CONFERENCE ADDRESS 2019 PRESIDING BISHOP- ELECT: REV PURITY MALINGA.
The Presiding Bishop, the Lay President, the General Secretary, General Secretary – Elect, Distinguished Ecumenical Guest, Bishops, lay Leaders, Unit Leaders, Conference delegates, ladies and gentlemen- I greet you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I thank the Presiding Bishop and the General Secretary for giving me the opportunity to say a few words at this Conference.
I do not consider this an address but a reflection on what I consider to be priorities for us as we seek to sharpen our mission effectiveness.
Let me start with expressing words of gratitude to the Methodist people throughout the Connexion. I am humbled by the great confidence in me, to be elected as a spiritual leader of the MCSA. I consider this a great honour, privilege and a great responsibility.
I take this responsibility in obedience to God, who I believe is at work in my life and in the life of Her church. Counting from 1883, this is the 130th Conference. The MCSA has had 100 Presiding Bishops – 90 white and 10 black men- the profile of Presiding bishops has been set by history. I, like many people consider it brave and transformational for the Methodists to go against this solid history. This for me is not about an individual woman but about openly recognising and affirming women leadership in general! I can only praise God for bringing our church to this point. I certainly have no illusions
about what lies ahead for me as an individual. There will be resistance, ridicule, sabotage, undermining – some rules of engagement will be changed etc. At the same time, I have no doubt that God will raise many who will offer help, care and support.
The many messages of congratulations and prayer support from many Methodist people, have already strengthened my faith in God and my resolve to participate with the One seated on the throne saying “I am making everything new”. (Rev 21:5 ) I am excited about the three sisters, Yvette, Charmaine and Faith who have been elected to be Synod Bishops. I have been the only woman among male bishops and that is an experience that I do not wish for any woman. I am excited about the
endorsement by the majority Synods of the 40/40/20 representation as a policy. These indicate to me that the Methodist people are committed to end the marginalisation of women and youth from the decision making structures of the church. We have not come to this point easily – there has been difficult conversations, at times hurt and disappointment- but thank God for bringing us here!
I must confess my ambivalence however, in celebrating the MCSA that affirms women in the context of the un-abated gender-based violence and femicide experienced in South Africa. The humanity of women is diminished every day in our society and in churches. The women of South Africa in particular, have been and continue to be beaten, raped, killed, burnt and buried in shallow graves by men and in most cases with no serious consequences. Children have been molested and killed or hanged by men who roam the streets. In this our church- some women- young and old are bleeding silently – having gone through violation by some men we respect !
There has been on and off outcries around those “lucky to be known” women whose stories are publicised. There has been Protest marches, vigils, memorial services, state sponsored funerals held in their names- which get turned into platforms of political speeches and popularity contests. Not much is said and done about countless unnamed women and children abused and killed after every three hours, in rural villages, townships and informal settlements. Which woman in S.A. is not afraid for her life or the life of her children! Women of S.A. are outraged! Enough is enough! I pray to God that there are enough men who are outraged too!
If indeed we believe as church we are called to proclaim the gospel that heals and transforms it is time to act. I am encouraged by the letter from the YMG President- Rev Geja, calling for practical actions at circuit and society levels. After all it is men who are the agents of gender- based violence. I add the following as urgent actions to be taken:
• Mobilise safe spaces/ sessions in our churches for women to share their pains /get counselling. – Centres of Hope Model- collaborate with Civil society-government departments where possible.
• Urgent review of our disciplinary processes- to take seriously sexual offenses. A system of discipline that protects the rights of perpetrators over the rights of victims is a scandal.
• Condemn, expose and deal decisively with acts of violence of men in our midst.
• Intentional teaching and preaching of messages that condemn patriarchy and promote transformative masculinity.
It was O.R. Tambo who said,”No country can boast of being free unless its women are free.” For me it is the same for the church. This church cannot boast of being progressive or free unless its women are free.
VIOLENCE IN S.A.
An outcry is heard throughout the world, South Africa is burning again! The raging fires are turning businesses and property into ashes of nothingness! Black people, mostly youth are looting shops! Pictures on the media are shaming all who are South African! It is not clear who, what, why? Is it xenophobia, is it crime, is it politically sponsored chaos what is it? Violent riots are destructive and are to be condemned. However, as Dr Martin Luther King told the Americans, “It is necessary to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel they must engage in riotous activities as it is to condemn the riots. … In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard”. (Speech at Stanford University entitled “The other America”)
It seems to me that these raging fires and looting taking place in Gauteng, KZN and in her parts of S.A. – represent the feelings of the unheard masses of the poor black people of this nation- who feel the rage of being turned into ashes of nothingness by poverty and unemployment. As the poor get desperate- the politicians and the rich get richer. The anger however is meted out wrongly, to the poorest of the poor- and that is un- acceptable. No amount of anger or suffering justifies destroying and killing others. Among many things, these shameful acts indicate that not a lot has been done
to heal the people of S.A. from the trauma of apartheid. While the previously advantaged continue with their usual lives- the previously disadvantaged are busy with self –destroying and self- hating actions. What do we do as church in this situation?
