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Sunday, 29 September 2019

Global neighbours

Here's the sermon that I preached for Harvest at St Martin-in-the-Fields this morning together with Bella Ikpasaja and Ruth Wooldridge: 

I'm in a car travelling along one of the main freeways in Johannesburg. To our left is Sandton, Johannesburg's equivalent of Canary Wharf, a collection of gleaming skyscrapers housing the headquarters of major corporations; a concentration of wealth, power and influence. 

We turn off the freeway but, instead of turning left to Sandton, we turn right into an industrial zone. In South Africa, under apartheid, such industrial areas were used as buffer zones separating wealthy white areas, such as Sandton, from the townships where the black community lived.

We move beyond the industrial units and are now on the edge of an immense expanse of small, low one or two room shacks built of the roughest materials and stacked one against the other. People throng the streets so our car slows to a crawl as we negotiate our way deeper into what appears to be a shanty town where every shack is also a shop and everything you can imagine is for sale. This is the township of Alexandra and we are making our way to St Michael and All Angels.

There we join Fr Clayton and his congregation for a midweek Eucharist. We join in the congregational singing which arises out of the familiar liturgy enabling our participation together in worship. Fr Clayton has a conversational preaching style and encourages questions following his homily. In that time one of the questions asked enables us to reflect on the patriarchal nature of some Bible passages which can hinder our joining together in equality. Fr Clayton reminds us that there is no male or female, slave or free, but all are one in Christ. Then singing and dancing we process with our offerings or pledges to give from what we have been given by God before we receive, with thanksgiving, the very life of God itself in communion.

After the service Fr Clayton takes me to the Alexandra Heritage Centre from where we have a view across the cluttered chaotic expanse of Alex. Poverty, lack of basic infrastructure and facilities are clearly to be seen; demonstrations of disadvantage and discrimination, particularly when contrasted with Sandton on the other side of the freeway. Yet, Alex, historically, has also been an area enabling a measure of independence by being one of the few areas where the black community in Johannesburg could own land.

A panel at the end of the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg says essentially that land, and the ownership of land, was at the heart of the apartheid system and continues to be a source of contention and inequality within South Africa today.

Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 26.1-11) reminds us that, although the People of Israel had been led by God to the Promised Land, that land was not theirs to own. It belonged to God and, as a reminder of that reality, they gave to God, with thanksgiving, a tithe - a tenth - of the harvest which came from the land. The instruction to do so came from the Law of Moses, which also put in place a set of social mechanisms designed to prevent the concentration of land and wealth in the hands of a few. 

At its heart was the recognition, that the congregation in Alex also possessed, that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. The circle of life functions normally and naturally when we recognise that truth, but is disrupted, even destroyed, when human beings dominate and exploit the land for our own gain instead of providing the tending and care with which we were tasked by God in the creation stories that are found in Genesis. In recent months we have, perhaps, seen this human tendency to dominate, own and exploit land most graphically in the climate-change denying Donald Trump seeking to buy Greenland in order to exploit the natural resources that climate change is now making accessible to our human greed in ways that were not previously possible; all the while, denying the reality that to do so will only accelerate the climate emergency.

Our global neighbours, whether in South Africa, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Malawi, Melanesia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have much to teach us about ways of life which are closer to the attitudes, behaviours and structures of a societies that view land, with gratitude; as sacred in and of itself and, therefore, not for ownership or exploitation.

As Global neighbours with St Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg, we have had the opportunity to encounter and enjoy the vibrancy of their worship of God and welcome of others sustained, originally, in the face of great oppression and, now, of significant social challenges. I bring back greetings, love and prayers to all of us from our friends, neighbours and partners at the Cathedral and in Alex, Sophiatown and Soweto.

Our Global neighbours extend well beyond our South African partnerships, however. The prayer booklet you were given last Sunday shares news of all our Global neighbours and Ruth and Bella are now going to add to our understanding by sharing more about our partners in Nepal and Tanzania.

Ruth Wooldridge

On the day the earth shook in Nepal in 2015, homes, schools, medical centres -- thousands of buildings altogether – collapsed or were badly damaged. Around 9000 people died. Land slipped down mountainsides, enveloping nature in its course. Trees, crops, animals, houses and people were all sucked in the paths of landslides.

The Nepalese people have learnt to be resilient in this country of few resources. Survivors rebuilt and repaired their homes, reworked their land and set about trying to regenerate their livelihoods.

Whenever disasters such as earthquakes, severe flooding and droughts or major cyclones and hurricanes happen, it is not only the land that is fractured but family life too. The vulnerability of children in particular is exposed at such times.

