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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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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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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The lay leaders of Francistown

Saturday is our day for the lay leaders’ workshop in the north of the diocese, similar to what we have already done in Gaborone. Actually there are two parallel workshops, one for church wardens, the other for lay leaders. We all gather together at St. Patrick’s, in the town center, and I do a meditation on 1 Corinthians 12. Then it’s tea time.

Afterwards we split up, and the lay leaders and Fr. Amanze and I head to the rectory, where I have been staying, to meet in the living room. We have been expecting, at the most, about 20, but 38 of us crowd inside. No one complains.

We hear many of the same things about what kind of training they need, but not all are the same. Two women say that they want someone to ‘teach us how to pray.’

Unfortunately I never find the chance to learn what in particular they have in mind, but several of us talk about it later. One thought is that ingrained in them is a deep respect for liturgy in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, so they can read prayers from the prayer book but have a hard time spontaneously getting wound up the way they surely have heard their pentecostal neighbors do. ‘Teach us how to pray.’

I hope someday someone will value their appeal and come, holding up for them and others the richness and diversity of prayer, in our tradition and in the church universal.

At lunch on St. Patrick’s grounds I spot a young man sporting a Carolina sweatshirt. Oteng Montwedi is his name. A part of the youth delegation that visited North Carolina some months ago, he wears it proudly. We take pictures.

Two days later he comes to my house to see me off as I return to Gaborone.




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Beginnings

Fr. James Amanze, who heads the Diocese of Botswana’s companion link committee, has given some good thought to my coming, and to my work while here. I arrive on Friday, and Saturday morning finds the two of us already sitting down, note pads at the ready, to sketch out what my schedule might look like.

I am here because folk here have a vision for an Anglican House of Studies, one that might train ordinands, help prepare lay ministers, and offer continuing education for clergy. At least I think that’s what they want. The plan is to meet with clergy and lay leaders to hear from them what they think this thing might look like, and a House of Studies may be quite a different animal before we finish. Anyway, they have asked me to help them think through their hopes for theological education.

It doesn’t take long before Fr. James and I are anticipating three workshops; even the dates are set. We are to have one with clergy, another with lay leaders in the south, around Gaborone, and another in the north, around Francistown. Sounding vaguely familiar to me from School of Ministry days in the Diocese of North Carolina, I am even to attend two wardens’ retreats, one north, one south, as well. Energizing plans.

 

Meanwhile, I have a place to stay, and a kitchen, and I am provided a car, so as soon as possible I make my trip to the grocery, carefully driving on the left. Food ‘independence’ is a reassuring sign of becoming settled, removing reliance upon restaurants and the generosity of others.

Grocery stores in other countries provide a glimpse of their cultures. I browse around. In the ‘butchery’ section there are nicely-packaged slices of ‘cow hoof,’ and some kind of entrails that I don’t want to even think about. Many of the staples are from South Africa, and I’m drawn to their juices made from exotic fruits. I find some Coke Light, though unlike multi-can packaging of Coke and other sodas on the shelves, they are only sold individually, and the prices seem higher. The very fine African beers – Windhoek lager, from Namibia, comes to mind – barely cost more.

As I leave a woman sidles up to me in the parking lot, as if she has something illicit to offer. ‘I have some potatoes to sell,’ she tells me.

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