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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Parting meanderings

Erik Free, a recent mission appointee from Global Ministries of the UCC/Disciples, takes me to the Beira airport. It’s a simple rather old-fashioned airport. I check in, then go upstairs, where there is a long porch overlooking the runway. Africa, in my view, makes some of the finest beers in the world, so I treat myself to a cold Manica, the local beer (happily ordering it just before the electricity goes out), and sit and watch the inactivity around me. There is a single-engine plane in the foreground, and its pilot comes out and looks at it from time to time, and at some point an anonymous larger plane lands, nothing on it but the numbers. That is all.

 The Catholic cathedral in Beira, with stones from Sofala

We take off to the east, out over the Indian Ocean, then bank southward. I watch the coastline, trying to guess where the ancient ‘city state’ of Sofala used to be. Located on the Buzi estuary, Sofala dates all the way back to around 700, and in the following centuries Arabs, Somalis, Swahili and even Persians trade there. It’s controlled by the Sultanate of Kilwa, in Tanzania, for awhile. They buy gold from the interior, from the Kingdom of Mutapa (Monomatapa, it goes under differing spellings). Then the Portuguese show up in the early 1500s, a bit late for the gold trade. They end up building a fort. The stones from its remains are taken to Beira a century ago, used in the building of the Roman Catholic cathedral.

There is apparently little to be seen of the remnants of Sofala’s glory days. I certainly see none as our plane leaves the coast and heads inland.

Remnants of our histories are still to be found, of course. That is one of my themes when I speak to the Annual Synod of the Igreja de Cristo Unida em Mocambique. The story I have tried to tell in Toward an African Church in Mozambique is their story, not mine, and I urge them to remember it, and pass it on. Those who have gone before us have left us with a legacy, some good, some not so, and it is part of who we are, defines who we are.

                The 'evangelistic hall' in Beira, 1938

In Beira, I visit the ‘new’ church in Esturro, and I ask about what was once called the ‘evangelistic hall,’ built in 1938. It is still there, now divided into a couple of largish classrooms. At the time, its building is a major event, and in addition to Sunday services, several hundred men come to an evening school. Title to the building and property change several times in those years, in a search to respond to Portuguese xenophobia by becoming legally Portuguese.

Another legacy that reminds us from whence we have come, and what we have faced.

I enjoy teaching about the Pastoral Epistles – 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – in my course on Paul’s letters at the St. Augustine Theological School in Gaborone. There is wide agreement among scholars that Paul never wrote them, that they are post-apostolic, but I feel the need to cover them nevertheless, as it is still a widely-held perception in our churches. What intrigues me – and it is why I am talking about it here – is that the author, often known as the Pastor, is concerned with how we pass on the message, the truth of the gospel, from generation to generation. The Pastor speaks of how leaders are chosen, and how the centrality of our faith is to be shared, and protected.

I suggest to our students that we are still doing this, doing what the Pastoral Epistles say. We – the Church – are carefully choosing leaders to be ordained, and we are preparing them, and teaching them that they too will passing on the tradition to a new generation. The way we do this, in part, is by reminding them, and all of us, from whence we have come.

What we know of our heritage, of course, depends upon what we are taught. That is why quality theological education and ministerial formation – under threat by a lack of will on the part of church leaders – remain so critical. What is at the center of our faith? What is our tradition? What comprises the life of the church universal?

That is why teaching the history of our cultures and nations is so important too. Pastor Lucas Amosse tells me that when he is in school he is taught the history of Portugal, not of Mozambique. And I wonder what children in Mozambique are taught now. Much of the country is surely born after the liberation struggle. Do they know the stories of their parents and grandparents? Do they know of their ancient history, the story of Sofala?

We pass these stories on. Or not. And then we leave.

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Baptisms at Matsiloje

I receive a message just before I leave Gaborone for Francistown. ‘Oh yes,’ the message says, ‘you will also baptize three people at Matsiloje on Sunday.’