In Nepal, the earthquake left behind orphaned children – and families and communities struggling desperately to cope with children. Children who had no school to go to any more, who were more prone to hunger and illness. Children who found themselves alone and vulnerable… and potentially embarking on a highly risky life on the street. The earthquake left more girls prey to sex traffickers.

The charity Community Support Nepal responded by offering sanctuary and safety in a family home. That home now cares for around 15 vulnerable children off the street. They are part of the family -- loved, fed, and provided with schooling. The charity also tries to trace any family that the child may have.

The home is already too small and food and clothing are a continuous need that has to be met by Community Support Nepal. The organisation was brought to the attention of our Global Neighbours committee through members of St Martin’s community. Since then we have visited it too and seen for ourselves the warmth of the hospitality – the true good neighbourliness – that it offers. The money St Martin’s has given and will continue to give is a small contribution towards the welfare of these children who are often traumatised by the disaster, loss of family and living on the streets as well as in need of care and a home.

Bella Ikpasaja

I want to share some something with you today that would concern all of us here at St Martin-in-the-Fields, as well as give hope in our shared humanity – as sisters, mothers, brothers, fathers, aunts and uncles…

To give context, since 2016 I have been personally championing the cause of an NGO called Standing Voice, after reading a newspaper article about their important work. SV defends the rights of persons with albinism in Africa, primarily in Tanzania, East Africa. Its administrative headquarters is in London.

Harry Freeland, a British documentary filmmaker and photographer, officially set up the charity in 2013, after years informally working in Tanzania. If you get a chance do check out In the Shadow of the Sun, his 2012 BBC documentary, which has been screened in more than 80 countries around the world to an estimated global audience of 12.5 million.

Albinism is a genetic condition that reduces melanin in the skin and eyes, causing vision problems and vulnerability to skin cancer, particularly in hot countries. Ostracised as ‘white demons’, people with albinism are often socially excluded in Tanzania, and struggle to access healthcare, education, housing and employment.

In terms of statistics..

- 98% die before the age of 40 because of skin cancer.

- Only 10% of children with albinism attend secondary school.

Some have been attacked and even killed for their body parts, which are used in so-called witchcraft practices.

The tide is turning ... despite the disturbing picture that is painted here, Standing Voice and its collaborators are giving hope to people with albinism in Tanzania (and increasingly in nearby Malawi), through local and international teams delivering Education, Health and Community programmes. From London, Standing Voice drives its Advocacy Programme working with partners including the UN, the World Bank, and multiple African governments.

Here is an excerpt from a Standing Voice Project Update, produced for St Martin in the Fields following our £1,000 donation last year: 

“In June 2018, Standing Voice was fortunate to deliver its second annual Summer Skills Workshop in Tanzania: a cross-disciplinary training programme helping people with albinism and their peers to develop skills and pursue income-generating opportunities and pathways of professional development. The workshops were delivered in the heart of Lake Victoria on the remote island of Ukerewe at our Umoja Training Centre: a community training facility providing skills development and economic enrichment to all users, and giving people with and without albinism a space to connect, learn and belong.

The support of St Martin-in-the-Fields allowed for the development of a demonstration community garden within our renovated grounds. Throughout the Summer Skills Workshop, land that had already been used informally to grow vegetables was treated and landscaped, ensuring a more successful yield in future. Ornamental plants and fruit trees were planted around the site. The subsequent planting of vegetables has had a significant impact on users’ nutritional intake, helping to diversify a local diet ordinarily consisting of just starch and fish.

Over time, we will continue training our beneficiaries to cultivate the plot of land into an efficient and well-managed community garden, improving the long-term health of participants and their dependents and furnishing an example to be replicated by others, improving the dietary health of the community at large. The introduction and initial development of the demonstration garden provided a fantastic opportunity for us to pilot a new training session in market gardening alongside our pre-established programmes.

Market gardening is a vital training discipline, not only due to the direct benefits an understanding of fresh food can have on the health of the community, but also because such training has the potential to provide an avenue for income through the selling of surplus products.”

In summary, SV is working tirelessly to change policy in African countries where persons with albinism are mostly affected, towards integrating our brothers and sisters under God’s creation back into mainstream society, to create environments to dream and prosper like you and me – as is our human right. My hope is that we continue our support, however small ... until I win the lottery. Thank you.

During this year’s Marketplace at St Martin's, in response to questions from the Global Neighbours committee, many of people stuck words and phrases about neighbourliness on the map at the Global Neighbours stall. Some people clearly wrote about characteristics of being a neighbour that they'd witnessed or learnt from a global neighbour/friend. Others wrote something they'd learnt more generally. It's a beautiful collection of experiences that we would like to read to you now.

