CMM’s response to the Coronavirus

At CMM our Lenten Journey is about to change. Due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus we have decided to suspend all worship services with immediate effect until after Easter at which time we will review the situation.

In Lenten language we are going to FAST from on-site worship services and meetings. Fasting is seldom easy or comfortable and I am aware that this particular fast will be challenging for us because of how deeply we hold onto our Lenten and Holy Week practice, which over the years has brought us much life.

The gift of fasting is a sense of heightened awareness. Absence heightens our awareness and paradoxically becomes a form of presence. Therefore, my hope is that as we cancel services, we will discover that Easter itself has not been cancelled. My hope is that we will live into a heightened awareness of the terror of crucifixion and the wonder of resurrection in the world and in our own lives. My hope is that as we cease to gather together that we will become increasingly aware of the excruciating pain of loneliness and the great gift of gathered community.

The hunger and the emptiness are the painful gifts of any fast. Let us therefore embrace this and resist the temptation to fill the ache and gap with something else. For this reason, we will not simply be “moving CMM services online”. Instead I encourage you to allow the fast to have its way with you. In other words, that we allow time for the restless emptiness to prune our inner being. Take note of what happens when we replace our singing with silence; our dancing with stillness and our gathering with solitude. Our Lenten work is to be attentive to the journey that our fast takes us on.

Now at risk of contradicting the previous paragraph I also realise that not all fasts are for everyone. Some have a “water only” fast while others choose to augment their fast with fruit. Please allow the same grace for yourself regarding this fast from gathered community. I invite you to explore other ways of connecting with people especially if this particular fast causes overwhelming anxiety within you.

Finally, fasting is never purely for the good of the individual but always for the sake of the whole. As I wrote last week, the Coronavirus has reminded us of our interconnectedness that we are inclined to forget in our hyper-individualistic world. We are one. Fasting is to awaken us to our oneness and deepen our sense of social solidarity.  Already the Coronavirus is exposing how deeply unequal our society is, and as a result, how fragile. My hope is that we will emerge from this with a clearer understanding of what a just and compassionate world looks like and that we will realise that changing the world is possible. It is long overdue that we called a state of emergency for the state of the world.

Now let me say a little more about the motivation behind this decision to suspend all on-site worship services. In point form:

  1. Our decision honours our Lenten theme this year: “Do no harm”.
  2. Our decision is based on the science and data from around the world over the past three months which shows that we need to “flatten the curve” (slow down the spread of the virus) if we are to limit deaths. To slow the virus from spreading we need to all act as if we already have it. Due to the fact that it is possible to be contagious (able to transmit the virus) without feeling any symptoms, we need to take precautions that are based on how the virus works rather than simply on how we feel. To slow down the spread of the virus will save lives because it will spare our health system from being completely overloaded at once.
  3. Our decision is rooted in love for all. We have not made this decision out of fear of others for our own individual well-being. Our physical distancing rests in our social solidarity.
  4. Our decision is based on the common good of all but, especially for the vulnerable, namely those of increased age and/or those who have a compromised immune system due to a pre-existing underlying condition like TB, HIV and chronic respiratory conditions. The vulnerable are also those who live in over-crowded areas as well as areas without running water. People in such circumstances known to us or in our employ will need active and generous support.
  5. Our decision is based on our faith that seeks understanding. A faith that invites our heart and our head to join hands. Christian faith is not an insurance policy against illness, but rather a way of life that invites us to live justly, mercifully, humbly, gently and generously. To say “the blood of the Lamb will protect me” is not faith. It is superstition. The way of living life justly, mercifully, humbly, etc. acknowledges that we are all potentially contagious and all potentially vulnerable. We will therefore refrain from blaming and scapegoating others.
  6. Our decision based on our faith to live justly, mercifully, humbly, gently and generously means that we will not panic-buy and hoard. Hoarding kills. It is generosity that will save us.

 

I realise it is an uneasy feeling to think we can actually be most caring by being physically distant, but this is the truth at this time. The sooner we honour this truth, the sooner we will be set free from it. Please call us at the office if you have any questions or concerns. (021) 422 2744. This is a dynamic situation and may change. We will keep you posted if things do.