I have been working a bit on my Setswana pronunciation of some parts of the Eucharist liturgy. And I have been teaching about the baptism liturgy in An Anglican Prayer Book, the prayer book in use in Botswana. But I have not actually performed a Botswana baptism. There will be more to do in the north of the country this weekend than teach and preach. I will study the rubrics and liturgy on Saturday night.

                    Our students at St. Patrick's, Francistown

Fr. John Hamathi, a fellow lecturer at St. Augustine Theological School, and I drive up to Francistown on Friday, my birthday, and we teach our students from this region all day Saturday. Fr. George Callendar, a priest in Francistown, starts the day saying the Mass in the history St. Patrick Church, then Fr. John and I separate, he into the nave of the church for his class, me into the sacristy for mine. Midday we switch; I take the third-year students, he now takes the first.

‘I can serve for five years somewhere besides my home village,’ one of my students tells me during a break. ‘There are Anglicans in Maun’ – Maun is the western town on the edge of the Okavango Delta – ‘but there is no church. I could be there.’

These are encouraging words. One of the ideas of the St. Augustine Theological School is that the ordinands will mostly be non-stipendiary – unpaid – mainly serving congregations in their own villages or towns while continuing their own secular jobs. The notion that some are open to postings some distance from their homes, in places which lack priests or even functioning congregations, is hopeful.

‘Five years. Then I can return and serve at my home. That will be fine. That will make my training worthwhile.’ ‘That is a good thing to tell the Bishop,’ I say. ‘He will be happy to hear it.’

 

Matsiloje on Sunday morning is my idea. Last year I plan to come to Matsiloje, about twenty-five miles or so due east from Francistown, nestled on the border with Zimbabwe. Two of my students are from there, and they actually go so far as to arrange for me to celebrate the Eucharist on Easter Sunday. The flaw in their planning is that All Saints Church has an all-night Easter vigil instead. (I wonder why they do not know.) The vigil seems out of the question, for my daughter and her husband and children and I will have just driven all day from Kasane. So, with all due respect to the historic vigil liturgy, instead we attend St. Carantoc’s in Francistown on Easter morning. But that has left me a bit guilty, for I visit all of the other students in their home parishes. This year, then, I decide to redeem myself.

And so Sunday, I am off to Matsiloje. I am following Samuel Moraloki, driving ahead with his family, but I also examine a map. It shows a single road coming to the village, and that’s it; no other roads beyond. But as we drive I see there is a now a border post, and folks can cross over into Zimbabwe from here. Changes, even in isolated spots.

I meet those who are to be baptized: Kagiso Sebokolodi, Michelle Makabe, and Kelebogile Teseletso. I write down the names, then say them to see if they agree I have it right, and insert the paper in my prayer book. Two are young children, one is a young woman. Parents and godparents join them at the font, a metal bowl with plastic pitcher on a small stand. ‘Welcome the newly baptized.’ The congregation does. There are ululations.

                                All Saints, Matsiloje

I perform the baptisms because priests visit the congregation so infrequently. They find my presence an opportunity too good to miss. But when we who are clergy baptize, especially those with no particular ties to the ones they baptize, do other priests wonder what will happen in these lives we touch so briefly? I know I do. I will probably never see them again.

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Getting out of the way

Fr. James Amanze is working hard to convince me that I should return to teach in 2016. ‘You need to persuade Bishop Michael,’ he is saying, ‘that it is crucial for you to be here in our new students’ second year.’ He does not argue about how long I should stay. We both know he wants it to be longer than 90 days – the automatic visa we Americans can secure. I am non-committal.

There are some good personal and family reasons not to return for another term. But as I listen to Fr. James, my mind wanders to the long-standing struggle I have had during my years in Africa and in African studies: When is it time for an expatriate to get out of the way? And a corollary to that question adds to my reflections: What constitutes my role while I am still here?

Anitepam

My greatest failure in ‘getting out of the way’ has to do with Anitepam, the possessor of one of the longest organizational names I have ever known: The African Network of Institutions of Theological Education preparing Anglicans for Ministry. Thankfully, the acronym is pronounceable.

