Farewells

Sausage rolls, fried chicken wings, potato chips, peanuts, a spicy snack mixture, and a carrot cake are on the menu. Not the norm for a healthy diet, but it smells good and tastes even better when, after a few speeches and presentations, we get down to eating.

We’ve gathered once more at the St. Augustine Theological School: The ordinands, lecturer John Hamathi, Florence Bogopa, Karen and me. (Fr. James Amanze, the Principal, is away in Uganda.) It’s my final time with them. The next time I see them, if there is a next time, they likely will have been ordained.

They say some kind things, then present me with a framed basket, for which Botswana is renowned, and two cups with Botswana drawings – distinctive, they say, so Karen and I will not disagree about whose is whose. I then present them with some books for the library – useful for the library to have, no doubt, but also reducing our luggage weight considerably.

Thanks to Fr. Murdock Smith, who chaired the North Carolina-Botswana link for some years, I also present each with a copy of N.T. Wright’s Luke for Everyone. Our students do not have texts, and the list of books on theology that they may have is very short indeed. This is a beginning. This church year the default gospel in the lectionary is the Gospel of Luke. We hope to give them commentaries on the other synoptics during ‘their’ year in 2014 and 2015, and the Gospel of John as they are ordained to the priesthood.

That’s the plan, anyway. In the meantime, I encourage them to read (they have heard this from me before), and remind them of the practical help commentaries can give them when they are preparing sermons. John Hamathi concludes: ‘I don’t want this book to collect dust!’ They laugh, and vow that it will not.

Then we eat. We talk about the Zebras’ loss to Ethiopia in a World Cup qualifiers match last Saturday, which Bonny Bashe and I attended. We complain about continuing electricity outages and water shortages and why the stadium in Gaborone still isn’t repaired after five years. It’s all in good humor, with a nice twinge of frustration. They want to know, with more seriousness, when grades will be posted.

Conversation slows down, and we clean up a bit, and we close with the Grace, and go our way.

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Exam time at the St. Augustine Theological School

I am grading the last of the exams: ‘Marking scripts,’ as it is called in England and in many parts of Africa. The burden of giving them – ‘invigilating’ – has been largely upon my colleagues, as I have been traveling with my sister and brother-in-law during their first visit to Africa. We sent the examinations by e-mail up to Francistown for the students there, and the vicar at the parish kindly gave them for us. One ordinand is still to go, as his English skills are limited. We will give his orally, in Setswana, through an interpreter.

I admit that I have given more care to setting these exams than I do at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. There I am concerned with students’ mastery of the material in the course. Here I ask myself again and again, what is really important for our ordinands to know in their ministry? Course mastery and foundation for ministry are not always the same.

So, in my sacramental course, I am keen to know their theological understanding of the Eucharist: How might they explain to our congregations what we, as an Anglo-Catholic diocese, do each Sunday? I am keen to know, now that they have studied the history of the Reformation, how they might appreciate the differences between the various Christian traditions in Botswana, for the legacy of the Reformation is alive and visible throughout the country. And I am keen to know, now that they have studied biblical interpretation, how they might approach the lectionary as they prepare a sermon on a given Sunday. What, I ask, do you know about this passage, and what would be helpful to you to know if you could? Exegesis and hermeneutics as a practical matter.

Now, having posed such questions, I have quite a stack of papers to mark. This task, I find, carries with it some emotion for the lecturer. Of course there is an ‘objective’ aspect to it all; some answers are simply right or wrong, and we mark accordingly. Others are more nuanced; even then, we try to be ‘objectively’ fair. The emotion comes in because I want them to do well, and when they do not, I cannot resist asking myself what I might have done differently, how I might have taught instead that would have helped them understand more fully. It is worrying when I envision those who do poorly leading congregations without the firm foundation in biblical and theological knowledge we desire.

But the fact of the matter is that many do very well indeed, and those who have not always have the capacity to grow in knowledge and understanding as time goes by. I recall a rather silly piece I wrote for our student publication when I was in seminary, in which I argued that it was unlikely that any of Jesus’ disciples would have survived the Anglican ordination process, including seminary. All of our ordinands here at the St. Augustine Theological School have gifts for ministry. That is clear, so perhaps I should not be anxious about their performance on an exam. There is more to it than that.

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Water, and its absence, in Botswana

Water-rationing has come to Botswana. I’m sure it’s not the first time.

The Sunday Standard has a full page ad in which the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources announces that, country-wide, we can’t use potable water to wash cars and stuff like that, construction companies can’t use potable water to mix cement – no doubt a major matter when there is so much building going on around Gaborone these days – and, this is the one that intrigues me, hotels and restaurants with automatic-flush urinals have to convert to manual within two months. I’ve never felt that flushing is one of the male species’ strong points, so maybe this will save tons of gallons.

