On Tuesday the High Court reserved judgement until the 17th February in the matter of the City of Cape Town and Refugees.
So we all continue to wait. Please refer to my previous update on how we are called to wait – with eyes and hearts open.
The situation remains desperate. There is a precarious mix of vulnerability and violence.
On Wednesday 29th January in the evening, stun grenades were once again used to separate the two factions of refugees who were fighting. This volatility makes interventions potentially problematic.
As a Church we continue to consult and explore our options to find a peaceful way forward.
Thank you for your love and concern.
At the moment there is not much by way of an update regarding the refugee situation in and around the Church. Please refer to my previous update on the 10th January below if you have not seen it, because everything I wrote then still applies.
In this age of social media there is heightened pressure to put out constant updates. I feel this pressure. Yet I have decided only to speak to the media or write an update when I am at least sure that what I say will be helpful to the situation (and particularly the most vulnerable within the situation) and if I am not sure it will be helpful then in the very least I need to be sure that what I say will not cause any harm. This is my overriding responsibility and that of the Church. It was however good to meet last Saturday and Sunday at Observatory Methodist Church where I could give a less time constrained update with those of you who were present.
The issues of health and safety within the sanctuary remain and therefore so does the Church’s request for people to vacate. The fact that people continue to stay is due to a mixture of different reasons. I am aware of some of the reasons but almost certainly not all of them. It will not be helpful for me to discuss the reasons that I am aware of on this forum, but just to say that one size does not fit all.
Please be aware that this situation is fertile ground for rumours. Hold what you believe the truth to be lightly until you are 100% sure. Please be cautious not to jump to any fixed conclusions. Some people spread rumours unknowingly and out of ignorance while others use them deliberately to take advantage of the situation for their own ends.
It has been disturbing to witness the revolving door of ‘promise and blame’ throughout this situation. False promises are made and when they are not realised then someone or something is made to be the scapegoat to carry the blame. The scapegoat is cast away and then the cycle begins again. Promise waters hope and blame deals with disappointment. The revolving door keeps turning.
One rumour I have had to address this week is that the Church information cards that include the Church contact details on one side and the words: “You are Born in Love, by Love, for Love” on the other side, is an NGO membership card. The rumour is that this supposed NGO is able to help the refugees. Yet no such NGO exists at all. It is understandable as much as it is sad, that desperate people will grasp onto the smallest sign of hope and hold onto it for dear life.
It goes without saying that with each day the desperation of the refugees increases. The conditions they are enduring are terrible. Their struggles as well as that of the traders and businesses around the Church increases daily. And I am sure we ourselves have felt many mixed feelings over this time as well as a growing concern over the conundrum of care.
There are many layers of concern in this situation to consider, and there are also many moving parts that all need to be in sync with each other if a peaceful way forward is to be secured. By moving parts I mean the different Government departments as well as International and Local Organisations. Everyone is also waiting for the High Court to hear the City of Cape Town and the Refugee matter on the 28th January.
So, with everyone we wait, and while we wait, we hold onto the dignity of everyone in our hearts. This demands we keep our eyes and hearts open. This is our work. Our inner work. Our true work. This is eye work and heart work. It is the work of keeping the dignity of all in focus and held in love. To keep our eyes and hearts open is not easy. Fear and prejudice blind our eyes and fear, anger, resentment and indifference close our hearts. This is the blindness of the sighted and there are none so blind as those of us who think we see. This is the blindness Jesus came to heal and the hearts of stone Jesus came to roll away.
With different words but with the same intention, this is the exact work we committed ourselves to as a community during last week’s Covenant Service. I remind you of our covenant:
Beloved in Christ, let us once again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take upon us the yoke of Christ.
To take Jesus’ yoke upon us means that we are content for him to appoint us our place and work, and himself to be our reward.
Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.
Therefore, let us make this Covenant of God our own. Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.
Lord God, Holy Lord, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience and, for the love of you, engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.
We are no longer our own but yours. I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing,
put me to suffering*; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty;
let me have all things, let me have nothing; I fully and freely yield all
things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
*Please note: The traditional words, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering,” do not mean that we ask God to make us suffer. Rather, they express our desire to live faithfully regardless of whether there is suffering involved or not.