This is what we’ve learnt from our global neighbours:
  • To seize the day
  • To live life to the full
  • A joy for adventure
  • To live joyfully
  • To delight in every day
  • To accept difference
  • To see different perspectives
  • We are equal in God’s eyes
  • We are one in Christ
  • We can learn from each other
  • We can stand together and work together for justice
  • We can keep in touch across distances
  • We can share celebrations
  • Friendship is HUGE
  • We are all part of one family
This is what we’ve learnt about being a neighbour:
  • Hospitality
  • Welcome
  • Caring
  • Sensitive
  • Depth of love
  • Generosity
  • Kindness
  • Open heartedness
  • Valuing simple things
  • Peace
  • Inner resourcefulness
  • Resilience
  • Building Bridges
  • Courage
  • Humility
  • Openness
  • Forgiveness
  • Hopefulness
  • Faithfulness
Just as faith seeks understanding, so neighbourliness should too. Our global neighbours share understanding with us and we deepen our roots in God and grow in our ability to live out faith in life, society and creation. That is the harvest which comes from the experience of having global neighbours. I have been helped and humbled by that experience in Johannesburg in the past week or so. Our Global Neighbours committee work throughout the year to strengthen and support the shared harvest of understanding and transformation that comes from our partnerships with our Global Neighbours. That harvest begins as we pray together for one another and as, in our different places around the world we join together in gratitude to God for the land, the world, the creation that has been gifted to us to tend, not exploit.


Holy Cross Choir - Wakhathazeka Umoya Wami.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Windows on the world (515)

Painswick, 2019


Julie & Buddy Miller - Till The Stardust Comes Apart.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Proclaiming the kingdom of God

Here is my reflection for today's Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

I was fortunate recently to be able to visit the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, as part of a visit to our partner church of St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg. Hector Pieterson, aged 13, was one the first students to be killed during the 1976 Student Uprising in Soweto. He has since become a symbol of youth resistance to apartheid. The uprising started on 16 June as a peaceful protest march organized by school students in Soweto. The events of the 1976 Soweto uprising saw township youth take control of the struggle and those events marked the beginning of the end of apartheid.

One of their main grievances was the introduction of Afrikaans, regarded as the language of the oppressor, as a medium of instruction in all African schools. Inspired by the ideas of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement, they resisted the Bantu Education system, introduced by the apartheid government in the 1950s, which was dubbed ‘gutter education’, being designed to train African people to accept a subservient role in apartheid society.

Hundreds of students joined the protest march planned by the South African Student Movement (SASM), to the Orlando Stadium East where they intended to meet with the authorities to voice their grievances. They carried placards with slogans – ‘Away with Afrikaans’, ‘Amandla Awehtu’ (Power to the People), ‘Free Azania’ (Free South Africa) and sang ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ (God bless Africa), now the national anthem of South Africa.

In Orlando West, police confronted the marchers and ordered them to disperse. Despite the peaceful nature of the march, the confrontation turned violent and was here that a number of students, including Hector Pieterson, were shot and killed. What was a student march, quickly erupted into an uprising, which spread to many other parts of the country. Our ‘Living South Africa Memorial’ is a memorial to this event and to all victims of injustice and violence.

While in South Africa I also saw a performance of ‘Eclipsed’, a play developed and performed by student of the Market Theatre Laboratory in Johannesburg. This was an electrifying journey into a major social and political scandal in South Africa, known as Life Esidemeni, brought about when cost savings in contracts resulted in 1,300 people who had been receiving care in from a specialist mental health provider were transferred to the care of their families, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other hospitals. Over 144 people subsequently died from causes including starvation and neglect.

The drama students drew on testimonies, articles, documentaries, news bulletins, and the commission statements that cross-examined the government officials responsible for this unspeakable tragedy, to devise a powerful physical interpretation of this event and its aftermath. Their re-telling of these events focused on Maria Phehla whose daughter, Deborah, was the first to die just three days after her transfer. The play was a protest at the events which caused the tragedy and the political situation in South Africa that allowed it to occur, but ended with Maria Phehla reminding the Court that all those who died were made in the image of God.

As with the Soweto uprising where young people sang ‘God bless Africa’, these young people were drawing on faith to explore meaning in chaos, scandal and protest. By doing so, whether consciously or not, they were sharing something of the kingdom of God and providing a means by which South Africans could engage with the scandal of Life Esidemeni in order, at least, to ensure those events were not repeated. In this way, the play provided healing space. God is continually calling people around the world in many and varied ways to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.

