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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A Johannesburg parish on the Fourth of July

It seems a long time since I was worshipping at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Gaborone on my first April Sunday in Botswana, I think to myself as son Trevor and I walk down the street to the local Anglican parish, in the neighborhood of Auckland Park here in Johannesburg. It’s the Fourth of July.

St. Peter’s is a lovely old parish, very English in its design. Now it boasts quite a mixed congregation. The Rector is Vicentia Kgabe, and she is the Archdeacon for this region of the Diocese.

Today is ‘Favourite Hymn Sunday,’ and the requests have been eclectic. One parishioner asks for the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and this the congregation sings with great energy, seemingly oblivious to its history and our Fourth.

The ‘special prayer’ offered today is ‘for our country, our visitors, and that xenophobia does not arise again.’

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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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John Muafangejo and Rorke’s Drift

Rorke’s Drift’s claim to fame is as an icon of British military history. It’s in the heart of what used to be the Zulu Kingdom, and here a tiny remnant of British forces held off several thousand Zulu warriors in 1879. Never mind that the Zulu had pretty much wiped out the British at Isandlhwana, just up the road, the day before. This is what the British military choose to recall, and what Hollywood makes movies about. Think Zulu (1964).

But I’m not much of a battlefields’ buff. Instead, I’ve taken this route northeast of Pietermaritzburg because the battle at Rorke’s Drift was at a Swedish Lutheran mission station. (On who cleaned up the mess and repaired the mission’s buildings after the battle was over, military historians are scrupulously silent.)

Less than a century later, in the 1960s, the Lutheran mission began an arts and craft center. Apartheid was in full sway, and the idea was to bring black artists to Rorke’s Drift for further training, and to do their own work in the mission’s studio.

I know of this story because of John Muafangejo. He trained here. I met him in Windhoek, in Namibia, in 1983. He was teaching survivors of landmines to make some marvelous wool tapestries, a project the Diocese there helped to start. I still recall their sitting in front of their looms, in wheelchairs.

But Muafangejo was known most for his woodcuts, large things on liberation struggle themes. I bought two.

A troubled man, he committed suicide a few years back. There is a book of his woodcuts out. Madiba, Nelson Mandela, wrote the foreword.

 

We visit Isandhlwana this afternoon. Near the battlefield is an Anglican church – named St. Vincent’s, on whose feast day the battle was fought. The church was built only five years after the Anglo-Zulu War ended.

Its stained glass windows depict ‘Christian Warriors.’

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South African insights on ministerial formation

At a fine farewell dinner the conversation gravitates away from the Church to the World Cup (which has its own theology). In that frame of mind – otherwise I am not quite ready to leave – I depart Botswana on a short flight to Johannesburg the next morning.

There, united with son Trevor, who has just flown in from London, I drive south toward Ladysmith. Complete with snow flurries.

Two days later we are in Pietermaritzburg, staying at the Church Land Program guest house, with meetings scheduled throughout the day. Soon-to-be-seminarian Trevor tags along.

Besides being the capital of the province of KwaZulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg is a university town. It used to host the Federal Seminary, an ecumenical effort that could not survive apartheid pressures. Now there is the Cluster, a cooperative arrangement among separate denominational seminaries.

The Anglican House of Studies (AHS) here is still working out its identity, for the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (read, ‘the Anglican Church’) has had a hard time figuring out what it wants it to be. The AHS needs to ensure that it’s not seen as in competition with the College of the Transfiguration, the Anglican theological college down in Grahamstown. To do that it has taken on a post-ordination role, and soon will have formal links with the University of KwaZulu Natal’s School of Theology.

I want to know whether this model may be helpful as Botswana designs its own AHS.

Peter Wyngaard heads the Anglican House of Studies, and we spend a stimulating couple of hours talking less about the politics of a House of Studies and more about ministerial formation itself.

He divides formation into a trilogy: Academic, spiritual, and the practice of ministry. The academic he considers easy to accomplish. He would, in a university environment with a highly-regarded School of Theology. The practice of ministry he considers secured by the placement of ordinands in parishes under senior experienced priests. It’s spiritual formation where he sees the challenge, and the priority. How do ordinands maintain a spiritual discipline and reveal maturity in faith? How does the Church discern spiritual qualities among ordinands as their period of formation continues?

I’ve been thinking on these things during these past two months in Botswana. How, I wonder, does a sense of community fit into all of this, especially if numbers are tiny, as they will surely be in Botswana? Can we even be formed in the faith without meaningful community?

Sigh.  I picture another clump of paragraphs in my final report.

 

Lunch is with Gerald West, who came onto the international Anglican stage in his role designing the Bible study at the last Lambeth Conference, and now with the Bible in the Life of the Church project.

He’s on the university faculty and head of the Ujamaa Center, what used to be called the Institute for the Study of the Bible.

His program follows the old Institute of Contextual Theology (ICT) model, a South African variation on the Latin American theologians’ liberation approach to the Gospel. (The ICT is especially known for its role in the creation of the Kairos Document during anti-apartheid days.)

The Ujamaa Center, I learn, offers required courses for theology students, and places the students in the Center’s community-based projects.

‘Could Batswana ordinands come down for an intensive course?’ I want to know. He’s enthusiastic. ‘Absolutely!’ is the answer. ‘We can tailor it to their needs.’

‘How much will it cost?’ I finally ask.

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On human dignity

Mr. Maplank comes through the diocesan office most days, walking into every room, making sure that everything is as it should be, and that all of us are okay. He sometimes speaks and sometimes doesn’t. He has mental problems.

Bishop Mwamba comes into the room where I am ensconced and sees Mr. Maplank. ‘Have you met?’ he asks me. ‘Mr. Maplank kindly comes to see that we are alright,’ he explains. ‘He’s a very distinguished man.’ Mr. Maplank smiles.’I like your coat,’ the Bishop tells him. ‘You’re warm on this chilly day.’

Mr. Maplank heads on into another room. ‘Would you like me to fix you a cup of tea?’ I hear someone ask.

This is how it should be, I think to myself.

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