On Sunday the 29th December there was conflict among the refugees – effectively a fallout between the refugee leadership resulting in a split among the refugees into two hostile groups (leaving one group inside the church and the other outside). For about five hours we tried to get the two sides to end the standoff without success. Violence erupted between these two groups in the late afternoon. The police intervened to restore order and to keep the two groups apart. The police remained at the entrance of the Church for nearly a week. It was due to this violence and the continued threat of violence that we decided to cancel the worship service at Central Methodist Mission (CMM) on the 5th January 2020.
And it is due to this violence and continued hostility between groups of refugees that there cannot be a worship service at CMM this Sunday. Therefore, until further notice CMM’s Sunday services will be held at the Observatory Methodist Church at 10am. [Corner: Wesley and Milton Street, Observatory].
The ongoing health and safety risks that exist within the over-crowed sanctuary are exacerbated by the day. As I have repeatedly warned, the sanctuary is no longer a safe space and therefore, asked the people present to vacate. Now on top of these health and safety risks is the unpredictable volatility of the present hostile situation.
This has been a very difficult time and as a church we have struggled to find the balance between providing sanctuary to the refugees while they engage with international bodies and local authorities and take steps to prevent fire hazard and the spread of disease and basically keep people safe. You will know that we have asked the refugees to vacate the sanctuary numerous times. They have not done so. Sometimes simply reneging on their word and at other times due to circumstances beyond their control, like the tragic drowning of the four teenagers in Sea Point.
As the Church we have taken the long road of listening deeply and graciously. However, on the 29th December things changed. The sanctuary was turned into a battle ground by some and our welcoming space into a blockaded fortress. Hospitality was replaced with hostility. As a church we cannot provide sanctuary to violent groups, nor are we equipped to deal with them. It is within this context that as a church we will now pursue other avenues to address this situation.
This matter is not simple. There are layers within layers being played out. We must be able to hold more than one truth at a time and resist the temptation to simplify the situation to a soundbite. We have every right to feel angry and saddened and yet we must guard against our feelings having the final say of how we respond. When our desire for things to “return to normal” becomes greater than our desire for the wellbeing of people – especially the very vulnerable (there are between 50-100 children in the sanctuary) then we need to stop and check ourselves and hold each other accountable to another way, truth and life. A way that attempts to be faithful to Jesus’ call on our living.
As difficult and stressful as all this is I continue to invite you to seek out the gospel-ness of this moment. We must be especially mindful of what moves us: fear or love? May we be alert to complacency and cynicism. At all times let us resist the limiting binary of condoning and condemning and instead seek to honour compassion. Compassion that is ever-open to critique and growth.
This Sunday we break bread together reminding us that we are one body … one body yet broken. We will share the cup of forgiveness … a joyful celebration, yet also a gruesome reminder of blood shed world over. We will remember our Baptism and be thankful as we are invited to accept the good news that we are God’s beloved and to live out the good news for the world that everyone … everyone, is God’s beloved.
December, 25 2019 Alan Storey: Christmas Unwrapped [Matthew 2]
Grace and peace to you
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ today, we are reminded of the journey the pregnant Mary and Joseph had to make on a mission to meet with the requirements of their Home Affairs Department at that time, to be part of the census process.
They too must have suffered from much discomfort and displacement; with no close biological family structure to support them. We are told that Mary had her Baby Jesus and I want to believe that during this birthing and tiring time, someone reached out to assist her. Someone who was loving and kind to offer her the gift of hospitality and to tenderly wipe her brow.
Yes, God was with Joseph and Mary on the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then of course while they were on the move, with the baby again, to Egypt because of a political decree.
Our Christmas journey with God is one that says: don’t be tied down by traditions and customs that limit and suffocate you. Ask questions that inform your decision-making process. Do these decisions bring life or death? Following the example of Jesus’ way of life demands that we pay attention to the present, to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. We are also reassured of God’s ever-engaging presence in every kind of experience. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
We have been part of the suffering of our fellow sojourners together in sharing in the discomfort in our Gothic sanctuary. We give thanks to God for the experience of sharing and in the creation of new memories which will become a part of our church history. While at the same time, the pain and slowness of immigration reform in our country will leave a blight on the history of all the relevant authorities, who were loath to make decisions, regarding the welfare and treatment of all who needed help. Yes, we were required to make space, to sing new choruses in other languages which we enjoyed.
