Ordinations

‘My brothers,’ Bishop Metlhayotlhe Beleme asks, ‘do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to the life and work of a priest?’ Twelve, our first graduates from the St. Augustine Theological School, answer, ‘I believe I am so called.’ ‘Do you now in the presence of God and of his Church accept this trust and responsibility?’ Bishop Metlha continues. ‘I do,’ they answer.

Today, in Gaborone, at Holy Cross Cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Botswana, marks the culmination of the long process of discernment and study and formation for these men. It’s the largest ordination held in the Diocese’s history, and is a major expansion of the number of locally-trained Batswana priests.

I am not here.

Our – the Diocese of North Carolina’s – absence is just one of those things that happens. It really is a stewardship issue. I am returning to Botswana in January to teach another term, and despite my having taught these ordinands in two previous years, and despite how much I would love to be present, it is not a good use of our resources, and no other options present themselves. So our Diocese is not here.

Representatives from another of Botswana’s companion links, the Diocese of Newcastle in England, are, and visitors from the Diocese of Tennessee happen to be here on this occasion. Some South African Anglicans have travelled up.

We are not forgotten, however. Bishop Metlha acknowledges the ‘tremendous assistance’ it has received from North Carolina, and he singles out now Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. He also kindly mentions me.

And the Diocese of Botswana rightly recognizes that ‘the primary success of the school and ordination of these men was made possible by Canon Professor James Amanze, Principal of St Augustine and Canon Theologian.’ It is his vision that began St. Augustine Theological School in 2012, begun truly as an act of faith. Today would not be without him.

But the focus today is on these men. I can picture them, their families present, excited by the prospect, relieved that this moment has finally arrived. The evening classes, day after day for three years, is finished. The decision of the Bishop is final. The previous week’s retreat is over. And now, they are to be made priests.

Besides relief and excitement, however, I hope they feel humility. In our Sacramental theology class I ask them, two years ago, to read ‘the charge to the priests’ in the ordination liturgy. I remind them of the seriousness of the words they will one day embrace. Now, at last, they are doing so.

They are standing before the Bishop as he says

You are called to make disciples, bringing them to baptism and confirmation; to lead the people in prayer; faithfully to read the Scriptures and proclaim the word of God; and to preside at the Eucharist with reverence and wonder. Like Aaron, you will bear the names of your people on your breast in intercession before the Lord. You will teach and encourage them from the Scriptures, and bless them in the name of God. You will help God’s people to discover and use to his glory the gifts he has given them. Like Moses, you will gladly receive counsel and share the burden of leadership with others. In love and mercy, remembering your own frailty, you will rebuke sin, pronounce God’s forgiveness to the penitent and absolve them in the name of Christ. Following the Good Shepherd, you will care for the sick, bring back those who have strayed, guide his people through this life, and prepare them for death and for the life to come, that they may be saved through Christ forever.

This ministry will be your great joy and privilege.

That remains, for me, a remarkable charge. Back in 2013 I ask them to reflect upon the ordination liturgy throughout their formation, readying themselves for this day. Now they are hearing this recitation of their calling by their Bishop.

And after all of these words, and acknowledgment of joy and privilege, the charge concludes with great understatement:

It is also a weighty responsibility which none would dare to undertake except for the call of God.

Yes.

Give them holiness of life, wisdom and gentleness in their ministry, and perseverance in prayer, we all say in the post-communion prayer.

I am not here, at Holy Cross Cathedral in Gaborone. But I am in spirit.

 

 

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Moses Holango R.I.P.

‘With deep sorrow, Rev. Moses Holonga is late and will be buried in Nswazwi near Fransistown this weekend.’ That’s the message I receive from friends at Kgolagano College today.

I first visit Rev. Holonga in 1988, when I am still a seminarian. (I write about that visit in a Botswana diary entry dated April 27, 2010, available on this website.) At the time I am interested in grassroots theological education, and I am excited to see the work that Kgolagano, under the leadership of Basil Manning, is doing. After visiting the school, they send me off to spend time with one of their students, Moses Holonga.

I remember him to this day, his driving me in his pickup to his home, located northwest of Francistown, a remote spot with a thatched compound, cattle and goats. I am given glimpses of his ministry.

He is, folks at Kgolagano tell me in 2010, ‘very old.’ I regret not managing to visit him again.

He is a leader of one of the African-initiated churches, meaning he is a part of a church not established by European missionaries. Some come into being on their own. Others are breakaways from European missions, some because of disagreements over theology (they used to be called Zionist churches), others because of disagreements with mission leadership (they used to be called Ethiopian churches). There are thousands of them all across the continent. Kgolagano has trained many of their Batswana leaders.

He will be buried in Nswazwi, they tell me.

I make no claim to know much of the history of Nswazwi. I do know that around 1901 the London Missionary Society (LMS) sends a Rev. Motiki to work among the Ba Ka Nswazwi, and by 1921 a church has been built there. The ruins of it remain.

One of Rev. Motiki’s converts, Rev. Holonga, takes over in 1910, and he is the one who opens the new church in 1921. He is eventually replaced by his son, Rev. Moses Holonga. At some point ‘my’ Rev. Holonga – the son – leaves the LMS and enters the world of the African-initiated churches. I do not know when, nor why.

The only other thing I know about him has to do with a second, non-church, theme in the history of Nswazwi. It seems that a chief of the BaKalanga Baka-Nswazwi by the name of John Madawo Nswazwi and another ethnic leader find themselves in conflict back in the 1940s, and Chief Nswazwi is on the losing end. He is exiled by the British to Mafeking, in South Africa (the city actually serves as Botswana’s capital during the colonial era), in 1947, then finds refuge in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, the following year. He dies and is buried there in 1960.

Which brings us back to Rev. Holango. Chief Nswazwi and his followers want him to be buried back in Nswazwi village, and that finally happens in 2002. Abel Abednico Mabuse, writing recently in the newspaper Mmegi, says that Rev. Holango ‘is famously remembered for the reconciliatory sermon he offered during the reburial of John Madawo Nswazwi.’

Now, this weekend, Rev. Holango will be buried there too.

I wish I knew more about his story. I am at an age where people’s stories, especially their faith journeys, intrigue me. How does this man – kind, hospitable, welcoming – travel from following in his father’s footsteps as a pastor with what is now the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (Botswana Synod) into the independency of an African-initiated church? What marks his ministry? What might we know beyond his studies at Kgolagano, and his giving a ‘reconciliatory sermon’?

For those who knew him, may his stories remain. For the rest of us, may his soul rest in peace.

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