Anitepam has its beginnings when I am asked by the Seminary Consultation on Mission (short title but disgusting-sounding acronym) of the North American Episcopal seminaries to organize a gathering of American and African theological educators. I do so, with Chad Gandiya, now the Bishop of Harare, in Harare in 1991.

When I end up living in Kenya in 1992, the African theological educators who attended the Harare consultation ask if I will administer a new network they wish to create… what becomes Anitepam. And I do.

That’s fine, as long as I am living in Kenya, working at an Anglican theological college, and serving under African leadership, which I do for five years. And then I return to the United States. A good moment to, well, get out of the way. But I don’t. These are years when international financial transactions in Africa can be difficult, and Anitepam’s council asks me to continue to manage their hard currency funds, and I say yes. My successor as administrator has trouble laying out our publication, the Anitepam Bulletin, and they ask me to do that too. Again I say yes. And the years pass.

Eventually Anitepam finds itself in crisis: administrative, financial, and vision. By then I am raising, every year, the question of my ‘getting out of the way.’ Every year I am asked to continue. ‘Just until we get things stable again.’ Stressful to continue, but feels good to be wanted.

We get attached to ministries and opportunities to which we grant importance. And once we feel invested, we don’t let go very easily. Especially when the timing of ‘letting go’ might mean the collapse of something we value. Most of the time organizations will survive or fall on their own, regardless of what we do. And maybe the value African friends and colleagues attach to Anitepam will ultimately determine which constitutes its future. Not me.

In 2012 we negotiate a transition from an independent Anitepam council to the ‘theological education arm’ of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA). During the negotiations in Nairobi I watch as the general secretary of CAPA gets up, walks around to where Bishop Chad Gandiya and I are seated, puts a paper in front of me rather than +Chad, and leans over to ask a question. I point him to +Chad instead, but that one moment makes it clear that it is past time, well past, for me to withdraw. It’s not to my credit that I stay so long.

Companion links

What about our role (‘our’ meaning those of us expatriates who spend time in Africa in relationship with the Church) while we are here? Consider the Anglican companion diocese program.

The Anglican system by which dioceses around the world establish ‘companion links’ with one another is, overall, a good one. It’s been around for a while. I serve on the Alabama-Namibia link back in the 1980s, then am engaged when the Diocese of Washington ambitiously moves toward a link with the entire Anglican Church of Southern Africa (no single diocesan relationship for us!) in the 1990s. Now I am involved with North Carolina’s companion relationship with Botswana.

The idea is that we learn more of the life of the church universal, we build relationships, and we do a few things together. The idea comes out of the challenges in relationship between the long-established Anglican churches in England, North America, and Australia on the one hand, and what are once called the ‘younger churches’ of newly-independent countries, shed of colonialism, especially in Africa. What is our relationship to be? Especially when the long-established churches still have the money. And the new ‘partners’ are ‘needy.’

The Anglican Congress in Toronto in 1962 tries to sort this out, and they come up with a wonderful phrase, ‘Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence.’ A phrase filled with meaning. But still, words.

Companion links are a part of all that. They offer a fine vision from a mission standpoint, and often do just what they are supposed to do. But frequently, even now, decades later, they get caught up in the classic pitfalls of relationships across cultures and material disparities. In particular, they have a hard time sorting out the related but competing issues of projects and relationships.

Projects and relationship

I am pretty big on the relationship end of things at the outset, back in my Alabama days. I recall writing a piece that my Bishop, Furman Stough, sends all around the Episcopal Church. My argument is that we Americans, in these companion links, are drawn to projects. We visit, say, our African diocesan link, make quick decisions as to what they need, then set out to organize our resources to carry it all out. We don’t take the time to listen, and we have little inclination to be needy ourselves, certainly not to turn to our partners and ask them to help us.

We’re good at projects.

And projects, no matter who first envisions them, have a way of moving us, those from the West, into leadership roles, if not ‘in charge.’ Just where we don’t need to be.

My thinking finally begins to shift as I hear repeated again and again in North Carolina that our link with Botswana is ‘all about relationship.’ Well, yes it is. But….

