Cape Town archbishop addresses transformation at Anglican schools

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A sermon delivered at a combined Confirmation Service for Anglican Schools in Cape Town, held at St Cyprian’s School Chapel on 4th September 2022:


Readings: Jeremiah 18:1 -11; Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18; Philemon 1-21; : Luke 14: 25-33

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, dear people of God, heads of participating schools – Mrs Shelley Frayne of St Cyprian’s School, hosting us this year, Mr Antony Reeler of Diocesan College and Mrs Heather Goedeke of Herschel – also friends and families, I am pleased to join you to share in this important milestone in the lives of the confirmation candidates, especially since we are meeting for the first time since the church has lifted Covid-19 restrictions on worship.

A warm welcome to you all. Thank you for inviting me today and, most importantly, thank you to the school chaplains – the Revd Andrew Weiss of St Cyprian’s, the Revd Monwabisi Peter of Bishops, and the Revd Lorna Lavello-Smith of Herschel. Let me also thank you all for preparing the candidates for their confirmation. A special welcome to those attending this service for the first time and also to the parents and godparents of those who will be confirmed.

Many thanks, Revd Andrew, for being our host this year, for preparing the service and for a brilliant service booklet. It is always a joyous occasion when Anglican schools in our diocese meet and worship together, and as I said last year at Bishops in the face of the devastating pandemic it is all the more important that we stand together in solidarity at this time of crisis in our land and the world. The fact that we are worshipping freely today is an indication of our solidarity in fighting Covod-19; thank your all for your efforts.

Today we come in the presence of God to give witness to the special gift with which God, out of his goodness, will endow you, the confirmation candidates: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into your lives. The rite of passage that you pass through today will help you to practise your faith more effectively in every aspect of your existence, expanding your relationship with God and strengthening your spiritual lives.

The gifts of the Spirit equip us for worship, witness and service. Of these three, I always say worship is the most important because everything else we do flows from this. In worship we praise and give reverence to God. It begins with fear of the Lord – meaning that we should stand in awe of the Lord. Fearing, or standing in awe of God, is one of the gifts of the Spirit. So through worship we show respect for and love of God, admiring God with those who believe in him.

Today’s Gospel reading, Luke (14:25ff), presents us with Jesus’ interpretation of the cost of discipleship. Before taking up the theme of the gospel of the outcasts as foreshadowed in the previous verses (v21-24), Jesus indicates the demands placed on us by his invitation to join God’s banquet. He warns those who flocked after him that discipleship means readiness to place his claims above those of both family and self. The disciple must be prepared to face even death for the sake of Jesus.

Sisters and brothers, Jesus does not want a blind naïve commitment that expects only blessings from God. Jesus says emphatically that we must count the cost of total self-renunciation before embarking upon a course we may otherwise not be able to sustain. A disciple who gives up in midstream because the going is too tough is like salt which has lost its taste and is unfit for seasoning food. Jesus expects from us complete surrender to him.

Today’s Old Testament reading presents us with an image of Jeremiah learning to undertand the mind of God from a visit to a potter; the divine Potter at work with human clay (18:1-11). Jeremiah noted particularly the potter’s failure, perhaps on multiple occasions, to complete a vessel successfully, but the central truth is not the failures but that the potter persevered and made the clay he was working into another vessel. Friends, the Lord is master of the clay, shaping us to God’s purpose. God says in v.6 ‘…can I not do to you as this potter does? Like clay in the hand of the potter so are you in my hand.’ But God does not override our human agency, it is up to us to choose whether or not to respond to God’s offer of pardon and restoration, and thus to appropriate God’s moulding will and grace.

Today I challenge you all as learners at our Anglican schools to open your minds, your hearts to the invitation extended by God. What can we learn from the encounter of Jeremiah and Jesus’ invitation? What is one thing that each of us can take back to our schools, communities and families?

Those of you who have heard me before at these occasions know that I have an abiding passion that we must promote the common good in our society by providing – and not only providing but actually radically expanding – opportunities for quality, affordable education in schools which are fully inclusive and reflect the demographics of our country. This year our church is particularly challenged by the report of a Task Force of Anglicans – bishops, priests and educational experts – convened by Mary Metcalfe, a former head of the Wits School of Education and one of our country’s most experienced and respected educationists. The Task Force was appointed to come alongside our schools and to help them respond to the complaints of racism we heard from learners and alumni of our schools two or three years ago.

The Task Force finds, unsurprisingly, that our schools are reflections of our society, sometimes at its worst. It adds, and I quote: “There is no doubt that much work needs to be done to hear and acknowledge the pain that our institutions, and their traditions, have caused individuals, or that they may have tolerated with insufficient attention to discriminatory assumptions.” Their report also says that “change can no longer be at the inclination of individual institutions” but that its pace needs to increase and “major attention needs to be paid by schools to interrogating their cultures and practices and working transparently to improve them for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

But I am encouraged by the report’s recognition, and I quote, “that while schools are at different places in their journeys of transformation, all schools have taken positive, forward-moving action” to deal with the legacy of our country’s awful past; moreover that they have “rallied, reflected, adapted, and moved forward positively,” acknowledging that the work of transformation is a top priority.

And the report does not challenge only our school communities: it implicitly criticises the church for our lack of support for you. It adds, inter alia: “It is clear that schools are ready and willing to take significant strides – and many have already done so. What schools are [now] asking for is the committed and sustained attention of the church to relationships of support.”

The full, 37-page report is available on the church’s website [from page 67] as part of the agenda of our forthcoming Provincial Standing Committee. I urge those concerned with the future of Anglican education to read it, because I believe it offers real hope that we can work together to fulfill the objective outlined by the Task Force, namely that:

We have to be vigilant in ensuring that no child in an Anglican school is hurt by a failure to anticipate and take actions to ensure that there are no acts of intentional or careless discrimination, or systematic marginalisation of individuals or their identity.”

To those of you learners – at St Cyprian’s, Bishops, Herschel and St George’s – who will be confirmed today: it is in times like these in your lives and in the life of our communities and our country that our destiny is shaped. Destiny is a matter of choice, not of chance. I appeal to you, as you embrace Jesus’s call to be his disciples, to allow him to shape you and form you in accordance with His will for your lives.

And I pray that all of us will join in our country’s New Struggle, that we will awaken our consciences and demonstrate solidarity and commitment to a culture of values-based decision-making and care for one another in ways including the protection of women and children. In that way we can be of service to our schools, our families and our beautiful country.

As I conclude I want to thank all the educators, learners and families, who during the turbulent times of Covid-19 have ensured that learning and teaching continued to take place in all our schools. May you be open to the moulding of God who calls you and holds you in his palms like clay, working to perfect you as you seek to follow Christ’s example of worship, service and sacrifice. Congratulations on your confirmation, and may God bless you, your family, South Africa and the world.

God loves you and so do I.

Amen