It is Dr Alan Boesak in his book, “Pharaohs on both sides of the blood-red waters”, who compares the church during Apartheid and in the democratic S.A. and laments:
“We became more and more mesmerised by Mandela and the ANC and became more and more embarrassed by Jesus”. (2017: 216 )
He accepts that the church was out-maneuvered and confused by democracy, but argues that the church of Jesus Christ is to be alert and forthright as Jesus was in his dealing with Herod and Pilate, even in the face of threats. He then calls the church in S.A. to a “prophetic theology”, – a theology at the edge” and with an edge”- “the edge of Jesus”. Simply put this is the old theology of liberation of the church that stands on the side of the poor and the oppressed against every form of injustice- recognizing the struggling people as equals.
• For such a time as this my fellow Methodists- we are called back to a ministry of presence with and among the poor.
• In the cities, towns and township where these lootings have taken place, there are men, women and children who have nothing- no food, clothes or shelter as we speak. Let us mobilise and offer practical help.
• Let our voices and actions be heard and seen condemning attacks of fellow Africans. Let us preach and practice humanity and equality of all before God, “For the Lord your God is the Lord of lords… who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt”. ( Deut 10: 19 )
• Let us partner ecumenically and/ or inter-faith and open our churches for conversations to build peace and social cohesion.
• Let us be present with the poor as they engage community leaders about their struggles.
• Let us engage the politicians at all levels and keep them accountable. Solidarity with the poor is our calling as church irrespective of who they are and where they come from- irrespective of who is in government.
From its beginning , the Methodist church has been about the mission of God. Since 1998 we are guided by the vision of “a Christ healed Africa for the healing of nations” and a Mission Statement of “proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ for healing and transformation”. At the first Mission Congress in 2005 we affirmed our vision and mission as God given and committed ourselves to the five imperatives of mission i.e.
• Justice , service and reconciliation
• Evangelism and church growth
• Development and economic transformation
• Education and Christian Formation.
At that congress we resolved to take intentional actions to implement the mission imperatives in specific areas. The residing Bishop has helped us as a connexion to focus on these areas- through the Conference themes over the years. Eleven years after the first Mission Congress, in November 2016 we met in Pietermaritzburg at SMMS for the 2nd Mission Congress, to inspire passion for mission and to evaluate how well we have implemented the areas of engagement agreed on in 2005. The conversations at that congress revealed that the vision of a Christ healed Africa and our mission strategy remain relevant. What came out of the Listening Committee Report, which those who were at the congress agreed to, was that there are issues that hinder our mission effectiveness. It is those issues that I believe we need to work on as we sharpen our mission effectiveness going forward. I will comment on three only.
Pointing at divisions as the biggest obstacle to our mission effectiveness the committee writes :
“We confess that we are a bruised and divided church, in which some are more community….”
The missionary policy that was declared in 1958, that the Methodist church should be one and undivided remains an ideal. In a divided world the church of Christ is called to be a change agent and model the value of unity and reconciliation. When we continue to divide ourselves according to race, ethnicity, class, gender, age, sexuality, and various cliques and groupings, we have no message to the world. We go to the extent of turning mission groups and organisations into objects of division. In a divided church there is bound to be minorities whose voices, issues and concerns are ignored and a dominant group or groups- the more equal than others- whose issues dominate the agenda. Such a situation breeds hatred and endless conflicts.
As followers of Christ – the body of Christ- we are called to embrace each other. As Paul says; “In Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith. There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”. ( Gal 3: 26 -28 ) Commenting on a church as a healing community Prof Musa Dube wrote:
“ A church that still habours patriarchy, racism, ageism, classism, hetero-normativity, ethnocentrism and discrimination on the basis of physical challenge is a disease- spreading body. A healing church ensures that every member is given space to flourish in this our divine earthly home”. ( Health and Healing as a Missional Focus: a Christ Healed Church is HIV Positive Church- in Mission Congress Resource Book: Page 89 )
The power of the gospel we proclaim is that of unifying diverse groups of people, breaking down walls of hostility and build inclusive communities of love. I dream of a Methodist church that is a spiritual home for all its members- where no one is made to feel rejected- where we all in our diversity find space to flourish. I believe this is a dream we all share. Inclusivity is our Methodist ethos, doctrine and heritage. “All people need salvation and all people can be saved to the uttermost”. This calls us to being intentional in breaking the barriers amongst us. We are to ask ourselves questions:
Is this our society/ circuit/synod / Connexion a space where children and youth flourish? What about people of another, race, nationality, ethnic group etc.
What actions are we to take?
• We are to prioritise and invest in the focused, holistic ministry and spiritual formation of children and youth if they are to flourish. As we talk shaping tomorrow today we must be intentional in spending resources to skill those who minister to children and youth.
