Welcome to the College of Transfiguration, NPC - a provincial centre for the training of Anglican clergy.

GRADUATION CEREMONY SPEECH BY ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS NJONGONKULU NDUNGANE 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

I greet you all in the name of our Lord and Saviour Amen. I was deeply honoured to have received your kind invitation to deliver this address at this Graduation Ceremony and on the occasion of celebrating a quarter of a century of training women and men for the Anglican priesthood. As someone who has held theological education close to my heart throughout my priesthood, this is an invitation I could not have overlooked. Besides I have had a close association with the college as I was asked to preside over a process of amalgamating St Peters, St Pauls and St Bedes. 
 
Those who know me will not be surprised when I express my support for theological education, since it is one of the fundamentals of the church. If we lose the vision of providing a sound, preferably residential, theological education for those called to the priesthood, and then the very substance of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa will suffer. As we trace our fingers back over the decades, we are able to recognise where the church has stuttered in its deep commitment to theological education, and none of us wishes to see this happen again. 
The fact, however, that the College of Transfiguration is marking its 25th anniversary says much for its vision and determination to provide the grounding necessary for our age. It celebrates this milestone in the same year in which we are Anglicans in Southern Africa mark a quarter of a century since the first woman was ordained in our Province. It is therefore fitting that we can mark both these milestones in the presence of the first woman Rector of this College, the Revd Canon Dr Vicentia Kgabe, and recognizes that this institution has an excellent mix of both genders on its staff. Ezandleni!! 
 
In reflecting on this address my mind went back to my own years as a student in the residential environment of the Federal Theological College of South Africa. Fedsem as it was fondly known is now sadly defunct. It was there that I sat at the feet of some of the giants of theological education in South Africa, and there that in community I learnt to embrace what I call the Rule of Life. This entailed a discipline that has stood me in good stead throughout my ministry: daily Morning Prayer, the Eucharist, and Evening Prayer as well as time to be alone. This was achieved because of the encouragement one had by living in community and not least by the ministry of members of the Community of the Resurrection, the CR’s as we called them. Who were responsible for our formation at St Peters College, Fedsem. 
 
I mention this because I believe that residential training makes for a solid foundation for priests to go out and tell the Good News to all of God’s people. It is my belief that our church should work tirelessly to have young ordinands spend at least three years in colleges and then, if possible, to go on to experience college life in other institutions too. I was fortunate to do this when I went to King’s College in London. There I studied under some of the great theological minds of our time, the most influential being Professor Gordon Dunstan. He was an austere and disciplined man, but a good teacher who instilled in me the values that I have followed in my ministry. His mantra was: “First Order: Principles; Second Order: Rules”. 
 
The principle behind this is simple, and should speak to us all as we minister in the world. The fact is that society makes rules, and this we should remember as priests when we minister to the world. But we may have to break those rules, based on our principles. This we need to do because there are no aliens in the household of God. 
 
It is against this background that we as Anglicans should recognised that the number of candidates now undergoing formal theological college education in no way meets the demands of parishes in South Africa. We are short of priests. Our colleges should be full. There was a day when the Anglican Church had four colleges- St Peter’s at the Fedsem; St Bedes Mthatha; St Pauls Grahamstown; Lelapha la Yesu in Maseru- and they were full. We should pause to wonder why this is no longer the case. 
 
I want to identify four key questions that we need to take cognisance of in our theological training and deal with them as seamlessly a possible, for they interwoven in the tapestry of our training for ministry. These are: 
What sort of theological training do we provide to prepare our priests that they may understand their role in society? 
Do we prepare our priests to reflect on God’s word in communities in God’s world? 
How key is spiritual formation? And 
What does the College of Transfiguration do to attract more candidates and stimulate more Anglicans to respond to the call of the priesthood? 
 
As I these questions, I have no doubt that each of you, as good Anglicans, has ready answers. These may include our Anglican belief in the centrality of the Eucharist, or any of the other great teachings that have been handed down to us by our fathers and mothers in the faith. But the more difficult answers lie in providing an education which gives to our students a deep understanding of the church’s place in the world, and in rooting our theology within the context of the society in which we live. 
 
