Friday, November 30, 2007

Youth Exodus

There has been a 20-year decline in the number of clergy under the age of 35, especially among mainline denominations. But this is only the beginning. The baby boomers are preparing to retire and the sad truth is: there are fewer and fewer people to replace them.

The (American) United Methodist Church recently completed a survey that shows the average age of its ministers to be 51, and only 5% of their ministers are under 35. In the study released this year*, a similar pattern is seen in other denominational churches: the Roman Catholic Church shows only 3.1% of its minister under the age of 35; the Episcopal and Lutheran churches are at 4% and the American Baptists at 5%.

While the Association of Theological Schools (the accrediting agency for all North American Seminaries) shows that seminary student numbers are up nearly 22 percent from previous years, only 55% of these ageing graduates plan to take on traditional ministrial roles. Which means that by the year 2012 there will be nearly 5 times as many members of the clergy retiring as there are people to fill those positions today.

I have no figures for the mainline denominations in South Africa, and wondered if anyone cares to offer comment? Anectotal evidence suggests that while there are some young South Africans in training for mainline denominational Christian ministry, most of them are from rural areas. The street-wise city youth are generally absent from formal ministerial training.

I am curious about the following: are young church leaders moving to emerging churches? or to fundamentalist charismatic churches? or are young people simply abandoning organised Christian religion?

* by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary

Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Uncommon Generosity

Today I was reminded that the very poor can also be very generous.

I accompanied my colleague Kamogelo Monoametsi to Vrygrond (“Freeground”), an informal settlement of wood and corrugated iron shacks, lots of white sand, and some tarred roads. Kamogelo has been their pastor for this year, and now leaves to complete his academic studies.

The congregation:
Working class people colourfully dressed for the occasion: the black suited church stewards, red, black and white clad members of the mens’ and womens’ organizations, the blue and white of the youth, and many members of the church who do not belong to an organization – but who literally put on their “Sunday best”. They had come to say thank you to their pastor. They did so with speeches and gifts. Each speaker earned the right to speak on production of a gift of money placed on the table in front of Kamogelo. I watched the work worn hands as one by one they laid R10 on the table and expressed their thanks. These poor people, who needed this money to get through the month, gave gladly to express their love for a good pastor.

And then there was the stranger:
A poor man dressed in ragged clothes. He wandered in looking for someone to say a prayer with him. The Stewards shifted up and found him a place; my Colleague invited him to Holy Communion and prayed for him; and at the farewell event after the service he was given a plate of food and a cool drink. I knew that each member of the congregation had paid for their meal in advance – which meant that this man was eating someone’s plate of food: I discovered later that the catering team had shared their lunches to create an extra plate....given gladly to express the love of Jesus to a stranger.

An Uncommon Generosity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Good on You

Bishop Desmond Tutu is a man of integrity and courage.

He was a key participant in the emergence of a new South Africa. He wrote deeply pastoral letters to President P W Botha pleading for change in our country. He marched in the streets for justice. I remember this brave cleric as he rescued a man from a township mob intent on “necklacing” him with a burning tyre. And he was criticised by President Botha, and by many, many white members of the Anglican Church in South Africa – as well as many others who wanted to retain the status quo. Mostly his critics said something about “keeping politics out of religion”.

Fr Desmond’s integrity did not end with the emergence of a democratic South Africa. His goal was never political: he genuinely believes that God loves all people, and that God calls us to work for a renewed land. He took up the struggle for free anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/Aids sufferers. He also challenged former deputy president Jacob Zuma to relinquish his bid for our country's Presidency after Zuma admitted to having sex with a young HIV-positive woman: "What has come over us? Perhaps we did not realise just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong," he said in a lecture at the University of Cape Town. And found himself roundly criticised by his erstwhile comrades in the struggle. Amazingly he was told to keep religion out of politics!

Fr Desmond has also spoken out on international issues: most often in opposition to people who want to wage war as a solution to the world’s problems. And his words have not always been welcome. In April the University of St. Thomas initially refused to invite him to speak because its officials were worried that his opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would offend the Jewish community.