• There is need for us to take bold, intentional and practical steps to build meaningful relationships that transcend ethnicism and racism.
• We need to be intentional in living out our connexionality and ensure a greater sense of belonging for all. I dream of a day when the Presiding Bishop of the MCSA or a Lay President will be a Methodist from Mozambique or Botswana.
• We cannot continue to ignore or avoid the voices, issues and concerns of the LGBTIQ members in our midst. The Proposal you made P.B. of a two day conversation might take us forward to being a church that listens and hears the cries of the marginalised. I am more encouraged by the emerging vocal voices from the LGBTIQ members in our midst. It is in listening carefully to those voices that we will be led to at least, being comfortable in our divergent views.
• As we work for unity amongst ourselves, we dare not neglect the importance of ecumenical, inter-faith and civic organisations partnerships. The social, moral and economic challenges we face in the countries of our connexion demand that we partner with others for effective impact.
Leadership is key to every organisation including the church. We live in a time where there is suspicion and mistrust of leaders. This is not uncommon amongst us and this issue was raised at the Mission Congress. There is a tendency of
autocratic leadership in our church which is a blockage to our mission effectiveness. i.e. the understanding of leadership as power over others, domination, controlling and flexing muscles, leadership to be about self –gain and popularity. Some of our leaders suffer from what is called “delusions of grandeur and adequacy”- or inflated egos. The consequences of these delusions are dire to the whole church. They affect relationships, create conflicts and turn people away from faith in God.
While leadership is shared between clergy and lay in the MCSA, clergy are leaders of mission and are role models of leadership in congregations. It is a missional strategy of the church to invest in training, forming and re-forming clergy into transforming and ethical leaders- who will model “servant leadership” for the whole church. People learn better by seeing than just by hearing. As we learn from the elders who advised Rehoboam the son of Solomon,
“If today you will be a servant to these people…they will always be your servants”. ( 1kings 12:7) As our Lord Jesus Christ taught us, “Those who are regarded as rulers of gentiles lord it over them. Not so with you. Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”. (Mark 10: 42f )
I dream of a Methodist church where “servant leadership” is not just spoken about but practiced by both lay and clergy leaders. Servant leaders are servants first. They share power and lead with others. They lead out of love not fear. In the socio-political context of leaders who are dictators, arrogant, greedy, corrupt and immoral, as church we are to model ethical leadership which is caring, humble, honest, transparent morally upright and accountable. It cannot be that the stories of leaders who do as they please- intimidating, bullying and victimising people continue amongst us. Stories of leaders who rail
against church policies and use church resources for their gain.
As leaders, clergy and lay we are to constantly ask ourselves if we have the moral stature, spiritual maturity, the will and competence to be leaders in God’s church. What are we to do?
• Leadership requires spiritual maturity and on-going personal empowerment and those in leadership are to be encouraged to take initiatives of spiritual enrichment and personal empowerment.
• We as church are to invest in continuing skilling of those in leadership.
• Our systems of accountability and mutual accountability are to be taken seriously
• There is a need for a serious review of our systems of appointing leaders.
3. MORAL BEHAVIOUR.
In times and days where talking about un-acceptable moral behaviour is seen as being out-dated, old- fashioned, being legalistic and up tight- the issue of lack of expected Christian behaviour was and continue to be raised as a hindrance to our mission effectiveness. Christian faith is about formation towards towards holiness. It is about daily being moved from actions that do not give glory to God. We need to be courageous and intentional in keeping each other accountable about our behaviours- guard against normalising the abnormal. We either attract or repel people from Christ or the MCSA by word
and deed. There is no time to comment on other issues highlighted at the Mission Congress e.g.
– Our disregard of the poor and the vulnerable in our midst
– Our failure to take environmental issues seriously- inability to connect soul-soil and society in how we do church.
– The need to prioritize teaching ministry in our churches etc. Going forward therefore my dear Methodists – I do not believe we need a new vision. I do not believe we need more resolutions. Yes we do need to review some of our policies so they are more just! What I believe is that we need to live out our faith. We are the agents of healing and transformation wherever we are! As we seek to sharpen our effectiveness as a church the theme of this conference reminds us that it is as we walk humble with God that we will succeed. Remember the mission is not ours but God’s. God is at work shaping the world and has invited us to participate in this shaping. This invitation demands that we surrender to the will of God. The church that walks humble with God is a praying church! Mission effectiveness is impossible without closeness to God. Steve Doughty, in his book; “To walk in Integrity”, describes humbleness- or humility as consisting three elements i.e. repentance,
dependence and openness. He says, “The humble remain open to thoughts and perspectives different from their own…They have learned that even on issues where they possess passionate feelings, they shall never fully know the mind of God.” ( 2004; 60 )
May God grant us enough humility to repent, to totally depend on God and be open to be led by God.
I thank you.