In our Gospel today we hear of Jesus choosing 12 disciples to spend significant time with him learning his ways and his teaching before sending them out to do as he was doing (Luke 9. 1-6). At a later point in time, he also sent out a further 72 disciples and he had other disciples who supported him through their daily work and incomes they earned. There is no one route to being called or sent by God and there is not one arena in which our calling is lived out. The students of the Soweto uprising and of the Market Theatre Laboratory were called and sent by God, just as surely as were the 12 apostles.

How, I wonder, are we proclaiming the kingdom of God and bringing forms of healing where we are? We might respond that we have not been trained or prepared to do so, yet the students in Soweto and Johannesburg had not been trained for political protests. Their actions came from a compulsion that this was what they had to do. Jesus told his disciples take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. He was saying, make no preparations, just go as you are. At the end of the day, you are enough, and what you say and do, can be used by God, as was the case for the 12 disciples and the students in Soweto and Johannesburg.

Jesus constantly argued that people should not delay in responding to God. Even farewells and burials were no reason for delay as far as Jesus was concerned. The times were such that urgency was required. That same urgency is there in the actions of the students in Soweto and Johannesburg. It is vital to seize the day and act in the here and now. Greta Thunberg and students involved in the School Strikes are further examples from our own day and time, in regard to the urgency of actions in the here and now. ‘Right here, right now’, was Greta Thunberg’s message to the UN, change is coming whether we like it or not.

Whether the imperative is the climate emergency, corruption, oppression, salvation; the times are urgent and the call of God, through the example of young people, is to go. Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority. He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said, ‘Take nothing for your journey’. They departed bringing good news and healing. May it be so for each one of us. Amen.


Michael Kiwanuka - You Ain't The Problem.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

St Martin-in-the-Fields, HeartEdge & St Mary the Virgin Cathedral, Johannesburg (4)

Here's the sermon that I preached at The Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin, Johannesburg, for their 90th Anniversary Celebration Service:

I bring greetings and congratulations from St Martin-in-the-Fields on your 90th Anniversary. It is a joy to us that we have shared in partnership during the latter period of those 90 years and a pleasure that the partnership has been revived and renewed since Dean Xolani began his ministry here. I am thrilled personally to have this opportunity to visit and learn from you and those you have given me the opportunity to meet in Johannesburg, here at the Cathedral and in Alexandra, Sophiatown and Soweto.

For my curacy, I was at a church in East London (UK, not South Africa!) which, because of its history, was full of images of white people although it had a large black majority congregation. The historical development of the church had created a disconnect between its past heritage, which was mono-cultural, and its current congregation, which was diverse. We realised that this disconnect couldn’t continue and had to be addressed. So, we commissioned an artist to create a painting as an altarpiece in one of the side chapels and took Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance cooking breakfast for his disciples beside Lake Galilee as the image for this painting. We stipulated that Jesus should be black and his disciples’ multi-ethnic. When the image was unveiled Eileen, our black churchwarden, shed tears of joy that the diversity of our congregation was now reflected to some degree in the imagery and story of the church and that she and others from the Black and Minority Ethnic communities in that place could see themselves in the story of faith depicted within that church.

I learned that this image became a sign of the kingdom in the church and changed our culture for the better. Signs show what is in front of us, so reflect where we are and direct us somewhere else, so point us to the future. The creation of this image revealed our lack of diversity in the past and created a greater appreciation for the diversity we had found in the present. The image provided a way of affirming that such diversity is our future in God’s kingdom. Similarly, the visual art which is here in St Mary’s or which has been here over the years provides one way to tell the story of your 90 years as the Cathedral for Johannesburg, as well as indicating possible areas of development as you begin your next 90 years.

In 1936 Ernest Mancoba’s African Madonna, which is now held by the Johannesburg Art Gallery, was displayed here to raise funds for those in need in the drought-stricken Limpopo. This sculpture seems to be the earliest South African interpretation of the Holy Virgin that is not European in appearance. Unlike most church sculptures in South Africa for which imported oak or teak was favoured, Mancoba carved his figure of indigenous yellowwood. Mancoba’s ‘sculptures Africanized the prevailing Western norms of iconography and aesthetics.’ (Elza Miles)

So, here at an early stage in the life of the Cathedral was a black artist using indigenous materials to create a genuinely African image of a central figure in the Christian faith. Mancoba trained as a sculptor at the Grace Dieu Mission near Polokwane, where artists such as Gerard Sekoto and Job Kekana also trained. Grace Dieu Mission was Africa’s first modern art workshop and developed a trademark style of wood carving that won considerable critical acclaim in the 1930s and allowed the school, through commercial activity, to support and promote the first professional black artists in South Africa.