In closing, I have a great concern about the refugees in the CMM sanctuary. I met with Environmental Health Officials a week ago about the Coronavirus risk. I have since written to and met with the refugee leaders within the sanctuary. There is sadly no movement on their side. Since Monday they have placed a sign outside stating: “We will not be allowing any visitors or tourists in the church (CMM) due to the coronavirus. This is for our health and well-being, as well as for many others. Thanks for understanding.” They are attempting to practice frequent handwashing, etc. But the truth is the conditions inside the sanctuary are ripe for a virus of any sort to spread, let alone the highly contagious coronavirus. As a result, our legal processes are addressing this matter with increased urgency.

Grace,
Alan

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Hearing the voice of Love

2020 03 15 Guest Preacher: Rev. Andrè Buttner: Hearing the voice of Love.
[Mark 10:17-31]


This is Martin Luther’s approach as he faced the plague “Black death”, which killed 60% of Europe’s population:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” 

The Annotated Luther, Volume 4: Pastoral Writings, page 404.

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Update from CMM

If you have been reading these updates since November 6th 2019, you will know that from the beginning it has been communicated to the refugees in the Church that the sanctuary is a “temporary safe place” and that we “offer a moment of calm” in which we hope “people can find one another to talk, listen and negotiate” and that “a way forward would soon be found that would include vacating Central Methodist Mission”.

In one of my sermons, I said that “it takes courage to protest but it also takes courage to negotiate”. Sadly, they have not shown courage to negotiate. I say sadly, because I believe that they have many legitimate grievances yet their singular demand to go to a “third country” is not in any way aligned to their grievances. No one takes this unrealistic demand seriously and therefore one is also tempted to not take the real grievances seriously. To therefore demand that which is at present so clearly unrealistic, does themselves and all other foreign nationals in South Africa a disservice. Many refugee organisations in South Africa have said as much.

Refugees across the country rightly complain that the Department of Home Affairs sometimes grants asylum papers that are only valid for a month or two. It is very difficult to get work if one is only “legal” for such a short period of time. Many also complain about how difficult it is to open a bank account in SA. These are serious grievances that must be addressed, but the leaders of this protest action over the past five months have not negotiated around these grievances at all. Were they to say we are protesting until all the major banks in the country make it easier for foreign nationals to open bank accounts, or were they to say we demand that our asylum papers be valid for a minimum of a year or three, they would have discovered greater solidarity and support in addressing these and other forms of administrative xenophobia. Instead, they chose to alienate and threaten everyone who pointed out to them that their singular demand to be moved to a third country is impossible and that it does not align itself with their grievances. This has not helped their cause in particular, and the cause of refugees in SA in general.

It has been disturbing to witness how people who themselves have been victims of violence have turned against each other in violence, becoming the very thing they hate and adding impetus to the cycle of violence continuing. The split into two factions on the 29th December 2019 gave rise to xenophobia and religious prejudice among themselves. Doing to each other as they have had done to them. This level of brokenness is tragic. One can only weep.

As I write this, I fear my words might contribute to a sense of self-righteousness and provide an excuse for us in the future to not respond with openness and compassion. We must guard against this if we ourselves are not to become what we hate.

On numerous occasions over the past five months, the refugee leadership gave me the assurance that they will vacate the church. They did not honour these commitments. Over the last few weeks I have put up notices (in all the languages of those staying in the church) requesting people to vacate the church. This request is being ignored. From conversations with the leadership of the refugees it is clear to me that they still believe that their demand to go to a third country will be met and that they will not vacate until it is met. It is also clear to me that they have nothing to gain by remaining in the church. They are literally wasting their time. In fact, I believe that due to health and safety reasons they continue to place their lives at greater risk by remaining in the sanctuary. The overcrowding and lack of appropriate ablution facilities, not to mention increased fire risk, makes the sanctuary an unsafe space to be in.

This leaves the church little choice but to go the legal route and seek relief from the courts. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in the process of doing so. This itself will take some time and I ask you to hold those involved in this sensitive matter in your heart.

Let me end with a few words about the Coronavirus. Like climate-breakdown the Coronavirus reminds us of the reality of our inter-connectedness with all of life. It has no respect for border posts and cares not about our nationality or any other social construct we like to use to carve up the world-wide-web of life. Our hyper-individualistic cultures live in denial of this reality. To live in denial of reality is self-defeating. The longer we persist the more devastating the defeat will be – as every other persistence in false separation can testify. South African history is a prime example of this.

