The restoration of the CMM sanctuary is now complete. This is due to the incredible generosity and hard work of so many people. No one has sought acknowledgement for their efforts in any way, and this makes the gifts received even more beautiful. Thank you therefore, not only for your generosity, but also for your humility.
We have tried our best to restore the beauty of the sanctuary and retain its simplicity. Beauty and simplicity are values in and of themselves and we trust that everyone who enters the sanctuary will experience this to be so. As people discover that the CMM sanctuary is a cared-for-space, may we always remember that we care for the space in order for it to care for people. The building exists for people, not people for the building.
When everything is sparkling clean, it is tempting to make it our main priority to keep it like this forever, but it is a sanctuary, not a museum. It is a sanctuary that keeps its doors open for all. A sanctuary where people, especially vulnerable people, are reminded of their exquisite beauty and priceless worth. A sanctuary where the poor hear good news, and the captives find release. A sanctuary that brings strangers together around a font of water – and declares by grace that everyone is one family. A sanctuary in which we find a table that welcomes all to the feast of fairness – as we all eat from one loaf and drink from the common cup. A sanctuary that we can return to over and over again when we are lost to find our bearings that rest on the most sacred truth: You are born in love, by love and for love.
Last Sunday, around the perimeter of the sanctuary, we planted what we hope will become a Spekboom Forest. May it be a sign of life and beauty and a reminder of the resurrection power of nature that we all depend on, yet seldom acknowledge – the transformation of carbon dioxide into oxygen.
We had hoped to celebrate in the Sanctuary by coming together this Sunday (29th November) which seemed appropriate on the first Sunday of Advent, but as a result of the very serious spike in Covid-19 cases in the Western Cape Metro, we have decided to delay all in-person activities. We will reassess this decision in the new year. In the meantime, we will continue to hold services via Zoom at 10 a.m. each Sunday. This will include the 10 a.m. Christmas Day Service. Please email: email@example.com to receive the zoom link.
Please take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously. I know we are tired of it, but the hospitals in the Metro are once again being stretched to capacity. Positive cases are increasing, and people are dying. Let us therefore limit time in crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. This means that we should all be re-thinking our Christmas and New Year gatherings to make sure that they do not become Covid-19 catalyst events.
Finally, don’t forget to practice the Trinity: 1] mask up, 2] wash hands and 3] physical distance by 1.5 m.
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.
Grace to you
John the Baptiser heard the call to “prepare the way for the Lord”. His scriptural instructions were: to smooth the potholed path, to lower the mountainous path and to make straight the crooked path. Sounds like the construction business – road construction to be precise. This is difficult work – hot work – hard work – thankless work – anonymous work … and if you don’t believe me ask yourself when last you ever stopped to get to know and show appreciation for those who disturb the flow of traffic in order to reconstruct a highway or build a bridge?
On 5 December (the anniversary of Mandela’s death as well as Sobukwe’s birth) I spent the night on Robben Island. Pilgrimaging through the cells, I was struck by how many of the political prisoners I had never heard of. Some of them stayed on Robben Island even longer than Mandela! Truly the social con-struction business of preparing the way of the Lord – which is the way of justice, gentleness, generosity, truth, mercy, integrity, radical inclusion, etc. – is often a thankless and anonymous task that demands huge courage and deep humility.
All photographs are of political prisoners on Robben Island are photos of John the Baptiser with different names.
Grace to you
Two weeks back I recommended some Advent-time reading. During Advent-time our imaginations are stretched to include the possibilities of a world where the poor are prioritised and not persecuted and suggested that Tomatoes and Taxi Ranks will help us in this reorientation of our priorities. Advent-time is also most beautifully and powerfully honoured by those who dare to “prefigure” a hoped-for-future in the present. This is wonder-fully captured by a war photojournalist by the name of Lalage Snow in her book: War Gardens – A journey through conflict in search of calm.
Snow honours Advent-time by refusing to deny the horrors of war while at the same time exposing people’s stubbornness against despair as expressed through their daring and caring acts of garden planting.
While interviewing one restorer of gardens in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Snow got the sense that they “were effectively tidying up after two decades of chaos, the conflict erupting around them and all the trappings which skip alongside war were merely an annoyance rather than an existential threat. The restoration almost belittles the war. It says, ‘OK, you guys carry on fighting, we’ve got more important things to sort out.’ If war is anxious, uncertain and terrifying, gardens are the antithesis. They are solid worlds of hope and life, and their gardeners work at a cognitive distance from violence.”
