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Prior to their ordination the four, Andrea White, Thembeka Tom, Sandile Mila and Angela Brown, spent a week in retreat under the leadership of Suzanne Petersen, a priest from the Diocese of Grahamstown. Of this time, Andrea said, What an awesome experience it was. We all agreed that we were expecting God to talk to us at the retreat because of what we have heard of others experiences. Well, this was different. We had an extremely restful time of preparation. With the busy lives we lead, it was so important that we approached our ordination in a peaceful, restful manner and the accomodation that we had served this purpose 100%. With regard to further preparation, Suzanne hit the nail on the head. During our sessions we discussed our duties as deacons with regard to our service to God and the community. We are to serve, and to help others to serve. The retreat was practical because we discussed real problems that need to be addressed during our ministry as well as the challenges that we face as clergy. It was wonderful to know that everyone experiences similar challenges and it was great just to share around them. Suzanne was an inspiration to all of us.
Angela Brown, is a self-supporting deacon serving at St John the Baptist, Walmer; Sandile Mila is a stipendiary deacon serving at St Michael and All Angels in Schauderville, Thembeka Tom is a self-supporting deacon serving at St Peter's, Zwide, and Andrea White is a self-supporting deacon serving at St Barnabas, Sydenham and St Philip's, Centrahil.
Thembeka Tom, at St Peter's, is the wife of the rector, Zwelidumile. Overheard after the ordination was this remark: "What with Angela Brown being white, whilst Andrea White is brown, who said the Anglican Church wasn't colourful?"
In his statement Bishop Bethlehem said, "When I arrived on 1 July 2001, the then rector of Alexandria Anglican Church parish, Sipambo Ludidi, presented the problem of a handful of people at Ekuphumleni who claim to belong to the Diocese of Grahamstown and refused the ministry they were offered in the parish."
The Bishop explained that the Church of the Province of Southern Africa is a Synodical Church - therefore very much democratic. Each diocese has its boundaries which were ratified at a Provincial Synod. The boundary between the Diocese of Grahamstown and Diocese of Port Elizabeth is the Kariega River, as recorded in the Canon Law Schedule B (amended by Synods of 1939 and 1945, corrected to September 2002 by Provincial Synod) p.17f.
He went on to say, "Because of these boundaries, the retired Bishop of Grahamstown, David Russell, and I met and resolved that I call these people of God together and explain how our church functions in terms of the boundaries. The meeting took place in October 2003. It was a very disruptive and rowdy meeting; three young men defiantly walked out, and sadly, we had to close the meeting."
Bishop Bethlehem reported on this meeting to the Bishop of Grahamstown, who had already stopped the retired rural dean, Bob Clarke, from ministering to this group. The reason for this was that there are people who live at Ekuphumleni and worship at St Matthew's Marselle, which is far closer to them than St Barnabas, Port Alfred.
He went on to say that during Trinity Tide 2004 when one of our priests was to conduct a funeral, the very same rebel group harassed and toyi-toyed until the bereaved and hurt family decided to take the deceased loved one home.
He concluded by saying, "If the group want ministry in terms of 'Eucharist etc.', the parish of Alexandria, under which they fall, has that ministry and they must tap that. I am very, very disappointed at this group who are causing unnecessary friction at a time when the country suffers a great moral decline in terms of behaviour, fraud and laxity. If they want ministry, and are serious, why do they not receive the ministry God has entrusted to us in the Diocese of Port Elizabeth? Hypocrites must stop misleading the community and distracting us from real issues in our fight against poverty, HIV/AIDS, crime, racism, sexism and the building of family life. God forbid!"
The Valley is the largest citrus producing area in South Africa. One of the problems facing the community is that of seasonal labour and unemployment. Employment opportunities are largely limited to the picking season. The result is a community struggling with poverty and its associated social evils. HIV/AIDS is particularly prevalent in the area.
In 2004 the Vineyard, Anglican and NG churches in the Valley began independently to look at new ways of addressing the problem. Through the ministers fraternal Dominee Johan Enslin, Pastor Chris Morley and the Revd Rod Greville, rector of Sundays River Valley Parish, decided to co-ordinate their efforts. An interdenominational team led by Natalie Hansen from the Vineyard church began doing weekly home visits in the Addo area, to encourage those who were sick, to pray with them, and to generally offer counselling and support. These home visits also included advice on nutrition and sexual practices and the provision of fortified foods, fresh fruit and herbal remedies to boost compromised immune systems. As the Spirit led, patients were also evangelized and encouraged to give their lives to Jesus. All visitors had undergone some form of training through their respective denominations.
During the course of last year, 912 home visits were conducted, and nutrition was provided on a weekly basis to about 30 people living with HIV/AIDS.
The leadership of the three churches have registered a trust the Thembalethu Aids and Edu Trust - to co-ordinate fundraising and finances for the project. As the name suggests, a second focus of the Trust is support for pre-primary education in the Valley. Janine Briggs and Debbie Miller from St Michaels (Anglican) church at Summerville are involved in the provision of nutrition for three crèches serving approximately 140 children under the age of 6. Muffy Miller (also from St Michaels) has a similar ministry to the children of Langbos, an informal settlement on the northern side of the Valley, where a new crèche has recently been erected by the churches.
Rod Greville commented to Iindaba: In this Valley, we are too small, as individual churches, to do our own thing. We have to work together, and I think this also pleases God and answers Jesus prayer that they may be one (John 17).
Picture: Giving love and a helping hand - Alice Vena, the parish AIDS co-ordinator, together with one of her patients whose face has been obscured to conceal her identity.
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