Job Kekana carved relief panels of the lives of the saints for your pulpit in the 1940s. He was a skilled sculptor who undertook all manner of carvings for churches, from pews to pulpits. He spoke of wanting his religious carvings to be ‘true’ historically, and therefore usually only depicted Biblical figures as Africans in African settings if specifically requested to do so. His relief panels here were designed by Martinus Moolman, a teacher at Grace Dieu, and depict European figures in traditional drapery. Those depicting St Ambrose, Thomas Aquinas and St Chrysostom show these saints in architectural settings which required Kekana to use elaborate perspective. So, under the influence of Grace Dieu’s teachers, Kekana’s work primarily followed the conventions of European church art.

Above the chancel steps and dominating the whole church is your famous hanging rood, an almost life-size wood-carving of the Crucifixion that was hung in 1957 as a memorial to William Palmer, Dean from 1924 to 1951. Palmer had been part of the Campaign for Right and Justice which called for full and direct representation of all sections of the community, irrespective of race. By the 1950s, the Cathedral had become one of the few racially integrated churches in downtown Johannesburg, yet it was decided that your rood should be made in England. The artist was George Baden-Beadle, who was Secretary, then Managing Director of Faith Craft; a business, set up through The Society of the Faith, that successfully and creatively produced church furnishings, vestments and other ecclesiastical artefacts from 1921 – 1972.

In this same period the artist Cecil Skotnes was employed as the cultural Recreation Officer at the Polly Street Recreational Centre here in Johannesburg. Under his guidance Polly Street came to be identified as an Art Centre and a significant training ground for a new generation of artists who were able to experiment and make work, developing and honing their skills to the point where they too were recognized as professional career artists. Skotnes was able to put the Centre and the students in touch with an array of contacts including many foreign visitors and dealers, as well as acquiring commissions from churches and the City Council. This continued until the apartheid authorities effectively shut down Polly Street. Skotnes also undertook commissions himself and, in 1983, created Stations of the Cross for this Cathedral in memory of Fr. Neville Jarvis Palmer. With his woodcuts, in particular, Skotnes is reckoned to have developed a genre and a style that was uniquely South African.

More recently the sculpture 'Sinethemba' by Chaim Stephenson was installed in 2015. This was almost twenty-one years after the arrival of democracy in South Africa and the dedication by Archbishop Desmond Tutu at St Martin-in-the-Fields of the sculpture of which 'Sinethemba' is a twin, our ‘Living South Africa Memorial’ to victims of injustice and violence. The sculptures were inspired, as you know better than I, by the iconic image of the shooting of Hector Pieterson in Soweto in 1976. Sam Wells, the vicar of St Martin’s, said, in a sermon here, that, ‘In 1976, [this] was a picture of the brutality and injustice of the apartheid regime, and the solidarity and resilience of the struggle to bring democracy and the rule of law to South Africa’. By 1994, the sculpture portrayed the burden the anti-apartheid movement had carried for so long. Then, in 2013, ‘when we at St Martin’s gathered with so many South African friends to mark the passing of Nelson Mandela, the image asked a question: Mandela had carried South Africa in his arms for so long; who would carry South Africa now?’ Now, he suggests, ‘it may be that this statue is a declaration of faith that the God who in Christ has brought forgiveness, is in the business of bringing resurrection too’. All this Christian reflection initiated by a Jewish artist was was inspired by stories from the bible, despite not practicing religion himself.

The story told by your artworks demonstrates the power that the visual arts possess in reflecting and shaping culture. Culture is a key aspect of the model of mission – culture, compassion, commerce and congregation - with which St Martin’s has worked over the past 30 years and which we have made the basis of HeartEdge, the international ecumenical movement of churches of which St Martin’s and St Mary’s are both part. That is because, as human beings made in the image of God, we are culture-making people who create communities, fashion environments and shape societies.

