Sunday, April 23, 2006

November 2005

Dear friends


I wrote in my last letter to you all of the importance of us taking communal responsibility for leadership in our community, and I have been much encouraged by the participation in the nomination and election process we have just completed. We have a council for 2006 that I believe is representative of our parish, both on a cultural and gender level. Our new executive (Churchwardens) is not as representative, but does reflect a breadth of church and business experience that will add value to our parish life. I look forward to working with those elected when they take up their responsibilities in the New Year, and thank them all for their willingness to make themselves available to us and to God for this important work.

Race & Gender Issues

I write to you while attending a South African Council of Churches (SACC) National Consultation on Racial and Gender Justice in Faith Based Communities, held in Kempton Park, as a representative of the CPSA. It has been a most interesting two days, with varied input that has been both insightful and challenging. It is clear that while political freedom was gained in 1994, this has not brought about economic freedom for those disenfranchised during the Apartheid years, and that racial harmony does not equate to racial justice. Racism has become covert, and while no longer legislated, is still resident in our attitudes and relationships, and needs to be excised from our lives. This is true both inside the Church and outside in South African society, and like it or not, the Church environment reflects our society. Women suffer the added burden of sexist attitudes held towards them, attitudes that often seek to limit their participation in decision-making structures in the family, social and business arena. Ultimately these issues are about the misuse of money, sex and power: our perceptions (or misconceptions) and impressions of what power and control are all about.
I arrived at the Consultation wondering what I as a white male South African could offer to the proceedings. Two things stood out for me: firstly, I was welcome and my presence appreciated by the other delegates, and my input valued; secondly, white South Africans have largely withdrawn from participation in discussions on the issue of racism, and impoverish our national life in so doing. A real cry from the heart, expressed during one of the small group discussions was, “What more must we black Africans do to make you whites know we welcome you among us in this land?” What more indeed – I had no answer.

Broad-based Parishioner Involvement

Broad-based parishioner involvement is one of our parish values, and my reflection above is pertinent to the realisation of this value in our parish experience. It is one thing to state this value, it is quite another to create an environment where all parishioners – no matter what our cultural background or gender (or age!) – have the true freedom to exercise this right of participation. It is easy to think that because we all worship harmoniously together all is well. However, the consequences of our past South African history so often impact negatively on our ability to relate and truly share our lives.
We need to engage with each other. This is difficult as on one hand some of us choose to think these issues are no longer of consequence, and others that it is no longer worth fighting. During our worship at Corpus Christi there has been occasion for some to not extend the hand of fellowship to certain people, and yet still to share in the common cup. Gender and race discrimination is not just “out there” – it is in our midst! We cannot engage each other while we choose to either not see people who are next to us, or while we avoid the potential hurt by not being present.
While we cannot easily accept responsibility for attitudes and responses developed over centuries of which we are all (in one way or another) victims, we can accept responsibility for the consequences and effects of colonialism and apartheid on our present and take responsibility for its impact on our future, especially on our children’s future. Talking about these things is difficult, and in order to do so we need somehow to move away from the concept of racism and sexism as accusation, to seeing these issues as reality, and a reality that needs to be transformed, not out of guilt or anger, but because it is what we are called to do by God (Romans 12).
A willingness to deal thoughtfully and caringly with these issues is a sign of spiritual maturity, and the journey towards maturity is a journey into diversity. Our parish membership increasingly reflects our society’s diversity – the challenge is to transform (change) our response, to one that increasingly expresses the nature of our faith, and our resurrection hope. At Corpus Christi we have the potential to demonstrate what a truly reconciled community looks like … if we are willing to journey together.

Yours in Christ


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