The five member churches of the CWM in Africa region gathered in at Sunnyside Hotel in Johannesburg during the Palm Sunday weekend for the pre-assembly orientation.
The two Bible studies in the morning led by Sindiso Jele (Mission Secretary, Africa) were from Mark 5:1-20 and John 20:1-18, respectively. The Bible study challenged churches to re-look at, to re-think their mission models, and to cross boundaries in order to connect and heal relationships. A spirituality explained in terms of post-resurrection themes deconstructs and reconstructions language, missional attitudes and methods. It redefines relationships in which margins come to the centre. The church is to keep redefining the centre, subverting life-denying forces in order to reflect God’s healed and reconciled community.
On the first day, Musa Dube unpacked the assembly theme Hope: Healing in Action. She highlighted the African philosophical concept of Ubuntu. The idea of partnership with the divine and partnership with others within the community of life arises from it. It provides the hermeneutical posture for fullness of life in that African context to interrogate the Church’s life-affirming (or lack thereof) missional response. Dube exemplified some hermeneutical lenses undergirded by Ubuntu as:
Story-telling: A narrative framework provides a place for listening to others’ stories. The oppression and pain exerted by life-denying structures will emerge from such stories as will stories of hope, resistance and liberation.
Context and accountability – it begins with me: The African context is no stranger to manifestations of empire. We are on a continuing journey of struggle for justice. Pre and post-independence manifestations scenarios bear manifestations of empire. Recognition that we live in a context where empire values are entrenched calls for self-interrogation about ways in which we are complicit to empire tendencies. It calls for individual repentance from predispositions that legitimise notions that classify people as being less ‘deserving than’. We each need to take stock of our actions and attitudes in social locations. To be life-affirming is to begin to engage in acts of hope at an individual level that signal that an alternative world order is possible. We thereby create hopeful spaces of healing beginning at a personal level.
Intersectionality: Understanding that oppressions are interconnected and cannot be separated. The social ideological structures that oppress are fabricated on dualistic principles that view difference and diversity as a threat. Having historically been oppressed and dehumanised on account of racial and cultural difference, Africa needs to offer hope derived from our collective story and offer solidarity to those who are discriminated against for being ‘different’ because of gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality, age e.t.c.
Inculturation – Bible and Culture as sources: In African culture, relationships are the hallmark of health. Wholesome relationships with family, community, the environment and the divine are/were a sign of well-being. Conversely, the disruption of these relationships called for a time of self-interrogation at individual and communal levels in the presence of the divine; just like sin in biblical terms is disruption of relationship with God and others. We can draw upon these insights to construct hospitable theologies that promote healing and disconnection.
Eco-centric hermeneutic – all creation is good: Co-existence with the earth in healthy relationship was a tenet of African life. As a result, land was not a commodity to be sold and privately owned. It was held in community for the well-being of all, including the land itself. The acknowledgement that God created the earth calls for the centering of the rights of the earth.
Hermeneutic of being an HIV+ church: HIV/AIDS has taught the African church much about healing and the vulnerability of people that results from the relationships they inhabit, socially, economically and politically. The church’s healing mission in community must therefore advocate for relationships that do not make others vulnerable. To be the church is to identify Christ who came to connect us and to make us a community.
On the second day, Jerry Pillay spoke on the sub-theme, Healing Relationships: Hoping for a New Spirituality. He reflected on the broken world, God’s answer for the broken world, healing (what it is), the quest for a new spirituality and the role of the church. He offered that healing is wholeness realised through forgiveness and reconciliation and right relationship with the earth (physical environment), others (living things and people), self (right ordering of inner self) and God (source of all being who binds everything together). The quest for a new spirituality is an incremental growth towards an embodiment of the totality of such reconciled relationships and must:
- Be centred on the cross and resurrection of Christ
- Take seriously aspects of human identity and community (the private and the corporate)
- Focus on healing relationships at all levels (physical, spiritual, economic, social and political)
- Take seriously real issues of daily life and experience (issues of justice – economic, gender and ecological)
During the discussions, delegates identified contextual justice issues as:
- land dis/possession,
- mining and extraction of natural resources
- environmental degradation,
- disease burden,
- race and ethnicity
Pillay defined ‘spirituality (as) the pattern by which we shape our lives in order to respond to the world with the presence of God as the normative factor.’ Healed relationships that ensue from such a pattern must shape the church to be a reconciled diversity, working in partnership within and without the church (with other religions, faiths and people of good-will) for the healing of the broken world. Healing work is characterised by identification, confrontation, compassion and transformation. He cautioned that when ecclesiology and doctrine take precedence over mission, the church becomes inward rather than outward looking asking, ‘What is God calling us to do in the world today?’
In the administrative sessions, office bearers and staff explained the processes, roles, delegate-expectations and assembly logistics. The interaction in these sessions was vigorous, and provided the needed clarity for delegates and they acknowledged that the orientation prepared them and would enrich and inform their participation at the assembly.
Each day began and ended with a participatory time of worship. The Regional Directors led the opening worship on the first day and delegates from Fiangonan’i Jesoa Kristy eto Madagasikara (FJKM) and the United Church of Zambia (UCZ) led the closing. On the second day the Uniting Congregational Church in Southern Africa (UCCSA) and the Churches of Christ in Malawi (CCM) delegates led the opening worship. The Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (UPCSA) led the closing worship. In an impassioned closing homily, Karabo, a youth delegate from the UPCSA, invited the delegates to prepare for the assembly prayerfully.