In another interview, Mohammed Kabir is introduced as a gardener for the Kabul municipality. His garden is mostly for subsistence living – beans, potatoes, okra. Snow writes: “’But what about the flowers?’ I point at the messy square of colour in the middle of the courtyard. ‘Well’, Kabir says, ‘I just decided to bring some seeds from my home and plant them in the courtyard. The soldiers helped me to dig and water. I am an old man,’ he reminds me. I ask him why he would make a garden in the ruins of a forgotten palace where only the military and the ghosts will see it. He looks at me as if I’ve asked him to count up to three. ‘Everyone needs a garden. This is our soil. When you work with it, things grow. It’s nature, life. I am a poor man, sometimes my family and I only eat once a day, but I can live without food; I couldn’t live without seeing green leaves and flowers. They come from heaven. Each one,’ he insists ‘is a symbol of paradise. I have a flower in my garden at home and have counted seventy colours in its petals; tell me that it doesn’t come from heaven!’ he exclaims… ‘Since starting this garden I feel I am getting younger. Every tree, every plant, every flower gives me energy.’
Alexi lives in Donetsk in the Ukraine and declares: ‘Tonight I will sleep in the shelter in the ground like my plants.’ While Hamidullah in Parwan, Afghanistan explains: ‘I had a friend in the army, an officer. He was like a brother to me. He was killed, fighting, about a year and a half ago. I was so sad. I … I couldn’t sleep for grief. I tried to garden to forget him but in the end, I planted to remember him and when one grew, it was like I had a new friend.’
Advent-time is planting a garden when others are planting bombs.
Grace to you
The unquestioned mantra of our times is: TIME IS MONEY. The dominant economic order turns everything into a commodity. In our time everything is capitalised. Time is something we “spend”, rather than share.
The Christian calendar – we were reminded last week – invites us to do time differently. To tell the time not according to hours, minutes and seconds and certainly not according to money, but rather according to the inevitable events that shape a life of faithfulness. Faithfulness defined as living life as it was originally intended to be lived: justly, gently, generously, truthfully, mercifully…
Advent-time is when we prepare for the arrival of a Higher Power – higher than any other power. At Christmas time this Higher Power – God – is grounded among us. When we zoom in using facial recognition software we notice this God’s appearance is one of dispossessed disfigurement. God has taken the form of the godforsaken among us. Thus Advent-time is preparing the world to prioritise rather than persecute the godforsaken among us. As Jesus would say when he is an adult: “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” Advent-time is when we reorientate our lives to prioritise the marginalised and dispossessed, the vulnerable and exploited, the frail and the abused.
Advent-time does not deny the ugly truth of the world’s pain but nor is it determined by it. Advent-time navigates the narrow gap between denial and despair by daring to do something different that neither denial can deter nor despair can determine.
Advent-time lasts 4 weeks on the secular calendar – but in actual fact it takes a lifetime for most of us to reorientate our lives to be good news for the poor, if at all. Each week takes a different theme. The first week of Advent-time aims to stretch our imaginations to include the possibility of a different world where the poor do actually hear good news. Without our imaginations stretched in this way we are unlikely to give our lives to realise such a world.
A recent book that goes a long way to help us to honour Advent-time is, Tomatoes and Taxis Ranks by the Consuming Urban Poverty research group based at UCT that astutely notes “we are surrounded by food, awash with hunger”. They do not deny the harrowing hunger that stalks so many but at the same time they dare to dream of African cities where there is enough for all, and of cities run in such a way that “fill the food gap”.
Today we occupy Church Street. Our occupation is in the form of a beautiful banquet prepared for those who are often hungry in this city that is saturated with food. With our many partners we boldly declare this to be, in the closing words of the Eucharist: “a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all the world”. May it be on earth as it is in heaven.
Media Release | Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana | 22 November 2018
The South African Council of Churches (SACC) finds regret-table the unfortunate utterances by the EFF leader, Mr Julius Malema, where he referred to Minister Pravin Gordhan as “a dog”. We take nothing away from Mr Malema or any other person’s freedom of speech. But we find it unacceptable that an elected public official can call a person, whether government minister or not, a dog; especially given the connotation of such an expression in African culture. Moreover, such name-calling by a popular political leader could easily incite followers to violent acts. It engenders an attitude in society that says other people do not matter. That is not Ubuntu. This kind of talk, accompanied by sabre-rattling and talk of war and possible bloodshed, on the eve of electioneering, is deeply concerning.
