LETTER FROM AMERICA
TEN DAYS in January consolidated the
continuing church movement in South Africa with the consecrations and
enthronements of three bishops for the Church of the Umzi Wasi Tyopiya
(Traditional Rite) and the enthronement of a bishop for the Anglican Church in
Southern Africa (Traditional Rite). The consecrations were a celebration over a
century in the making for the Umzis through faith and prayer, battles and
brutality resulting in a vibrant, living church. The Anglican Church in Southern
Africa has also been resolute in defence of their faith deserving the permanent
presence of their own bishop. Preparations were months in the making and bishops
and laity gathered in South Africa from as far away as Australia and the United
States of America with blessings and prayers from all over the world.
FORWARD IN FAITH CONNECTION
Located in the poverty stricken township of New Brighton, Port Elizabeth the Kaizer Ngwhwana Pro Cathedral of the Church of the Umzi Wase Tyopiya is a former movie theatre. It has been transformed with a white tiled sanctuary, choir and clergy stalls, and external bricking and church offices superimposing the projection room. A wonderful domed Tabernacle provided by the Forward in Faith Parish of All Saints Church in Brisbane dominates the altar. The building seats some 2000 and is frequently filled to capacity. The people are primarily Xhosa and have lived in the Eastern Cape and the Transkei from the middle 1500s. They know their faith and are fierce in its defence and passionate in its presentation. Singing is elemental to worship and is approached with exuberance, skill and energy. Their liturgy is a dichotomy of eclectic ritual interspaced with traditional Xhosa practices.
Zwelinzima Michael Mjekula, Mbulelo Matthew Ngqono and Zalisile Waddleton Gqwabaza were consecrated at the Pro-Cathedral on Sunday 14 January. Chief consecrator was Archbishop Louis Falk, Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion. He was assisted by Bishop John Hepworth, Diocesan of the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia, Bishop Wellborn Hudson from Arizona, USA, and former Episcopal Visitor to South Africa, and Bishop Trevor Rhodes, former bishop of Colombia and bishop-elect for the Anglican Church in Southern Africa (Traditional Rite). The ceremony lasted six hours climaxing with the new bishops, clothed in identical copes in colours of gold, black and brown with identical croziers carved from African wood, receiving their mitres. The congregation could not be contained and clapped and danced before breaking spontaneously into the Te Deum. Then, out of nowhere appeared a man in leopard skins, brandishing a bludgeon, his face contorted as he cried out to the new bishops. Guests and visitors drew back in fear until they learned he was the Imbongi (praise singer) a traditional poet sent to praise the bishops, reminding them that "...100 years ago the white man brought the faith to the people but did not allow them to elect their own bishops. Now the Traditional Anglican Communion has come and consecrated our bishops..." He turned to the bishops in a frenzy "..may you be brave as a lion, strong as an elephant!"
Exultation erupted as the car carrying the Bishop Ngqono appeared to the waiting crowds at the Pro-Cathedral Church of St Peter, East London, on Tuesday 16 January. Singing crowds, with members of the Mothers' Union bearing banners, marched down the street welcoming their new bishop. For many it was their first glimpse of him. The long journey from East London to the consecrations at Port Elizabeth was not possible for everyone. So many of the people cannot afford vehicles. A formal dinner was held following the enthronement. A surprise revisit by the two Imbongi, who had materialised during the church ceremony adorned with horns in their headdress, startled the guests. They stunned the official table with a message for each person - in both Xhosa and English!
A five-hour trek to the Transkei, for another enthronement, was on the agenda for the following morning. A convoy of vehicles wound its way through the mountains into some of the most spectacular scenery in South Africa. Travellers were afforded a snapshot of rural villages where inhabitants come to the roadside to glimpse the rare sight of motor vehicles driving past. Eventually the sealed road came to an end and the final stage of the journey was on a rutted red soil road. As the convoy neared St Michael and All Angels, Queenstown, excited people lined the way to the mud brick church. Car windows were wound down so that contact could be made with the enthusiastic crowd. It was their first glimpse of Bishop Gqwabaza returning as their Father-in-God. The church, built by the bishop, was filled to capacity with members of the diocese and visitors including clerics from the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, and local chiefs who had come to offer words of welcome. Bishop Gqwabaza's daughter was the Imbongi, reducing him to tears with her passionate poem of praise. At the conclusion of the service many people came up to eulogise and offer words of encouragement.
The advent of a diocesan for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (Traditional Rite) was also significant. On Sunday 21 January Bishop Trevor Rhodes was enthroned by the archbishop at All Saints, Seshego, Piertersburg. These traditional Anglicans have fought hard in defence of their faith against the CPSA decision to ordain women believing steadfastly in their right to 'continue'. ACSA became part of the Traditional Anglican Communion in October 1992 following a visit from the Archbishop Falk.
Two of the new bishops, with some of the clergy, from the Church of the Umzi Wase Tyopiya drove from the Eastern Cape to attend. The Vicar General, the Very Reverend Raymond Ball, was splendid as MC. Fr Ball has been an admirable shepherd-in-waiting for the church travelling vast distances during his septuagenarian years. Bishop Rhodes won the hearts of his people when, at the end of his sermon, he finished in the native language of Shona (much to the amazement and confusion of his interpreter). Following blessings of the children and the adults, who refused to be left out, the archbishop blessed and spoke with the children he had baptised in November 1992 when the Anglican Church in Southern Africa (Traditional Rite) applied to become part of the TAC.
From poverty and pain, apartheid and the onset of assimilation juxtaposed with an unconditional love of God and profound spirituality has emerged an expansive, living church that is passionate, dynamic and determined to continue the faith. The ceremonies, feasts and banquets, extraordinary hospitality and rich spirituality will long remain in the hearts and minds of the visitors that travelled to South Africa this year.
Cheryl Woodman is secretary to Bishop John Hepworth of the Traditional Anglican Communion
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