Our Bible readings today (Genesis 2. 4b-8, 15, 18-23; Philippians 4. 4-9; Matthew 13. 31 & 32) begin with God’s creativity in fashioning our world and our own creativity experienced because we are made in God’s image. The world that was fashioned through creativity God called good, and God gave to us, as human beings, the task of caring for and cultivating this world using our own creativity. Adam and Eve’s task of tending the garden, the primary task of agriculture, represents the beginnings of cultural life on earth.
One of the formative aspects of this creative culture-making is to name the good that we see in the created world - the creatures, people, artefacts and cultures around us - and, by naming these things, to increase our understanding of the world and cultures that we inhabit. Of course, our creative culture-making can be used both for good and ill, as you know only too well in this country. Indeed, this passage from Genesis has been used to justify the oppression of patriarchy. God’s intent, however, is that we use our creative abilities to see and name the essence of all that is around us and use that knowledge to support our mutual flourishing. St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, revived this understanding with his injunction to look for what is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy in that which is around us. Jesus called us to use our creativity in creating signs of the kingdom of God which start small and then grow in ways that provide shelter and support to others.

So, we have been formed by God to be creative culture makers seeing and naming the good in order that we create signs of the kingdom of God. That is what you have done here over your first 90 years in creating an inclusive community that has supported social justice and engaged with culture, commerce, compassion and congregation in order to be a sign of the kingdom of God here in Johannesburg. That was what was happening when, for example, several of your deans were deported for challenging aspects of apartheid, when the first black Dean was appointed, when land and property were developed to provide financial support for the Cathedral, and when visual art was created for or brought into this space.

Your artworks are also signs of the kingdom of God as it has been expressed here in St Mary’s. Signs, as we noted earlier, show what is before us and aspects of these artworks reflect the time in which they were made and the issues current at that time. Your art is by a diverse group of artists and shows a diversity of approaches which sometimes engage with contemporary issues and sometimes seek to show that the Christian story is for all times and all cultures. In this way a diverse set of answers have emerged to the questions of who creates, what is created, and of how cultures change depending on the answers given to those questions. Similar dilemmas were also experienced in my curacy where the image of the black Christ in our Youth Chapel was created by a white artist.

So I wonder how will these same questions be answered here in the future? Who are the artists that could create images for this Cathedral in the future? What images would create signs of welcome, community and inclusion in these times of when around our world particular groups in society are being scapegoated, targeted and attacked? Many of the artworks here come from initiatives that combined culture and commerce to provide routes out of poverty and oppression. What equivalent initiatives are needed today to provide similar opportunities in different ways? Could initiatives like that be part of your plans for the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Precinct? How can we, as inclusive Christian communities, create signs of God's kingdom today in the midst of the scapegoating and violence that surrounds us?

Signs also point forward towards a place we have yet to reach. Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God as something small in the here and now which then grows to become large in the future. What are the small seeds that you can plant in the here and now that may have similar impact in the future to that which was achieved by Grace Dieu Mission, Faith Works and the Polly Street Art Centre? Each of these began as something small but grew to have significant impact.

Speaking of the need for HeartEdge as a movement for renewal in the Church, Sam Wells has said: ‘The church … has to let its financial needs and the material poverty of many it encounters become entry-points to new adventures, new relationships, new discoveries in God’s kingdom. What are needed now are communities of ordinary virtues, but ones infused with grace: thus trust, honesty, politeness, forbearance, and respect are the bedrock of such communities, while tolerance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and resilience are among its abiding graces.’ As an inclusive community with a commitment to the Arts, a commercial basis to your financial sustainability, and a compassionate commitment to engaging with the pressing issues of your time, over the past 90 years this Cathedral has been an example of the HeartEdge mission model lived out in practice. That is one of many reasons why we, at St Martin’s, are so proud to be in partnership with you and so pleased that you are using the HeartEdge framework of compassion, culture, commerce and congregation to review your current mission and ministry.

Christ calls us to create signs of the kingdom of God in each generation. Those signs cannot simply repeat what has gone before. They need to be creative re-imaginings of the kingdom for the present time? So I wonder, where are the artists, the dreamers, the ideas people and creatives in this congregation and community? Where are energy, inspiration and initiative to be found in the wider community, beyond the congregation, with which you can partner for the future?

As we look back to celebrate what this Cathedral has been and has enabled over the past 90 years, including its art and culture, we also need to look forward and take inspiration to go on new adventures, develop new relationships and make new discoveries which will enable us to be and become signs of the kingdom of God for this time and this day here in South Africa, here in Johannesburg. What are needed now are congregations that combine creativity with commercial acumen and compassion. Communities of ordinary virtues infused with grace; with trust, honesty, politeness, forbearance, and respect as their bedrock and tolerance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and resilience among their abiding graces.

