The noonday hour in the Bishop’s office appears to be a bewitching one, if tales are true. Bishop Jo requested to see me in person on my return from leave in June, and as I left the parish office I mentioned to Cheryl that I was either in deep trouble or in line for more responsibility. As it turns out, it was more responsibility: I left the Bishop’s office just after the noonday hour an acting Archdeacon. I now carry responsibility for the Archdeaconry of Madibeng, which is centred around Brits and Hartbeespoort Dam, including Pretoria North. My initial focus is to review the mission and ministry imperatives of this area, which was set up at our 2005 Diocesan Synod as a missionary Archdeaconry. The challenges of Madibeng are great: it is staffed with only one full-time clergyperson and five self-supporting priests. Much of the area is made up of small villages, some around the mines, others with rural roots. It is an exciting new venture for me, even though at this point it remains a temporary appointment.
This change in my focus has led to some reshuffling in the Pretoria East Archdeaconry, and as from September our Archdeacon, the Ven Timothy Lowes, will take over responsibility for the mission parish of St Anne’s, Equestria; and the Chapelry of St Agnes, Stanza Bopape, will fall under the oversight of the Rev’d Madi Moshime of All Saints in Mamelodi East. Please keep these two communities, which have walked closely with us, in prayer as they find comfort in the new allegiances that are required of them. Please keep me and my family in your prayers, too, as I pick up this new Diocesan responsibility out west, while seeking to continue to serve you faithfully here at Corpus Christi in Garsfontein.
I’ve just returned from a three day retreat (a part of the Spirituality Course Dawn and I are doing through the Jesuit Institute in Johannesburg) that focused on the Desert Tradition of the early Church around the third century. I’ve always appreciated that St Benedict and his Rule have substantially influenced Anglicanism as we know it, but what was eye opening was the tradition of the Desert Mothers and Fathers that influenced Benedict. At the heart is a comment from St Benedict’s Rule: “Prefer absolutely nothing to the love of Christ”. It was a huge affirmation for me of what it means not just to be Christian, but to be an Anglican Christian.
The Desert Tradition found its impetus at a place in time when Christianity suddenly found itself the religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine. From being a banned and underground movement, Christianity was suddenly the flavour of the day. Many followers of Christ’s way became disillusioned by a faith that was increasingly watered down and sold short: people’s lives were no longer being changed through conversion. And so many holy and committed followers of Christ found their way into the desert, seeking not to run away from the world, but to find a place not filled by the distractions of the decadent and licentious Roman Empire. The holy men and women of the Desert Tradition recognised that the problem was not the world, but rather the inner being of every person that allows the world to be a distraction, and that leads us away from preferring “absolutely nothing to the love of Christ”. And so the Desert Tradition calls us to flee into the real world of self; we are called to face our demons and encounter both ourselves and the living God in the process.
If we are serious about our journey in God then this journey has to take precedence over everything else. We need to be continually drawn to something more; and we need to ask ourselves why we are ever ready to settle for the mediocre when it comes to our relationship with God. Joan Chittister – whom I regularly quote – reflects that the essence of the Benedictine Spirit (at whose heart is the spirit of the Desert Tradition) is a process of living in the presence of God that gives us a different perception of ourselves and of God. It is the spirit of the sacrament: to touch, to take, and to be transformed.
This, I realise, is something of what it means to be Anglican and Christian; a very special gift.