               At work during Crossroads 1964 in the Gambia

I recall my Crossroads Africa experience a half-century ago in the Gambia. Crossroads follows the historic work camp model. We – American and Canadians – come to an African country and live with African counterparts and do something, build something, plant trees, whatever. There is a project. But in the process of doing things together, we build relationships.

The ‘it’s all about relationship’ mantra can create a barrier to shared activities, to projects, and we end up with neither relationship nor accomplishment.

Companion links have often, still, not quite worked this out.

Ten Principles of Partnership in the Anglican Communion

So what do we do? If we want to be partners, we’ve got to be around. ‘Getting out of the way’ isn’t a solution to relationship. At one time it seems necessary. At least some African church leaders think so. Back in 1971 John Gatu, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, calls for a ‘moratorium’ on foreign missionaries, and the All Africa Conference of Churches echoes his call three years later. ‘How could they not want us?’ is the outraged response of many Westerners. Well, there are reasons.

Be that as it may, the relationships, such as they are, continue over the years, and those in the West learn to listen a bit better, and we all begin to struggle with what helps define our bonds. One result, in the 1990s, is the Ten Principles of Partnership in the Anglican Communion. I consider that document to be one of the most important to come out of any Anglican commission or initiative. It’s also probably the least read.

The principles proclaim about stewardship and inter-dependence, about where the initiative for any actions belong (‘primarily to the church in that place’), about how we ‘learn from one another,’ and about transparency and solidarity. It’s a kind of check list of all the things we get wrong.

Here’s the answer, to my mind, to the relationship vs. project false dichotomy. It doesn’t urge us to get out of the way, but it sure does lay down some critical ‘rules’ about how we behave when we are together.

A theology of partnership

I begin to ruminate about a ‘theology of partnership’ while I am Dean of the Diocese of North Carolina’s School of Ministry. I go so far as to produce a DVD in 2008, with interviews with folks from Botswana, Costa Rica, and North Carolina. What is our biblical foundation for these cross-cultural relationships? What are the challenges?

A good effort, perhaps, but I still haven’t reached any clear conclusions. All I know is that for as long as we stay partners, companions, we need to be conscious of the pitfalls. We Westerners need to sit back and be quiet sometimes, a lot of the time, and listen. We need to ask again and again whether this is our idea or theirs. We don’t need to rush in with the cash. We need to master the ministry of presence. And yes, we need to find something to do together.

Sustainability

So when, if ever, do we get out of the way?

I have a friend, Bill Yon in the Diocese of Alabama, who helps to establish a theological training program in Namibia back in the 1980s, during their liberation struggle. From all I can tell, he does a fine job. He leaves and the program comes to an end. He’s very philosophical about it. Just because a program exists does not mean it needs to continue to exist, he says. It serves a purpose for awhile, and then we move on. That’s fine.

                      At the Anitepam negotiations in Nairobi, 2012

The sustainability issue is one of the reasons we choose not to get out of the way. That is behind my failure with Anitepam. Let’s stay around just a little longer, until the project – whatever it is – has firm footing. Maybe in the process we do help… or maybe we delay African ownership of what should be an African initiative. And maybe we delay an end that should come.

Companion links have a way out. They are established for a specified time – usually five years – and can be renewed. True, they sometimes get renewed again and again. The relationships are there, and folks don’t want to lose those bonds. ‘Getting out of the way’ can become an issue here too.

Fr. James is still making his case for my return. It’s hard for me not to want St. Augustine Theological School to gain a firm footing, to secure the support it needs from its own Diocese, augmented for a while by North Carolina and others. Maybe my presence here off and on over the last few years helps. I like to think so.

But maybe this time I will know when to leave.

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Departure

In a few hours I board my flight to Atlanta and home to Greensboro. Packing is virtually done. I have cautiously placed my many notes into my carry-on, fearful that my checked luggage might disappear, and with it the foundation for my final report on the Diocese of Botswana’s vision for theological education. I may even pull some notes out, and type a bit, during the 16-hour flight.

Maybe not.

