CAPE TOWN: Evangelical priest faces uncertain future in liberal Anglican Province

Anglican rector’s staff told not to preach message of salvation to children

By David W. Virtue
March 3, 2011

The Rev. Dhenis Stafford, 51, did not grow up in a Christian home. He had none of the nurturing that often gives future generations of Christians a jump start especially as they contemplate the Christian ministry. Stafford grew up a spiritual orphan who came to faith later in life. Now, after more than 20 years in the Anglican ministry, he is feeling a bit like an orphan all over again. This time it is not of his own making.

He sits across from me in a coffee shop outside Cape Town with a determined, firm look on his face. He is what South Africans call ‘colored’, that is a man of mixed race. (‘Colored’ refers to an ethnic group of mixed-race people who possess some sub-Saharan African ancestry, but not enough to be considered Black under the law of South Africa. They are mixed race and often possess substantial ancestry from Europe, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaya, Mozambique, Mauritius, Saint Helena and Southern Africa.)Read

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CROSSROADS

Now at 51, the rector might be heading for a fall, but it is not a fall of his making. The evangelical minister is at a crossroads.

He faces a fall from ecclesiastical grace imposed on him by his bishop, Raphael Hess, Bishop of Saldanha Bay, an area west of Cape Town.

Despairing perhaps, but unwavering and dogged in his belief that Jesus saves, he will not compromise his faith. Father Dhenis refuses to budge.

The church is in the process of a series of meetings with the bishop who insists they address his concerns about St. Michael’s. “The outcome of these meetings will determine my position and future, both in this church and in the Anglican Church in Southern Africa,” he says with a certain amount of resignation in his voice.

“The main contention before us is his and our understanding of church. How can the canons help us to make sense of church? I believe the bishop is seeking to find a canon that I have broken in order to ask me to resign. He will put pressure on me to leave. He knows there is no canon I have broken, but the pressure is on me to resign.

“The methods he is seeking to use to oust me are without due process. He is desperate to bring St. Michael’s into a liberal catholic worldview. It is his interpretation of Scripture and the canons. He has an inclusive view and I have an exclusive view.

“It is also not about women’s ordination. That is not an issue. We have never discussed homosexuality, either. It is all about what church is about. He won’t allow fresh expressions to communicate the gospel to a post-modern generation. We are living in an ever-changing culture and I believe the church must be true to doctrine but its methods must change otherwise we fail to be relevant. He wants to use archaic methods.”

Dhenis is suddenly very somber, “If we leave, we would have to close the door and leave the key with him. If it comes to that, it will break my heart and the hearts of those who must make a decision to stay or leave.

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