Perhaps we can take a leaf out of two pages in history that speak to us here: one page written in Germany, and the other one penned here in South Africa. 
 
Dietrich Bonheoffer, a Lutheran pastor who was brutally executed by the Nazis just a few days before the end of World War 2, was a teacher who never treated from holding accountable those who governed. It cost him his life, but it gave the world an immortal lesson that the teachings of Jesus, so brilliantly recorded in the New Testament, simply cannot be ignored if we are to be faithful priests. And this is because the church cannot ignore the socio-political and economic questions of whatever age it finds itself ministering in. 
 
Bonheoffer knew this and worked tirelessly to challenge to challenge the evil political masters of Germany. It is instructive that as early as early as 1935, Bonheoffer put his signature to a letter which Niemoller had drafted and addressed to office bearers of the church in Germany: “The grace of God has called the church of Jesus Christ in Germany: “The grace of God has called the church of Jesus Christ in Germany, under pressure and necessity, to hear afresh only his word, and to obey afresh only the one lawful will of our heavenly Lord. We ought to ask him not to let the work go out of his hands.[1] 
 
The letter goes on to ask whether the church and its pastors are ready for the struggle and speaks about the challenges facing the Confessing Church. Bonheoffer’s prison letters, written during the last two years of his life, are perhaps the best-known of his works. He called for mature, credible Christian faith to be lived out in an increasingly secular, irreligious world. He struggled with the problem of how the biblical message of liberation and redemption can be announced to a world which has ‘come of age’. The church does not live for itself – it is the church of Jesus Christ breaks through denominational and national barriers.[2] 
 
Bonheoffer had a firm foundation that provided him with his resolve to be a good priest who, in the face of the face of the most horrendous onslaught on humanity in the 1940s, provided a ministry which still speaks to us 75 years on. 
The South African page that I want us to reflect on is of more recent vintage and speaks of the ecumenical church’s difficult but unwavering battle against apartheid, and its eventual massive influence in overcoming this heresy. I need only mention names such as our own Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Dr Beyers Nade, and Mmutlanyane Mogoba- all theological educationists in their own right- for us to remember the great witness of the church leaders of the horrendous apartheid era. 
 
One of the most influential documents of those days was the Kairos Document of 1985. If you have not already done so, it bears close study by all students priests. Underlying its thinking was the affirmation that the dignity of human beings is basic to our understanding of the doctrine of creation. This was fundamental of Archbishop Tutu’s beliefs. I noted this in a chapter I penned in the book, Archbishop Tutu: Prophetic Witness in South Africa, when I wrote; “[Tutu] believes firmly that human beings are created in God’s image. Creation in God’s image is generally held to entail three elements: 
That each person is valuable in the sight of God and, therefore, has intrinsic worth and dignity; 
That human beings share a common identity. Humanity that is created in the likeness of the Godhead shares that quality of unity, which is a unity in diversity; 
that human beings have been given a task to be God’s stewards on earth. As such, they have a responsibility to care for God’s creation, and that entails accountability.” 

Why am I saying this? South Africa is today at another crossroads. Our society is in crisis. To be blunt, we have a leadership crisis with a situation in which corruption is rampant, government pursues unnecessary nuclear energy deals, feeds us fake news, and non-delivery is reported daily. In the end, the poor are suffering- the very people that you, as priests from this seminary are going to minister to. Lullaby theology is no answer to their suffering. Costly grace is required- just as Bonheoffer told the Confessing Church in Germany. The costly grace which saw many men and women of faith lose their lives in the apartheid era. I am not the only one saying this. Courageous people such as Sipho Pityana, Barney Pityana and Archbishop Desmond have been outspoken in their opposition to our situation. It is also important for the church of today to be speaking out consistently against the injustices, the corruption, the non-delivery, and other scandals, we see before our eyes. The prophetic voice of the church is as key today as it was in the apartheid years and it needs to speak out loudly and clearly. It must also become involved in strategic interventions that address the current malaise in which the country finds itself. 
 
One should also recognise that as students in the modern era, you have many opportunities to make your voices heard. Do your Facebook pages, your blogs, and your Twitter posts speak prophetically to society- or do they deal just with inconsequential chatter and meaningless prattle? 
 