I wonder how it will feel, writing away in my study in Greensboro. In my cottage in Botswana there seems an immediacy to the work. I worry that the energy that feeling of immediacy generates might dissipate as I return to the routine, and the heat, of a North Carolina summer.

 

In the forty-six years since my first trip to Africa, as a Wake Forest undergraduate, I have never left the continent without a feeling of how richly blessed I am for the experience.

Not to idealize the experience. Things go wrong sometimes, and frustrate, and for every time the different pace of African life refreshes, there is a moment when it irritates. But I like the time Africans, especially within the Church, take for people who appear at their door. Including me, time and again in Botswana. It plays havoc with schedules, but maybe that’s not so bad.

And maybe it’s something for us non-Africans to learn. After all, Jesus let himself, and his plan for the day, be interrupted by Bartimaeus, much to his disciples’ chagrin. Which role should we opt to play?

 

At St. Peter’s in Auckland Park yesterday we say together the post-communion prayer, but then, before moving on to the priest’s blessing, the congregation begins to sing. It’s not in the bulletin, but everyone knows it.

God bless Africa.
Guard her children.
Guide her leaders.
And grant her peace.

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Theological Education by Extension

My cell phone lights up and the screen indicates a message. ‘Stuck on the M1 – accident,’ it reads.

As I wait for my ride over to the TEE College (Southern Africa), I think back on my introduction to theological education by extension (TEE). I was living in Kenya at the time, the dean of studies of the Diocese of Nairobi’s residential theological college. The Trinity Grants Program from Trinity Church, Wall Street, was pouring money into Africa, East Africa in particular, in support of TEE. They saw it as a healthy alternative to residential seminaries – more accessible, more contextual, less expensive. Local writers were busy designing TEE workbooks, on the gospels, on church history, on African traditional religion. Trinity Grants supported writing conferences, and resources in multiple languages were churned out, some quite good, some not so.

Behind it all was a strong vision for alternatives to traditional seminary studies, and East African Anglicans embraced TEE, especially for laity.

TEE was a late arrival in East Africa. It originated in Latin America in the 1950s. The name Ross Kinsler returns to my mind as I wait for transportation here in Johannesburg and reflect on those years in which I worked myself up the learning curve about TEE. To this day his name is associated with the founding of the movement, and in fact he spoke at TEE College a few years back on some anniversary of theirs.

The burden of TEE in Africa has been to demonstrate that its programs and resources have depth and integrity. Some have been very simplistic, which is why they continue to be relegated to lay education and to be looked down upon by some leaders of residential seminaries.

But that is changing. When I left Kenya there were those who were developing degree-level TEE programs, a sign that TEE was moving forward and might serve broader needs.

Which is what brings me to TEE College here in Johannesburg. For many years it has been offering quality resources and programs leading to solid diplomas and degrees. I visited them some years back. Now I want to be clear about what they are up to these days, and to see whether, and how, their programs might be useful to the Diocese of Botswana.

 

Craig Dunsmeir has extricated himself from the M1 and pulls up in front of my lodge in Melville. He is the new administrative head of TEE College, an Anglican priest serving at an ecumenical institution. We drive back to the College, his kindness over and beyond the call of duty, even though the M1 has cleared.

The College is between terms, so few staff are around, but even during term there are not many students around – some local ones come to use the small library – since it is, after all, distance learning.

They enroll over 4,000 students from throughout South Africa and beyond. Their motto: ‘Equipping anyone anywhere for ministry.’

We talk for quite awhile in a cold office. They are good at the academic substance of their courses, Craig says, but he acknowledges that the nature of TEE makes ministerial formation, especially in community, hard. He’s been working with the folk down at the residential College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, where Botswana already sends ordinands. My mind starts working on the notion that Batswana ordinands might remain in Botswana for two years of their course of study, enrolled with TEE College, then head to Grahamstown for a final year of residency. I run the idea by Craig.

He takes me over to where their resources are located, and I look at a few samples. Dense. EfM’s (Education for Ministry at Sewanee) are more attractively laid out. But it’s good stuff. I’ll take substance over appearance any day.

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