Gaborone, the major city in the country, goes further. They’ve worked out a rotation system, whereby they cut off our water on particular days. Ours here in the Village, where we live, is Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to about 4:00 p.m. Karen or I take a big tub bath on Friday nights, set aside a bucket, and we’re ready fort emergencies on Saturdays.

Water no doubt is a serious matter in a largely desert country. Rains have not been good (some of my Batswana friends use much stronger words) in the last several years, and the Gaborone dam is down to 24% capacity. One Motswana tells me that Botswana should run pipes from the controversial Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which is intended to help South Africa solve some of its water problems. That strikes me as quite a distance, and quite unlikely.

So, we try to limit our consumption, and we look with dismay when we drive past a burst water line on the street this afternoon.

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Bishop-elect Metlhayotlhe Rawlings Ogotseng Beleme

We have a new bishop. Or at least a bishop-elect. The Very Rev. Metlhayotlhe Rawlings Ogotseng Beleme.

For those following the Anglican Diocese of Botswana, this is not new news. He was elected a fortnight ago.

I do not know Fr. Metlhayotlhe, and I doubt if I have ever met him. He has been serving in the Diocese of Matlosane, in South Africa, for some years, and is currently an Archdeacon there. But he is a Motswana, and a citizen of Botswana. His family is from Molepolole nearby, and he has had parish experience in varied places within the Diocese of Botswana. These are qualities many in this Diocese have been clamoring for. In fact, it has been a source of some tension that we have had mainly expatriate bishops, some of whom did not know Setswana. And so, when his election was announced the Sunday following the Saturday election, there were cheers and ululations in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

The process for episcopal elections in the Church of the Province of Central Africa is quite different from that in the Episcopal Church in the United States. Nominees are solicited from pretty much anyone – common enough in the Anglican Communion – but then things move into a more restricted, and secret, process. A dozen persons have previously been chosen at diocesan synod to serve as electors, and the names go to them. They short-list the nominees, after which ten from elsewhere in the Province join them for the election. Those ten include the Archbishop, Albert Chama, from Zambia, and three each – bishop, priest and layperson – from one diocese in each of the other three countries that make up the Province: Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.

Probably more than you want to know.

Even today, we do not know who the other nominees were. I innocently ask at a dinner party the other day, and the Vicar General’s reply is that all are sworn to secrecy. There are perhaps good reasons for this, but it’s quite a contrast to the American practice, where I can go on-line and see the names of all nominees and the votes each secure on multiple ballots. There are perhaps good reasons for that too. Just different.

Now we await consents to the election from other provincial bishops. Presuming that consent comes, Fr. Metlhayotlhe will be consecrated as the fifth Bishop of Botswana, probably in July. I wish I could be here.

In our classes, our students at the St. Augustine Theological School have been praying for the election for weeks before April 27th. Sometimes I use the collect from our American prayer book: ‘Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

Several of our students and I talk about the last part of that prayer, a faithful pastor who, as part of his pastoring, will equip us for our ministries. They and I both like that.

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Ordinands from 'out of town'

The final trip to Gaborone of students from Matsiloje, Serowe, Letlhakeng and Lobatse – ordinands too far away from Gabs to come to our regular weekday classes – is this past week. They have come before: My first week here in January (see my ‘St. Augustine Theological School’ posting below), again in March, and now in late April. They will sit for exams in mid-May.

                                       Fr. James Amanze in class

This has not been ideal, and we all know it. Regular classes, with time to reflect between them, week after week, is far preferable educationally to full days of seven different courses, one after another, followed by weeks of little to no contact. But it’s not clear what the solution is. We don’t have sufficient funds to be traveling north, which would be less demanding on our students. Oddly enough, it turns out to be cheaper to have them come here, and they have to get away from work and other responsibilities.

But we do what we can. Each day begins with Morning Prayer, and then away we go: This term its Biblical exegesis, the Pentateuch, the synoptic gospels, the doctrine of the Trinity, sacramental theology, the history of the Reformation, and ‘ministerial calling and spiritual formation.’

At lunch we head to the Y.W.C.A., which has a cafeteria with food that is inexpensive and filling and, to some extent, traditional. As the day ends, the ordinands return to a Catholic retreat centre, where we have found lodging for them.

                     Bonny Bashe welcomes Karen Spencer

                     Bonny Bashe welcomes Karen Spencer

Thursday night they remain until I finish my class with our Gaborone ordinands – Fr. James Amanze urges me to finish early! – and then the School hosts a welcoming reception for Karen, who arrived a week or so before. Fr. James has some fine things to say, and he is followed by Bonny Bashe, the president of our student association, who does as well. It suddenly occurs to me that they will expect Karen to say something, so I whisper the news to her.

Karen does fine. Really, very fine. And happily, she resists the temptation to say that what she really missed in the three-plus months I have been gone is that I do most of our grocery shopping and cooking. I am grateful for that.

Friday Karen and I have the ‘out-of-town’ students over to our place for dinner. Fr. John Hamathi, our other lecturer, and his bride come, along with one of the student’s wives and another’s university daughter. It is all very relaxed and pleasant until I ask what we at St. Augustine’s could do to improve their experience.