I have said our society is in crisis. I have implied that our church is equally in crisis, much as it was when those groups of radical pastors got together in 1985 to draw up the Kairos document. Today we are facing yet another Kairos moment. We have been through liberation. In the early days of our democracy, we exercised a ministry of critical solidarity in which we were both supportive of government as well as critical of it. I recall incurring criticism at the time, in the mid to late 1990s, for calling government to account on various issues, such as the arms deal. When we look around us, at the context in which we are called to minister, we see an increasingly secular and irreligious world. 
 
Today’s Kairos moment is once again calling government to treat people with dignity. We cannot simply accept over 100 deaths of mentally ill patients following their transfer from Esidimeni. We cannot simply accept the Speaker’s refusal to allow a minute’s silence in their memory at the SONA address. We cannot simply accept the scandal at SASSA that is currently breaking over arrangements to pay social grants from the end of March- in just over one minister to. Unlike the privileged, like members of parliament, and ourselves, they are not walking around with credit cards in their pockets to carry them through if they don’t receive their grants on 1 April! They will have nothing. 
 
These- the poorest of the poor- are loved by Jesus. They must be loved by the church. They must be loved by the priests. They are the people who our colleges must prepare our priests to love. And our colleges will fail to do so at the peril of betraying the mission of Jesus Christ. It’s really very simple. We are not ignorant of what is going on in our society. The church, to reflect God’s Word in God’s world, needs to respond to what is going on around it and to the needs of the people to whom we minister. 
 
As a college, you are called to make God’s Word real in God’s world. But you’re also called to go and tell the greater church that you exist. You’ve got to promote yourselves to make sure you get candidates here. We need priests to be ministering in our cities, villages, towns and informal settlements. You should promote your college as the success it has been so that in every diocese in our province, people from the parish level clamour to come to you for their education for the priesthood. No money, I hear you say! Go and ask the people- my own experience as bishop in the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman showed that if you tell the people what is needed, they will find the money to send good people to be trained. Go, and tell the people of the needs. You may be surprised at the response! 
 
In this vein I also want to suggest that you should explore opportunities for bursaries for students to come here, and even to further their studies overseas in reputable institutions. After I had completed my studies at King’s in London I was fortunate in creating opportunities for others to benefit from further study as well. I don’t know whether that is still happening, but a challenge for you would be to explore the possibility of entering into partnerships with like-minded institutions in Britain, the USA, elsewhere ensure this can happen. This would be consistent with carrying out Christ’s call to us all, to develop clergy, plant churches and preach the Gospel, three fundamental tenets announced by Bishop Gray the founding fathers of our church to which I have always subscribed. 
 
In doing so, you must not forget your ecumenical responsibility. It is a tragedy that Fedsem no longer exists. But there are other seminaries, such as Seth Mokitimi Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, and the various catholic seminaries in the land, with which you should be robustly exchanging ideas. Such ecumenical sharing was the lifeblood of the Confessing Church in Germany and of the church in South Africa that declared apartheid a heresy. 
The next 25 years is in your hands. The future of the ministry of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in particular, and of the church in South Africa in general, is your responsibility. You stand at an exciting juncture to minister both to a secular world that seeks to impose its values on us, and to a church crying out for leadership. We congratulate the graduates. I call on you to rise up and follow the God who calls us all. Permit me to end with two quotations, both of which address the matter off preparing ourselves to take God’s Word to God’s world, as changed people, transformed ministers of the Gospel. 
 
First the words from 1 Peter, chapter 1, versus 13 and 14: “Therefore prepare your minds for action: be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance”. 
 
And second, the words of Cardinal Suenens in his New Pentecost: 
Give us, O Lord, eyes for seeing, 
A heart for loving, breath, breath for living. 
Give us eyes for seeing, give us, we beg, your eyes, 
To see through them the world and all humankind, 
To see their history and our own, as you see them. 
Grant us to think your thoughts 
Day by day, hour by hour. 
Help us gradually to become that for which you created us; 
Let us adopt your view of things, your way of seeing things. 
Make us responsive to your World 
Which can enlighten and transform the life of each us. 
 
 
[1] Bonheoffer, Dietrich, “No rusty swords” pg 293 
[2] www.christianitytoday.com


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