In this past week he spoke up on the way some Christians have created the perception that God hates gay and lesbian people: "We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God - and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy” Tutu said he was "saddened and ashamed" of the Anglican church over their opposition to the ordination of a Gay Bishop: "If we are going to not welcome or invite people because of sexual orientation...if God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn't worship that God."

I salute this man. He has not wavered in his opposition to any form of discrimination. His photograph hangs in my office. And I pray for him each day – that he will remain a troublesome prophet. We need people who are willing to speak uncomfortable truths.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Shame on You

Sometimes I am so angry/sad with leaders in various parts of our world – and at my inability to do anything about their disgraceful conduct. So instead of shrugging my shoulders, I am calling for “shame on their heads”:

Shame on the court in Al-Qatif, Saudi Arabia: a 19 year old women raped by six armed attackers was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail “for being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape”. In fact she was originally sentenced to 90 lashes, and when her lawyer appealed this injustice, the court increased her sentence for her “attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media”. It is un-Islamic to punish the victim of a crime: Shame on you!

Shame on the Japanese Fisheries Agency: who have launched 4 ships to hunt 50 humpback whales – the first known large-scale hunt for the whales since 1963. This fishing expedition will also take 935 Antarctic minke whales and 50 fin whales between November and mid-April 2008. Shame on you for calling this “scientific testing”, when the whole world has opposed your destruction of whales.

Shame on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf: for making himself the sole dictator of his country. Because he was in danger of losing another term of office in the face of an impending court judgement he arrested the chief justice, fired judges seen as hostile to his rule, curbed the media, and locked down political opponents. Shame on you for such flagrant disregard of your constitution, and your people.......

....and shame on the United States for still supporting Musharraf: because of American fear of “Islamic fundamentalist terrorists” President Bush will not suspend military aid to Pakistan. But then the USA has a long history of supporting any leader who supports the USA – irrespective of whether they are democratically elected or not. The USA is not pro-democracy, it is pro the interests of the USA. Shame on you for such blatant selfishness!

Cry bitter tears with me at how self-interest corrupts our hearts and makes us less than human. And pray for God to challenge those parts in us that become complacent with inhumanity.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Piet Promises

He was an Apartheid politician who knew that Apartheid was wrong – but enjoyed its benefits too much to actively work for its destruction.

Piet Koornhof was very bright. He began theological studies at Stellenbosch University before winning a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. He was so bright that in 1953, on graduating with a doctorate, he was offered a permanent senior post at Oxford’s Institute of Social Anthropology. But he chose to return to South Africa to work as a researcher for Hendrik Verwoerd. And from this point on we see the struggle between what he knew to be morally right, and the lure of being powerful and important.

Koornhof had spent 10 months living in a kraal in rural Kwazulu-Natal as part of his doctoral research. Here he discovered the deep anguish suffered by black South Africans – an experience that led to a doctoral thesis that argued in favour of a united South Africa. But he chose not to publish it. “I knew that they would cut off my neck if I published it” he said in an interview with journalist John Scott. Instead he became secretary to the Afrikaner Broerderbond, was elected to Parliament for the Primrose constituency in Germiston, and went on hold the Cabinet portfolios of mines, sport, and co-operation and development - the portfolio formerly known as Bantu Affairs. He was known as “Piet Promises” because he was forever promising that things would get better for Black people, only for things to get worse.

At his memorial service today people paid tribute to his struggle to achieve change in South Africa. While in some very limited way he may have been a dissenting voice in the Cabinet, the reality is that he allowed himself to be part of the system that perpetrated immense suffering on the same black people who had welcomed him into their kraals in the early 1950s.

It is so easy to put personal moral scruples into one’s back pocket when tempted by power and privilege. I know. I have been there. And it is very hard to relinquish one’s creature comforts for the sake of moral principles. I constantly struggle with the authority and influence offered by my position in the religious organization I work for – and the integrity of action that is demanded by conscience and moral integrity. Pray that I might be more honest and less powerful.