We also take issue with Mr Malema’s trashing of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry as a Mickey Mouse show. This is a Commission that was the recommendation of the Public Protector in the 2016 ground-breaking State of Capture report; and the whole country welcomed it and eagerly awaited its creation. We do not understand how it now becomes a Mickey Mouse show and a waste of money. We urge all South Africans to support the Zondo Commission and not have witnesses attacked and intimidated, as that will have the effect of burying the serious wrongdoings that might have been revealed in order to have recommendations for solutions that help cleanse our governmental environment.
We have seen Mr Malema and his party standing steadfastly against corruption, and demanding appropriate action. We cannot believe that he and his party no longer want to see corrupt practices exposed in a judicial inquiry such as the Zondo Commission. We believe that it is in the interests of the country and all citizens that all is exposed in order to begin the healing of our State institutions; and the Ubuntu ethos and values cultivated.
Archbishop Tutu said of Ubuntu: “It speaks of the very essence of being human… It is to say, my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours… A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”
This is what we seek to cultivate as a South African character of life, inside politics, the State (Batho Pele) and in society as a whole. This is the nature of the South Africa we pray for as the South African churches. — End —
Issued by the office of the General Secretary of the SA Council of Churches,
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana.
Grace is something that moves in our lives like the wind. It comes in moments when we least expect it and we recognize it for learning the whisper of it that reminds us of all that is good, all that is true, and all that is love in the world. We can in our lives become people who are Grace Whisperers, ones who rest in the light of God’s love so much so, that we move with the grace of God in ways that bring light, love, and wholeness to the others we encounter in the world. To move with Grace requires a catch and a release. We catch the waves of God’s grace and we release all power that is our own, this movement leaves us in a whirl of vulnerability, but it is in that place of vulnerability that God’s power becomes our own.
It should teach us something that God’s grace in its fullest form enters into the world into the skin of something as vulnerable as a newborn child. If the God of the Heavens lived cloaked with robes of majesty, this God undresses and takes on the most exquisitely vulnerable reality. The one powerful enough to speak all creation into being, also chooses to exalt one who the world would believe to be unworthy. Grace whispers to Mary, “you are worthy, you are a wonderful, beautiful, child of God. You are more than enough to carry the love of God!” Grace whirls within Mary, she releases any insecurity that might have been gifted to her by her community and the Power of God is remembered by her and through her as the grace of it lifts up into the air in her song.
Mary teaches us with three words how to release oneself to the greatest power in all the world. When Mary says, “Let it Be,” she recognizes that the safest place for her to find herself in her life, is held in the promise of God’s grace that is whispering sacred truths all around her. Mary catches those waves of grace and releases all hold, all power, any sense of need to control. She releases herself into vulnerable, sacred, trust. Mary is one of the most powerful women in all of scripture, not because of the way she sings words of power and might, but because of the way she lives in the humble space required of one to be a receiver of them. Her power is in the vessel she allows herself to be.
So often we cling to power, cling to a need to control. Grace whispers to us, “release.” So often, we get dressed up in our own power, our designs of how things in our lives and the lives of others should be, but grace says to us, “shed all of that. The love of God entered into the world as a fragile, naked, little baby. You have no idea the power that is held in this sort of vulnerability, but watch love as it rises.”
Love sits with the meek, the lowly, the outcast, the oppressed. Love honors women and children and all of mankind. Love shares meals with those cloaked in sin and washes the feet of those who stumble along their way. Love reaches across every boundary to stand in solidarity. Love does not walk alone, love circles, and multiplies. Love pierces lies with truth and humbles oneself in vulnerable honesty. Love walks in poverty and love sits under trees, on mountainsides, and by the sea–teaching about the abundance held in sacred, creative, space. Love sleeps in hospitality. Love forgives, not once, but again and again and again. Love sings, love laughs, love is patient and kind, and love is the prophetic song calling each of us to humble ourselves in order that we might in God’s grace, like Mary, be empowered to rise.
As always, it has been a gift to be…
With you on the journey,