South African Challenges


by Chris Sugden,
Church of England Newspaper

After its launch in September 2009, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in Southern Africa held a further national conference in October 2010 and in January 2011 conducted a series of promotional meetings in Cape Town (St Martins Bergvliet), Johannesburg (St Luke’s Orchards), Durban (St Agnes, Klooft), and Port Elizabeth (Holy Trinity Central). Meetings were also held with the Bishop of Port Elizabeth and his Diocesan chapter, the Bishops of Natal and False Bay, and the former Bishop of St Marks.

The tradition of the Province of Southern Africa derives significantly from the high Anglican tradition, of a rigour and uniformity in some places that has not been seen in the Church of England for very many years. This means that in some places evangelicals find themselves under significant pressure. While South Africa celebrates diversity of culture and race, this does not appear to apply uniformly as regards the historic traditions of Anglicanism.

For example, the parish of St Michael’s Edgemead in the Diocese of Saldanha Bay received a new rector three years ago, recruited from England and the New Wine Tradition. That parish has this week been placed under what we might call “emergency measures” with a monitoring team from the diocese to ensure strict conformity to the canons and constitutions. No charge has been placed against the parish, but for example liturgical vestments are required at all services, the daily office and the lectionary must be scrupulously followed, and non-Anglicans are discouraged from preaching.

This has caused considerable disquiet to a congregation which has doubled in the last two years. The parish is entering on a forty day period of discernment to decide its future. A sympathetic observer noted that this parish would be the first of an avalanche of those presented with the challenge of how to remain Anglican and at the same time foster mission, growth and outreach to a younger generation.

It was suggested to us that many in South Africa are held in the embrace of a culture that does not have a word for the future or tomorrow but constantly defines itself by the past. One senior Anglican thought it would take two generations for the society to move on from the hurts and wrongs of the apartheid regime that ceased almost 20 years ago.

It is clear that these older forms of church are not working. The question is will it be possible to pass on the faith to a new generation of people in today’s culture who will be able to grasp and apply it to their situation so that in two generations there will be a thriving Anglican Church in Southern Africa.

The preamble to the report on St Michael’s suggests that the church has scripture in its possession, along with tradition, experience and reason. These four are described as sources – scripture might have a central level but it is only a source. These are to be used by us to define our belief and our behaviour. Anglicans are shaped by the way in which we need to draw on these sources and what is acceptable. So truth is not central. The church rather than being the one that bears the truth of God, becomes that which decides what is relevant for its life.

There is really a struggle between faithfulness to what is given and trying to be fashionable. An example is the judgment above that scripture, reason, tradition and experience have to be aligned. The alignment of these four assumes that there is a super criteria for recognizing what this alignment should be. It makes scripture as equal to the others. A further example is the call in the same document to expand our Anglican faith. Amidst this confusion, lay people in every location we visited expressed eagerness for biblically based training in practical ministry.

A new Anglican studies programme based in churches is being developed by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in Southern Africa. So for example a course on healing ministry is planned in a local church with a long track record in both prayer for healing and healing in society which with other courses in other practical ministry will be available for lay people who are already engaged in ministry and want to enhance their usefulness, and even offer to be non-stipendiary ministers.

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