Our Scriptures remind us that we are not placed on this earth to be comfortable. God’s voice is heard when we are most uncomfortable through the desperate prayers that we pray, and this is hard because most of us long to be comfortable, to be accepted to belong, and most of all to be in control. We can all be included and this requires an openness and willingness to adapt, to adjust for the greater good of humanity and our community. I fully understand that it is very easy to judge, to be intimidated, and fearful and not to understand; but we are required in our spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ to embrace the values of inclusion, diversity, compassion and a sense of justice for our country and especially our continent Africa. We have to learn to come to terms with the requirements too of our Constitution and especially the fullest implementation of it. “Welcome the stranger in your midst! I am with you always”, says God.
In God’s scheme of things, nothing is a nuisance factor! We have been on an emotional roller coaster together with our African brothers and sisters, like their lives have been uprooted so have our roots been shaken. This has been a real wake-up call where we have had to interact and interface with the world right on our doorstep and inside our sanctuary. Yes, it has been uncomfortable. But also a reminder that the human condition is present with and among us all the time. While we had to worship God together as a community; through the courage, compassion and consistent theological integrity of our minister Alan Storey; our lives are the richer this Christmas. We have been exposed to a real object lesson; (and the word became flesh and dwelt among us) in our journey with the humanity of Jesus Christ, that the poor and displaced are always with us, regardless of class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, creed or problems. We are All God’s children.
This displacement has been a challenge and a gift for all of us as we make sense of our world and as we try to make a difference in God’s world. May God’s gift of the birth of his Son Jesus Christ, make us eager to be instruments of Hope, Peace, Love, Compassion and Justice in our community and our country. May the Spirit of Jesus Christ be born in each one of us today.
Since my last update, the situation in the church remains unchanged. It is nearly two months since refugees sought sanctuary inside CMM. It remains over-crowed and therefore continues to present a health and safety risk for everyone. This is especially true for the +100 children, half of whom are between the ages of a few months and a few years. Simply put, the conditions are not good for human habitation, not to mention the increased wear and tear of the church building and running expenses. The negative effect on the surrounding businesses and traders on the square also continues to be troublesome.
It is unlikely that a solution, acceptable to the refugees, is going to be found soon. In the meantime, alternative accommodation to the church is desperately needed. I said from the beginning that the Church is only a temporary place of sanctuary – a place of calm for all those involved to find a solution together. This has stretched well beyond that now.
I’ve asked for people to vacate the Church: For those people who have homes or access to homes to return to them. For others to make a plan with friends, etc. Only a handful of people have since left, and it seems either people are unable to make any such plan, or they are deciding to remain together as a group for a host of different reasons. What is therefore needed is the provision of alternative accommodation for about 500 people.
Some people have said to me that they are praying that God will make a way. Thank you because on one hand there is not much else we can do. But, the God that I believe in works through people – people inspired by the spirit of grace, truth, compassion and courage to act. This is actually what Christmas tries to teach us about God: that God takes on flesh in this world. Jesus came in the flesh – full of grace, truth, compassion and courage. Therefore, to pray for God to make a way is to pray that people – all of us – but especially leaders, act with truth, grace, compassion and courage. The bible would say: righteous leaders. In today’s language we would simply say, leaders with integrity (an inner alignment to truth and justice). We should all be wary of leaders who spend more time blaming others for the problem than taking responsibility to seek a solution themselves.
In the midst of this situation I continue to invite you to be taken to new places within yourself. What can we all learn from this moment? What can we learn that we would not otherwise learn if things were different? Let us resist the temptation to settle for easy answers and half-truths. My experience is that there are many truths present. Let us keep tabs on whether fear or love is the greater motivator within us. May we be alert to creeping complacency or worse, crippling cynicism. At all times let us resist the binary between condoning and condemning and instead seek to honour compassion that is ever open to critique and change.
