I’ve just come back from my first visit to South Africa.  The Diocese of Oxford has been linked for many years with the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman.  K and K covers a vast area (someone said the size of Germany): mining towns and sparsely populated rural communities. I spent four days in Kimberley with over fifty people involved in links and partnerships across our two diocese.  Here’s a snapshot. 

Thursday 14th September

I arrive at Kimberley Airport after an 18 hour journey from Oxford.  The welcome is amazing.  I’m met by a Marimba band from the cathedral school, Bishop Ossie, Archdeacon Olivia, a crowd waving flags, singing and dancing and some (bemused) officials from the airport.  The party goes on for some time.

Bishop Ossie and I preside together at the opening Eucharist at the conference venue then introduce our respective dioceses.  The planning team introduce the conference.  We dwell in the Word and begin to get to know each other.  I sleep well on my first night in South Africa.

Friday 15th September

Study together around three of our four themes.  First discipleship with Bishop Martin Breytanbach, who leads on this for the Province of South Africa.  It’s a good presentation but I’m distracted by glad tidings of great joy (see below).

Second Care for Creation.  The highlight of the day.  The Revd. Dr. Rachel Mash leads on environmental issues for the Anglican Church in the Southern Africa and for the Anglican Communion.  She gives a passionate and rich and hopeful presentation.  I take pages of notes.  Fact of the day: an average rise in global temperatures of 1.5% (what the world is aiming for) means a 3% rise in South Africa.  One half of the country is already living with water shortages and the other with rising sea levels and extreme weather events.  This is a present reality not a future threat.

The whole conference is inspired.  I invite Rachel to come to our clergy conference next year.

Our third issue is Advocacy on Inequality with input from Canon Professor Graham Ward of Christ Church (linked with St Cyprian’s Cathedral) and the Revd. Dr Janet Trisk.  Again, expert presentations and deeply challenging.

Just before we break, the two bishops announce that Catharine Morris, from Oxford, became engaged that morning to Father Vusi, from Kimberley and Kuruman.  Joy and song break out across the gathering.  A gala dinner that evening, courtesy of our hosts.  The visiting team scrub up well.  I discover that both bishops are expected to dance.  Bishop Ossie is rather good….

Saturday 16th September

A visit to the Macgregor Museum in Kimberley to learn the history of the region and, of course, the long struggle against apartheid and the part Britain played as the colonial power.  I know the story but see it afresh and painfully through African eyes.

Then we are joined by (I guess) around a hundred young people from churches across the Diocese: more Marimba; more singing and dance; more conversation about including young people fully in the life and decision making of the Church (our fourth theme).  We have several youth leaders in our team.  The South African young people are a delight.  I meet a group of teenagers wanting to know how to be priests and a young ordinand in her early twenties.  The Link is helping to support her training.

Sunday 17th September

The group from Oxford visits several parishes in the area. Our group drive out to one of the poorest areas, St. Paul’s Parish.  The houses we pass gradually become smaller until they are, mainly, simple shacks in great numbers.  Hundreds gather for the main Sunday service including many children and young people.  I am invited to preside as well as preach.  It is an extraordinary honour.

The service is full of joy and singing and dance.  There is no band: all the instruments are within the congregation: a drum, a whistle, bells,  Christ is present.  The Churchwardens and the Priest explain to me that they would love a link with an Oxford parish.  The Vicarage has been condemned as unsafe so the priest has to drive in from a rented house 10 km away each time someone is sick or dies.  The parish has just begun a major fundraising effort to replace the house.

Father Tire, our guide, tells me his memories of a priest in St Paul’s during the apartheid years.  The police would come to wherever he was Sunday by Sunday and after the service they would arrest him and beat him and hold him prisoner for several days. Still the next week he would return.

In the afternoon the whole group gather again at St. Cyprian’s Cathedral.  We do further work on our four themes and how we will walk together in the future.  The day finishes with choral evensong.  I present Bishop Ossie with a framed graphic to remind them of Oxford’s journey with the beatitudes this coming year and ask Kimberley and Kuruman to pray for us.

Monday 18th September

We gather and say thank you and depart.  It has been a profound and good learning experience for all of us, I think.  I leave strongly committed to the link, to Kimberley and Kuruman, thankful for new companions on the journey not blind to the challenges but also full of hope.

Thanks be to God and to all who led us in our days together.  More stories and pictures from the visit are here.

+Steven Oxford

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