Individualism cannot solve what individualism has caused. An example of this is people stocking up on hand sanitising products. To only look after oneself is self-defeating because we are all connected. Hoarding (in every form) is ultimately self-defeating. It is generosity, and not selfishness, that will save us. Jesus said this a long time ago: “For whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will save it”. When Jesus says, “for my sake” we remember that he self-identified as the “least among us”. In other words the Jesus approach is not to hoard sanitiser but rather to share it with as many people as possible especially those who do not have access to these basic resources. And this goes with every form of preventative method of care and health services.

As we avoid hoarding-panic let us also avoid living in spiritual cloud-cuckoo-land by saying that “our faith will protect us” and the “Coronavirus is just like the flu”. This spiritualised denialism is dangerous and disrespectful to the people around us. For the most part we have a fragile health system in this country, and we must do all we can to not unnecessarily burden it.

Grace,
Alan

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Refugee Update 19 February 2020

Herewith link to the full Judgement of the High Court dated 17th February for your information.

Though the judgement refers to “the streets, sidewalks and sections of the Greenmarket Square in the around the church” and that “no order is sought against the respondents inside the church” (point 16, page 10) the order granted by Judge Thulare to the City of Cape Town does include significant clarity into the situation that we have been dealing with within the Church with since 30th October 2019.

We have witnessed and experienced that all attempts at negotiations with the refugees have failed, including the multitudes of times they have agreed to, but failed to vacate the church sanctuary. As the Judge writes: “The respondents were aware that their demand for resettlement to another country other than repatriation to their country of origin, if they opted to leave the country would not be met. Anyone who expressed themselves on the respondent’s unrealistic demand and sought to influence a realistic solution was declared an enemy and was either threatened or attacked by the respondents.” (point 22 page 12).

The Judge continues: “The respondents have all intents and purposes established a self-governing territory within the City of Cape Town. No single individual, or group of persons, should be allowed to be a law unto themselves.” (point 23 page 12).

The Judge singles out the refugee leadership as deceptive and opportunistic (see points 44-46). The Judge states: “In my view Balus and Sukami misused the other respondents’ vulnerability, inability and humility.” (point 44 page 28). The Judge further states that: “The protest is ungovernable. It is used to pursue unachievable goals and in my view amounts to abuse of the right to protest, which is a sacrosanct method to raise and to pursue legitimate concerns.” (point 46 page 29).

My hope is that this Judgement will draw all those involved in this protest closer to the truth of their own situation and move them to vacate the area and the church as soon as possible. Furthermore, I hope that everyone, including those inside the church will use the opportunity afforded to them by the Judgement to seek assistance should they need, as the order by Judge Thulare allows (point 4.4. page 37).

In a week’s time during our Ash Wednesday service we will have ash smeared on our foreheads and will hear the humbling words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. This shocking smear of death on our face is meant to bring us bolt upright to the precious briefness of our life. Followed by the graceful invitation: “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. The word “repent” has a scary reputation because of how it has been misused by so many as a threat, but it is a most hopeful word, inviting us to change and thereby believing that we can change. To “believe in the Gospel” is to give our heart to the way of life Jesus calls us to follow – a way of life that chooses life – even though it may mean dying.

The first step to choose life is to choose to do no harm. This sounds simpler than it is, because we are all part of systems that we depend on for our survival that are in fact killing creation and others as well as ourselves. This is even true in relation to the refugee situation. We are complicit in creating a world (or in the very least complicit for not challenging a world) that causes situations that lead to there being refugees. This realisation that we are somehow complicit in the deathliness of the world invites us to repent – to turn around – to change. This acknowledgement that we are complicit rather than “innocent” is at the root of all confession. As Church we are called to be a confessional community. A community that tells the truth about our living. For this reason, confession is part of our weekly liturgy that takes place in response to the grace spoken from the Voice who calls us Beloved.

It is easy from the position of a false sense of innocence, to ask ourselves what good we can do. Doing good can feel good. Sadly, it often only addresses the symptoms in the form of charitable acts. Asking where we are doing harm, on the other hand moves us to see where we ourselves are the problem. This is uncomfortable but it may lead us to doing greater good. This approach is also more likely to address the systemic root of the problem that only doing justice can root out. So, ask not what good you can do, but rather what harm you can stop doing. May this be our fast for Lent: To fast from doing harm.

Grace,
Alan

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Refugee Update

February, 09 2020 Alan Storey: Jesus: The Preacher, The Prophet
[Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20]


February, 02 2020 Guest Preacher: Rev. Dr. Peter Storey:
Being a broken open church.

[Micah 6:1-8; Mark 2:1-14]


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.

Grace,
Alan

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