At the end of his political life Koornhof left his wife and lived with his 36 yr old lover, Marcelle Adams and her children in Cape Town. 12 years later Marcelle left a sick and elderly Koornhof for a 56 year old German. Amazingly Koornhof’s wife Lulu (who had refused to divorce him) fetched him and cared for him as he suffered a number of incapacitating strokes "I have sworn an oath before God. I feel sorry for Piet. He is a sick man”. Perhaps Lulu understood the difference between satisfying personal desires, and doing what is morally courageous.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Old Rockers never Die

I had a great time leading worship tonight.
The worship bands that normally lead on a Sunday night were not available: some had exam fever and others an Emmaus gathering. So I agreed to lead worship....something I have not done for some time. I have begun to suspect that my children’s contemporaries do not need this old geezer in front acting like he is a rock-star with his guitar.

I asked Brendan (the father of one of the worship leaders) to join me: so the two old rockers got out in front and led worship. We both play acoustic guitar. This means clean sound, with guitar fingering, and complementary picking. Most of the stuff that the next generation plays is muddy distortion, or a guitar used as a percussion instrument with amazing rythm but little musical thoughtfulness. My daughter Amy played drum kit, so there was enough percussion, and the two old guys had fun exploring riffs, and adding overtones in some of the quieter moments. But of course the best was when we attacked some songs with traditional rock, ending up with enough arrogance to try our hand at “Be Thou my Vision” as a rock adaption.

And I do not really care that there were not many people in church. I care even less that we are twice the age of those who did come. Because we had a great time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Long Way Home

Check out this amazing couple at

Charlie and Rensche are returning home from London to Cape Town on motorcycles. Apart from the adventure they hope that their stories from the road will raise money towards their chosen charity Beautifulgate, who are a Christian organisation helping Aids orphans in Southern Africa.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


There are moments when I want to resign.
I work in a small corner of a large religious institution that is run inefficiently, by people who have very little integrity. The things that drive this national institution are political correctness (ensuring that every committee has enough black people/women/ not gay people), naked ambition for power, greed , and old boy’s (male) networks.

And I mostly live with the junk because I believe that God has called me to be here.
But recent experiences have demoralized me:
- bureaucratic inattention closed down a training programme I loved and which gave my life meaning and purpose.
- I have been given administrative supervision that I really hate.
- My work load has been increased, with a reduction of staff to do it.

But I came across this cartoon which both challenged me, and got me over my self-pity.
So I look in the mirror and ask myself: “Whose career path do you think you are following?”
And I realise that I love the local church where I work. It is a community of caring people who often affirm me and thank me for the things I do. I work alongside local church leaders who are all that the national leaders are not. And I am reminded that the authentic church is local.

And I sense that my capacity to rise to new challenges in life is beginning to reassert itself.
Watch this space! (and keep praying for me).

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I enjoy a pancake.
Hot and crispy on the edges.
Add a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar. A dash of lemon juice, and viola....mmmm.
And to share this love of pancakes with others gives me great pleasure. To see people enjoying that which I enjoy enriches my life immeasurably. So it was logical that I should offer to run the pancake stall at our church fete today.

I have done this for the past 5 years.
Each year I have learned something more about the production.
My mother in law is the mixture-maker. She uses an ancient recipe handed down through many generations. The ingredients are passed on at the death-bed of the matriarch to the youngest daughter. My mother-in-law is one of five sisters and she got the recipe. And mutters magic into the bowl as she mixes the batter....magic that sounds like “blast” and “bother”.
My daughter Amy takes the money. Not only is she about to take Matric maths, but because this does not stretch her enough she also takes a (seventh subject ) additional mathematics class. So she does the money. And made sure that we gave R1350 to the bean counters at the end of the morning.
I command the production line like a general presiding over his troops...taking orders from my wife as every prudent general usually does. I wield the pans over the gas cookers, triumphantly producing golden pancakes for the rest of the team to sugar and fold in wax paper.

I enjoy being a team with my family. I also enjoy being a team with my community. We raise funds so that we can continue to care for old people, and for street people, and for those who are tired and wearied by life.
But much, much more: old people laughed with young people over a shared cooldrink; poor people had tea served to them by those who had more than enough in life; citizens from different sides of our political spectrum vied for a tombola prize; gay and straight worked alongside each other; grey and dyed, and naturally blond all enjoyed a moment of equality; and a community was formed because people paused for a moment to enjoy one another’s company.

And I made R4:00 a pancake.