Let us pray: We pray for the dreamers of this life, O God, for those persons who imagine new possibilities, who long for what others cannot perceive, who spin dreams of wonder and majesty in their minds. Defend them from ridicule and harsh criticism, from self-doubt and lack of faith in their dreams, and from abandonment of this call to make things new. Grant that from their dreams may come forth blessings for humankind to enrich the quality of life and the wonderment of us all. Amen (Ashley Marinaccio)

Click here to view the sermon.


Amadodana ka Eliya.

St Martin-in-the-Fields, HeartEdge & St Mary the Virgin Cathedral, Johannesburg (3)

Day 5 of my visit to Johannesburg took me firstly to Sophiatown. Sophiatown and the western area neighbourhoods were historically famous particularly for their racially-mixed communities which were a hive of artistic, political, business and intellectual and cultural innovations from the early 1930s until apartheid legislation destroyed them beginning in 1955. Sophiatown was a celebrated freehold and the first area in South Africa to feel the force of apartheid’s Native Resettlement Act and Group Areas segregation.

By 1962, Sophiatown had been flattened and rebuilt as a whites-only area called Triomf, yet Sophiatown today is probably one of the most diverse suburbs in Johannesbug, with long time residents from the 1960s, returned residents from the 1950s, and new families and students who know little of the area's rich past.

Father Trevor Huddleston was sent to Sophiatown in 1943 to continue the education and pastoral work of his religious community, Community of the Resurrection, based in the UK. He was 30 years old and found a vibrant community which instantly took him to its heart. By the time he was 42 years old, he had written a book about apartheid called 'Naught for Your Comfort'. It was banned in South Africa but sold 250,000 copies all over the world, so many people came to hear about apartheid. When Fr Huddleston returned to the UK in 1956 he committed to the struggle in new ways, and was one of the founding members of the 'Boycott Movement' - the pre-cursor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the UK.

The Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Building, was officially opened in September 2015, by elders and youth with links to Fr Huddleston, in the presence of families who had lived in Sophiatown before the forced removals, and residents who live there today. Here work continues to enable young South African’s to develop their full potential, following in the footsteps of hundreds of youngsters who were schooled and supported by Fr Trevor and his colleagues and brothers working across Soweto and the historic western area neighbourhoods close to historic Sophiatown.

Their vision is a Sophiatown and surrounding communities where all people truly belong: where there is healing, opportunity and prosperity; so that resources are used to create a society where none live in poverty. Their values are inspired by the life-long service of Fr Huddleston to the recognition of every person’s intrinsic and equal value: they aim to operate with integrity, a focus on service, while valuing innovation and respecting diversity. Their venues, known as Sophiatown the Mix - are a state of the art ‘green’ building and an original 1930s Sophiatown home that has a rich history and can be viewed as a museum.

Christ the King, Sophiatown was an icon of the liberation struggle in South Africa. In this way, under the spiritual guidance of the Community of the Resurrection (CR) fathers it kept the proclamation, practice, and spirit akin of the historical institution of the feast day of its dedication – No heavenly and earthly power is above that of Christ, and those made in God’s image may not be subordinated. In 1940 Trevor Huddleston CR was appointed Rector. His ashes reside at a memorial site at the back of the church. It is often used for memorial services and is an attractive tourist destination. On the north-eastern side of the church there is a mural depicting Huddleston walking the dusty streets of Sophiatown. This mural was painted by 12 apprentice students under patronage of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation. It shows two children tugging at his cassock as well as Sekoto’s famous yellow houses.

Inside the church, a mosaic depicting Christ with multiracial disciples in contemporary dress has been unveiled. Designed by artist Bon Chandiyamba, the work was produced after an act of philanthropy by a British businessman. Stephen Hargrave, a regular visitor to Johannesburg, commissioned it when he learned how a previous mural at the church was destroyed. The original mural had been painted between 1938 and 1941 by an Anglican nun, Sister Margaret. Only blurred photographs remain of her vision of a white Jesus and his white disciples. It was whitewashed over and lost after the church was sold to the government in 1967 and used as a boxing gym. The church also has Stations of the Cross painted by O. J. Zwane in 2006. 

From Sophiatown I went to the Apartheid Museum, which opened in 2001 and is acknowledged as the pre-eminent museum in the world dealing with 20th century South Africa, at the heart of which is the apartheid story. An architectural consortium, comprising several leading architectural firms, conceptualised the design of the building on a seven-hectare stand. The museum is a superb example of design, space and landscape offering the international community a unique South African experience.

The exhibits have been assembled and organised by a multi-disciplinary team of curators, film-makers, historians and designers. They include provocative film footage, photographs, text panels and artefacts illustrating the events and human stories that are part of the epic saga, known as apartheid. A series of 22 individual exhibition areas takes the visitor through a dramatic emotional journey that tells a story of a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination and the struggle of the majority to overthrow this tyranny.

