the University only starts in a week's time so all is calm! Ivan and I shared a flat at the new seminary campus and had a few hours to sit and chat. It reminded me very much of the deep and honest conversation we shared at Oxford in 2007 - which became the inspiration for mine and Wessel Bentley's most recent book, 'What are we thinking: Reflections on Church and Society by Southern African Methodists'. Ivan shared his aspirations and struggles with great honest and vulnerability. I have always understood that the burden of leadership is have and lonely, and I felt that again last night.
Today, I got to spend some time with a veratible host of the 'Heroes' of Southern African Methodism! In the meetings, meals, and sessions where Rev Prof Neville Richardson (one of my very close friends and a real father in the faith), Rev Prof Peter Storey, Rev Dr Simon Gqubule, Rev Dr Ross Olivier, Bishop Zipho Siwa and Rev Norman Raphahela. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to share this time with my Methodist fathers. Their collective wisdom, history of courage and sacrifice, and continued commitment to the mission of Christ as expressed in Southern African Methodism was a considerable challenge and inspiration! There was enough time to connect with each of them and pick up on all that had happened since we last met one another.
However, there was another element to this encounter that was more encouraging... It was the recognition that I was absolutely free - I was free from needing to make an impression or leave one. These persons no longer held my future and destiny in their hands. I have been graciously moved by God in a different direction. I remain a committed servant of this denomination, but I did not want or need anything from these powerful men - other than being able to sit, listen, and learn. I do not need a station, I need no endorsement, no support from a caucus they represent, no political or ecclesiastical backing, I simply received the blessing of being a young man in the company of giants.
I was humbled by their kindness and interest in my current ministry and how things are going with my family. I was blessed that a few of them had already bought the new book and had some positive and critical insights to share....
It was a joy to go into class again - I cannot tell you how much I miss share in the shaping of the hearts and minds of our seminarians! We had a few hours together in which we interrogated the doctrine of the Church, the mission of the Church, and some very creative and innovative means of 'rephrasing the narrative of the Gospel of love' so that it is truly the WHOLE Gospel (not just a narrow personal soteriology! But rather a radically transformative mission of bringing about individual and social transformation towards the establishment of God's Kingdom of grace!)
But, as I drove back to the airport I knew that I was free.... In terms of the Sigmoid curve, I realised that I had begun to stagnate in my previous role as the Dean of John Wesley College. I was thankful that the politics of the factions in the Church were no longer my concern... As I listened to the conversation around the table, I thanked the Lord for those whom He has called to serve the Church in those positions, but I felt free from them.
I arrive home at 10pm tonight. I can't wait to see Megie, Courts and Liam! But, tomorrow morning I'll be addressing a Christian business gathering in Blouberg (at the Blue Peter). I'll be up early to get there by 6am - but I am excited about the opportunity to exercise my minister, the ministry of a Methodist minister, in that context. I am grateful for all those who have gone before and showed me the way. I am thankful for the work that is being done to train people for our ministry. And I am thankful to have opportunities to engage in new and diverse forms of bringing Christ's Kingdom to bear on the world!
I am thankful.