Thursday, June 20, 2013

Burying the Bishop's wife.

Victor and Nobefundisi Tshangela had been married 43 years. And then she died. Pneumonia & a blood clot in her lung brought this chapter of her life to a close. Now I am at her funeral.

It began with a sunrise service of Holy Communion at the local Methodist Church. This was mainly for family, close friends and colleagues of the Bishop. The procession then moved to a local mega-church building where we were joined by the wider community. This building is packed with a wide variety of people: Bishops from various Districts of the Methodist Church of SA; women dressed in the red,black & white uniform of the Women's Manyano; a black & white clad choir; clergy from all over the country, and many more people from the community. All come in response to a deep-rooted African imperative to show solidarity and respect when someone dies.

As I look around this crowd I am saddened that very few of my white colleagues are here. Us white guys do not understand these occasions. We try to avoid funerals. If we must go, we hope for a short ceremony with few words and no coffin. We do not understand the dynamics of black funerals, with the multitude of speeches of tribute, the many hymns, the crowds, and the obligatory food and socialising afterwards. What we miss is the way this can become moments of mutual support and encouragement - not only for the family, but also for everyone who has had to face death at some point. I believe that those who live closest to the bone in life learn how to draw on the support of community - and funerals become such a moment. When we are wealthy we can privatise our lives and avoid the wider community because we become accustomed to buying our way out of difficulty. We begin to think that we do not need community to survive.  But the reality is that we are designed to live in community. We need people to stay spiritually healthy. And for those who follow Jesus, we are sent into our communities as servants of all.

So I am here as an acknowledgement of my participation in our common humanity. And I am OK.

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