The Christmas Day service is at 10am. There will be no service on the 29th or New Year’s Eve.
December, 10 2019 Al Jazeera reports on Refugees at CMM
Please continue to pray for the families who are preparing to bury their three children tomorrow. The trauma of this whole situation is unimaginable. Due to the large numbers of people expected to attend, the funeral will take place from St George’s Cathedral at 9a.m. We are grateful to St. George’s for this show of hospitality.
The leaders announced this morning (5 December) to me and to those present in the Church, that they will vacate CMM by the 12th December. For all the reasons stated in my previous updates, I do hope this commitment is honoured. You are aware that the City issued an eviction order on Monday for those refugees staying outside the church on Longmarket and Burg Streets. My deepest hope is that people vacate and leave the area before that is enforced so that we do not have a repeat of the violence of the past. I invite you to continue to pray for guidance and integrity for all the people involved.
For those of you who are asking: The Christmas Day service will be at 10a.m. Please note: There will not be services on Christmas Eve; Sunday 29th December; or New Year’s Eve.
This coming Sunday we read from Isaiah 11:1-10. Isaiah invites us to trust that a new shoot will sprout from the stump. That which has been cut off, cut down, cut low is still able to birth new life when touched by the Spirit of God. May we continue to be open to this wonder.
I was informed on Friday night that the three remaining funerals of the four young people who drowned would not take place yesterday as was hoped. Instead they will take place towards the end of this coming week. All this delay adds to the trauma for all the families, so please continue to hold them in your hearts.
As a result of the delay in the funerals, the agreed upon vacation of the refugees from the sanctuary, between Tuesday and Thursday this week, is no longer going to take place. I have asked that they provide me with a new date to vacate.
Every week that goes past makes me worry more about the children and the mothers. There are around 100 children, many of them are babies, who are in the church. They have spent a month outside and now another month cooped up in an overcrowded church. All this continues to point to the urgent need for a way forward to be found for everyone’s safety.
In the meantime, we must remember and not ever forget that all people everywhere are family. To forget this is to begin down the slippery path of dehumanising people. By family, I do not mean that all is “lovey-dovey”. For we know that it is in family that we can have the most truthful conversations and robust confrontations with each other, but we do so always in the knowledge that there is more that we have in common with each other than difference and that regardless of our differences with each other, our common fate is bound together forever. Truth and love must go together if either is to be authentic to itself.
A testing question we might want to ask ourselves: “Am I more angry at refugees than I am at the fact that there are refugees?” Similarly: “Am I more angry at the poor than I am at the fact that people live in poverty?” Am I more angry that people go to the toilet on the pavement than I am at the fact that there are so few public toilets available and almost zero open at night?” Where our anger is primarily directed tells us a great deal about ourselves and the positioning of our hearts. Let us not miss this time to check and realign our own hearts.
Thank you for your continued love and care.
We are grateful that all the bodies of those who drowned have been recovered, but the anxious waiting has added to the trauma of the deaths themselves. The refugees staying in and around the church are in great grief. Please continue to hold those closest to the pain in your hearts.
The three remaining funerals may take place on Saturday morning – although this has not yet been confirmed. I have suggested to members of the public who have called to offer assistance to contact the leaders of the refugee group directly. For the sake of clarity please note that the Church is not involved in any financial collections for the refugees.
This morning I was told again by the leaders that they are planning to vacate next week Tuesday to Thursday. I do not know any further details. I can only hope that this will indeed take place for the sake of all involved. Things cannot continue as they have been. People are stressed and exhausted especially the families with young children and especially now after the death of four young people among the community.
The 1st December is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent reminds us of the promise of Jesus’ light-filled presence in the world. The Light that says to the darkness “I beg to differ with you”. The Light that guides us to new Life. We will light the first of four Advent candles in confidence and hope that the Light of Jesus will deepen our living in Truth and Love. May we be given eyes to recognise the Light of Jesus within all.
Alan’s interview with John Maytham (CapeTalk 567) yesterday afternoon 27 November 2019.