There is awkward laughter, then a few exchanges in Setswana that no one translates for me, then silence. But as the conversation moves on, one comes over and sits next to me. He leans over. ‘We need to be placed in congregations under a priest while we are in this program,’ he says. ‘Those in Gaborone are, but we are not.’ He is right. There are good reasons why this is the reality, but he is right. I thank him.

As my final Saturday class winds to an end, I wonder if I will ever see these men again. They will probably remain in Francistown for their exams, and we may have someone there invigilate for us. And then, only a few weeks later, Karen and I head back to the United States.

I have prepared a final handout, which contains the wonderful General Thanksgiving that appears in our American prayer book. It’s the one written by my liturgy professor at Virginia seminary, Charlie Price, a man for whom I have had the greatest respect and affection. At the end of the class, we stand together and offer that prayer.

There are two parts of the prayer that I am especially drawn toward. ‘We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.’ I have reminded the ordinands that they have faced demanding tasks here at St. Augustine’s, and they have accomplished things that really should ‘satisfy and delight them.’

But I also love the next part of the prayer: ‘We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.’ I cannot remember any other prayer in which we thank God for ‘disappointments and failures.’ It’s part of Dr. Price’s great wisdom that has us say this today.

Then we end with the prayer for Africa that is in our prayer book here in the Church of the Province of Central Africa. ‘God bless Africa…,’ we say together. And then we go on our way.

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Art for five-year-olds in Mogoditshane

Wife Karen has not been here in Botswana long before we travel out to the St. Peter’s Day Care Centre in Mogoditshane.

Gladys Mudereri, the director of the Centre, is always welcoming. The periodic reports of the Centre are filled with stories of volunteers who add to the energy and, well, joy, of the place. All of whom, it seems, receive a gracious welcome. Her greeting to Karen is no different.

Mma Mudereri – well, Mmaruti Mudereri, for a priest in Botswana is Moruti, and wives of priests, including Karen, are Mmaruti – anyway, Mma Mudereri and Mma Spencer set out to plan what Karen might do. By the time we leave (I am simply Karen’s driver, as she has not yet embraced driving here), the two have decided that Karen will do some art classes with the three-, four- and five-year-olds, will do workshops with teachers about art in the classroom, and may have a session with the caregivers of these orphans and vulnerable children.

Our first quest is to discover if there are any art supply stores in Gaborone, and if so, where. We go to the Craft Market, where we find a gallery owner and several local artists having coffee. We join them. We learn that there are two stores here. If they don’t have what she needs, they say, the only alternative is to go to Johannesburg, where there is one store that these artists obviously love.

The idea of a drive to Joburg quickly grows on me, but I am to be disappointed. The two shops here may not have a great inventory for professional artists, but they are reasonably well stocked for art in schools. Karen picks up some things and we head home.

I know that Karen has become settled in Gabs when the coffee table is covered with her art projects and my cookware and cooking utensils are coated with glue and coloring. Her first class – with five-year-olds – is to be papier mache. She blows up thirty balloons, tears my newspapers up (most of which I have read), and begins to make homemade glue.

The St. Augustine Theological School s soon coming to the end of the term, and I have some final course preparation to do and some concluding handouts to write. I have visions of driving Karen to St. Peter’s, where I will find a quiet corner to work on my laptop.

No.

‘When I think of all the things I have done for you in your work,’ she begins. And she is right. During my time at Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Washington Office on Africa, and the Diocese of North Carolina’s School of Ministry, well… the list is quite long. My making a case for my plans really doesn’t hold up.

The children are remarkably attentive as Karen shows them what they will be doing. They are making papier mache fish. I quietly pray that they know what a fish is. That is not a safe assumption in a desert country.

But they happily set out on the task. There are plates with Karen’s glue in the center, ample quantities of strips of newspaper in front of each child, and balloons rolling around on the table in front of them. Soon there is a quiet buzz in the classroom as they begin to glue strips of paper onto the balloon.

Many of them actually manage to cover the balloon – which is their goal – before the class time is over. The teacher, her assistant, Karen and I all assist a bit, spurring them on by adding paper ourselves. I see Karen smile when I tell one child that she needs to put glue on the paper before she tries to stick it on, but then I see her roll her eyes when the child persists and I say, ‘Well, dry is good too.’ There are other diversions. Those boys who clamored for a large balloon discover how much more work it is to cover big ones, and one child finds it fun to wash his hands in the glue. But they are remarkably diligent in the task.

We hang the finished papier mache on a string I have strung between a cabinet and the windows. The line is low enough for the boys to reach up and tap the balloons – it’s low enough for the girls, too, but for some reason they don’t try – but I can’t get the line any higher. The teacher may have a challenge here before Karen returns for the next stage, adding colored paper, and tail, and eyes and a mouth.

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