Anglican Bishops express Solidarity with Zimbabwean Church as Archbishop of Cape Town prepares to travel to Harare

Southern Africa’s Bishops have reaffirmed their support for Anglicans in Zimbabwe, as Archbishop Thabo Makgoba prepares to accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury on his pastoral visit there next month.

At their twice-a-year meeting held in Benoni this week, the Synod of Bishops repeated their concerns at the difficult situation faced by Anglicans in Zimbabwe, and voiced their continuing support and prayers. Dr Makgoba will travel at the invitation of Dr Rowan Williams, who will also go to Malawi and Zambia during his visit to the Church of the Province of Central Africa. Dr Makgoba commented ‘I am glad of this opportunity to be able to demonstrate in person our support for and solidarity with Bishop Chad of Harare, and the wider Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. In Southern Africa’s troubled past, our Church was enormously strengthened and encouraged by the continuing expressions of support we received from around the Anglican Communion.’

In response to a presentation by the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (centred mainly on the USA), the Bishops acknowledged some deep differences, including over human sexuality, but affirmed the value of continuing dialogue, in a spirit of truthfulness and sensitivity. The Bishops also underlined their African heritage and commitment to continuing engagement with the Church in the rest of the continent, and welcomed the participation in their meeting of Canon Grace Kaiso, General Secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa.

The Bishops stressed the need for considerable sensitivity in the cultural expression of the Christian faith, and for vigorous debate around inherited cultural values ranging from the ethos of ubuntu to honouring God, respecting the elderly and virginity testing. They noted that some practices, such as isangoma training, were incompatible with Christian beliefs.

Other matters which the Bishops discussed included a range of pastoral and theological issues. Among these was a recent CCMA ruling affirming that in South African law, licenced clergy are not viewed as employees of the church, as such, but in line with their vocation as ‘servants in God’s vineyard’. Other visitors to the Synod included theologians Professor Denise Ackerman and Dr Nomboniso Gasa, and Mrs Jeanette O’Neill, the first woman and layperson to be appointed General Secretary of USPG, the Anglican mission agency based in Great Britain and Ireland, which this year celebrates the 300th anniversary of its founding

The full text of the Synod of Bishops’ Statement follows below:

Statement by the Synod of Bishops
of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

“The Signs of the Times”


“… Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called ...”
(1 Tim 6:11-12)

28 September 2011

We, the Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, gathered from 26 to 28 September, 2011, at the Kopanong Conference Centre, Benoni, East Rand, for a time shaped by prayer, and by theological and pastoral reflection.

Presentations were made by Professor Denise Ackerman and Dr Nomboniso Gasa, which provided a context for reflection upon, and dialogue and engagement with, our formal agenda. We became aware of the need for a more contemplative spirituality, given expression in diaconal service in and to the world. We were also challenged to become interpreters of the signs of the times, analytically discerning the course of events in Southern Africa and the wider world. In this respect, we noted the challenges the media pose, through rapid and effective communication, which sometimes causes the churches’ voices to be drowned out.

True expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ within our cultures must be exercised graciously and with great carefulness, for example, in the pastoral care given to those claiming to have a call to Isangoma training – recognizing that these two worlds, of Christianity and this aspect of African traditional life, will never meet. Other inherited cultural values (such as giving honour to God; respecting grey hair; virginity testing for young people; upholding honesty, and the values enshrined in the philosophy of ubuntu) need to be vigorously debated as Bishops continue to speak to society.

The theme of leaders as enablers of the people of God entrusted to them was a thread running through the presentations. This means enabling through assessment, discerning and auditing gifts, and putting these gifts at the service of God’s mission. We were reminded of Jesus’ leadership, shown in taking a towel and washing his disciples’ feet. We also acknowledged the challenges that leadership poses for exercising episcopacy, management and vision.

We received with great regret the news that Archbishop Ian Ernest of the Indian Ocean and Chairperson of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa could not be with us, incapacitated by illness. Our prayers are with him at this time, and we wish him speedy recovery and the Lord’s anointing healing. Our relationship with other Anglicans in Africa was nonetheless reinforced by the welcome presence of Revd Canon Grace Kaiso, the General Secretary of CAPA. We hope that CAPA will be more fully informed about us, and how we pursue our life and mission, as Bishops of ACSA. For our part, ACSA must give expression to its heritage and historical connection with the Church in the rest of Africa. We need constantly to bear in mind our role within the African continent as a whole.

We were encouraged and energised by the presentation from the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, centred mainly within the USA. She shared insights emanating from the colonising history of the Episcopal Church, which gave rise to the continuing re-expression of the phrase ‘We do not have Missionary Societies – we are a Missionary Society.’ While we acknowledge some differences between TEC and ACSA (for example, with respect to human sexuality), nevertheless we affirm the value of ongoing dialogues, exercised through truthfulness and sensitivity towards one another.

We also welcomed Mrs Jeanette O’Neill, the first woman and layperson to be appointed General Secretary of USPG, the Anglican mission agency based in Great Britain and Ireland, which this year celebrates the 310th anniversary of its founding.

The situation within Zimbabwe continues to pose a great challenge to our engagement with and support of Christians there. Canon Kaiso affirmed that this is also a priority for CAPA. We are praying for our Archbishop as he accompanies the Archbishop of Canterbury to Zimbabwe next month, as part of Dr Rowan Williams’ pastoral visit to the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

Through all these discussions, we were reminded again of our vocation to be apostolic in our ministry and to be pastors in the Church of God. As we joined in worship together, daily homilies brought the Scriptures to life and shed light on our deliberations. We shared the need for prayers for Angola and Swaziland, as well as Zimbabwe.

The Synod of Bishops is a unique opportunity for Bishops to gather to engage in dialogue to foster the deepening of relationships which sharpen the focus for ministry, recognising the call always before us to energise mission and ministry in our Dioceses and Province. We noted that our understandings of ecclesiology and episcopacy are being appreciated, strengthened and celebrated in all that is happening in Mozambique to extend God’s kingdom, sometimes despite the heat of the day. We applauded the growth of the Province, and considered the possibility of additional Bishops to provide episcopal ministry through new episcopal areas, as a necessary act of faith, despite envisaged financial constraints. We were also inspired and encouraged by the presentation of a Lent Study for 2012 from the Diocese of Johannesburg, focussing on discipleship.

It has been very satisfying to see the depth of gifts amongst our clergy and young laity. The role of believers in leadership within Dioceses, particularly participation in diocesan administration, needs careful consideration. Another challenge is to look again at clergy stipends, and to explore further the new system which the Diocese of Pretoria has put in place. We note with love and appreciation that our understanding of the call to serve God’s church has recently been vindicated again, through the CCMA affirming that all licensed clergy are servants in God’s vineyard, rather than employees as such, in terms of the law within South Africa. Other pastoral matters we considered included baptism; pastoral guidelines in relation to civil unions; lawsuits involving clergy; and vocations and theological education.

(Press Release by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and used with permission.)