For anyone wanting to understand and experience what apartheid South Africa was really like, a visit to the Apartheid Museum is fundamental. The museum is a beacon of hope showing the world how South Africa is coming to terms with its oppressive past and working towards a future that all South Africans can call their own.

Similarly with Constitution Hill, which I visited on Day 6 of my trip. Constitution Hill is a living museum that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. The site is a former prison and military fort that bears testament to South Africa’s turbulent past and, today, is home to the country’s Constitutional Court, which endorses the rights of all citizens.

There is perhaps no other site of incarceration in South Africa that imprisoned the sheer number of world-renowned men and women as those held within the walls of the Old Fort, the Women's Jail and Number Four. Nelson Mandela. Mahatma Gandhi. Joe Slovo. Albertina Sisulu. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Fatima Meer. They all served time here. But the precinct also confined tens of thousands of ordinary people during its 100-year history: men and women of all races, creeds, ages and political agendas; the indigenous and the immigrant; the everyman and the elite. In this way, the history of every South African lives here.

Constitution Hill is also a place of contrasts: of injustice and justice, of oppression and liberation. The precinct is testament to the importance of preserving sites of atrocity for posterity, and also to recreating them so that they can serve the purposes of the present and serve to mould the future.

Part of what makes the Constitutional Court such a remarkable building is its fusion of architecture, art and adornment. It is a space that reflects a profound interest in humanity and a deep yearning for justice, both of which are evidenced in the court’s aesthetic, including its permanent, curated art collection.

The curation of this collection was driven by Justices Albie Sachs and Yvonne Mokgoro, who began by commissioning Joseph Ndlovu to create a tapestry titled 'Humanity' that would reflect humanity and social interdependence in the new democratic South Africa’s Bill of Rights. Prominent South African artist Cecil Skotnes donated a panel depicting his interpretation of democracy, a work called Freedom. Willie Bester’s Discussion, William Kentridge’s Sleeper – Black, Robert Hodgins’ Hotel with Landscape and Marlene Dumas’s The Benefit of the Doubt soon followed. A special ceremony was held for the installation of The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent by Judith Mason, a work that is based on proceedings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and one that is now perhaps the court’s most famous piece.

Today, art not only adorns the walls of the Constitutional Court at Constitution Hill. It is in the foyer’s chandeliers and light fittings, designed by sculptor Walter Oltmann. It is in the court’s rugs, carpets and acoustic panels, designed by Andrew Verster. It is in the engraved doors, carved gates and mosaicked columns, and in the abundant use of texture and symbolism.

I was fortunate to enjoy two trips to the Market Theatre, on the second of which I saw a performance of ‘Eclipsed’, a play developed and performed by student of the Market Theatre Laboratory in Johannesburg. This was an electrifying journey into a major social and political scandal in South Africa, known as Life Esidemeni, brought about when cost savings in contracts resulted in 1,300 people who had been receiving care in from a specialist mental health provider were transferred to the care of their families, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other hospitals. Over 144 people subsequently died from causes including starvation and neglect.

The drama students drew on testimonies, articles, documentaries, news bulletins, and the commission statements that cross-examined the government officials responsible for this unspeakable tragedy, to devise a powerful physical interpretation of this event and its aftermath. Their re-telling of these events focused on Maria Phehla whose daughter, Deborah, was the first to die just three days after her transfer. The play was a protest at the events which caused the tragedy and the political situation in South Africa that allowed it to occur, but ended with Maria Phehla reminding the Court that all those who died were made in the image of God. These young people were drawing on faith to explore meaning in chaos, scandal and protest. By doing so, whether consciously or not, they were sharing something of the kingdom of God and providing a means by which South Africans could engage with the scandal of Life Esidemeni in order, at least, to ensure those events were not repeated. In this way, the play provided healing space.

Young people played a vital role in the struggle against apartheid. The events of the 1976 Soweto uprising saw township youth take control of the struggle and those events marked the beginning of the end of apartheid. Young people continue to advocate for change in South Africa and St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg wish to support their development as current activists and future leaders within South Africa. As part of a wider leadership development initiative for young people at the Cathedral, a group of nine young people and two adults will visit St Martin’s from 6 – 17 April 2020 to gain a broader set of leadership and cultural experiences. My visit involved time spent with the young people of the Cathedral exploring understandings and examples of leadership and the beginning of preparations for their youth pilgrimage in 2020.


Christ the King, Sophiatown.