Dean’s Letter, 22nd November 2015

Dear Cathedral family
We are reeling from the shocking news, just over a week ago now, of the terror attack on civilians in Paris, France, on the night of Friday 13th November. It is about eight months since the Charlie Hebdo attack, also in Paris. And elsewhere in our world, people are dying through terror, suicide bombs, shootings, assaults, and hunger and starvation. We are part of an angry, seething, hurting world. Our hearts go out to all who have lost loved ones; the injured; their families; law enforcement officials; those in authority. We pray for grieving communities, and for the church in France, for pastors and priests, as they comfort and console, and try to bind up shattered lives and angry communities, and bury the dead.

At Evening Prayer last Sunday, Carole Vicent, who is from France and currently living and working in Grahamstown, said the following: “I woke up on Saturday morning and I discovered the horror of what happened in France the night before. Seven simultaneous terrorist attacks in Paris left 129 innocent people dead, 352 injured, 99 of them critically. This is the worst terrorist attack in France’s history. In the name of who? In the name of what? Nothing can justify the inhumanity of these killers. The terrorists not only wanted to kill people but once again they wanted to destroy what represents France and our culture. In January, with the massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, it’s our freedom of expression which was attacked. On Friday, they attacked the French way of life. France is the country of Freedom, the country of Human Rights and nothing will take that away from us. Now, it’s time to be united. That will be our strength. But today I am not only thinking of French people, I’m thinking of Lebanon where 43 people died after two terrorist bomb attacks on Thursday. I’m thinking of Syria and the war, I’m thinking about all of the refugees who flee the horror. I’m thinking about all of the atrocities in our world and I’m worried… I’m worried for the future of humanity, I’m worried for the future of our children…”

Brother Alois, Prior of the Taizé monastic community in France, wrote the following prayer soon after the attacks in Paris and Beirut:
Eternal God, we want our thoughts and acts to be based on your presence which is the source of our hope. We entrust to you the victims of the attacks in Paris and in Beirut, and their families and friends as they mourn. With believers of all backgrounds we call upon your name and pray: may your peace come to our world.

Tonight (22nd November) is our annual Carol Service, with the ancient words of hope and love and peace. We need it now, to put everything into this bigger, eternal perspective of God’s enduring love in the midst of the darkness and savagery of our world. Our sincere thanks to our choir, with our Director of Music, Dr Andrew-John Bethke, for their hard work in preparing for this evening.
My love to you all

Andrew Hunter

Dean’s Letter, 15th November 2015

Dear Cathedral family
What would a miracle look like? The reflections below were written by Revd Dr Mary Ellen Ashcroft, mother of Steve Ashcroft, who has been on our extended prayer list for some months. She writes: “Steve’s chemo is working really well; his CEA numbers continue to drop; primary and secondary tumours are shrinking. Is this a miracle? Many can’t tolerate chemo and must choose between quality and quantity of life. Steve feels good. Is this a miracle? ‘You know, mom,’ Susannah says, ‘We should have an annual tradition of going to that little neighbourhood carnival—the one we went to that night after the diagnosis, and we were all together, watching the kids go around and around in those little cars. We were eating cheese curds and we really appreciated being together. Because we didn’t know how long we had.’ Could watching kids in pink, yellow and blue cars go round and round while eating cheese curds be a miracle? Anna sends an article on a new breakthrough: T-VEC, using a modified virus to hunt cancer cells. I bless God for those researchers, robed in their white coats as they perform miracles. Steve and I talk about family and friends who have emerged—to support, to cook, to drive to chemo, to walk the dog. Total strangers have given money, helped find jobs, sanded floors. Is this a miracle?

“What is a miracle? Would we know one if we saw it? How do we begin to think and speak about miracles? On one end are those who demand scientific rational explanations. “Miracles” can be rationally explained. On the other are those for whom miracles must be God’s direct intervention, unexplainable in any other way. Both of these—the ultra-rational and the ultra-religious—reflect a longing for clarity, for certain standards set in stone. Most know these fundamentalisms don’t account for the rainbow of life experience; we know there’s way more to our world than meets the eye—like poetry, love, music, wonder. The ultra-religious claim that miracles must be entirely other-worldly. Really! Must Mother Teresa have other-worldly miracles attested in a life that was a living miracle of this-worldly care for the poor? And the ultra-rational! I am a great believer in the liberal arts, but I see how many wonderful colleges have hurt students, as their brilliant professors have set up a straw man—of the ignorant, bigoted believer—and then knocked it down. Many young students, admiring these great minds, assume faith is a silly relic. Longing for meaning, they try random hook ups, and end up vulnerable to contrails and astral projections.

“Much theological education swallowed the ultra-rational and fed people a liberalism that needed to demythologize—removing all magic (miracles) from the gospels to make them palatable to moderns—as if we western minds have progressed up a ladder from superstition to enlightened rationality. (Two world wars and the holocaust helped to debunk this one.) A more contemporary version is one I held: Yes, of course God could heal, and does, but really, we should emphasize a holistic approach, with healing of relationships and emotional wounds, peace at the approach of death. I sit with several friends, chatting about this. My dear friend Jo brings this intellectually considered, theological approach—that ultimate healing is what happens after death; that God promises presence not miracles. She’s stating what I’ve believed about the difference between “cure” and “healing”—we can ask for healing and wholeness, even when someone is dying. Her words are familiar because I’ve said them myself. Blah, blah, blah.

“But now Steve has cancer, I’ve got skin in this game. Of course I want Steve’s spiritual wholeness–whatever the hell that is–but I also want him to be alive, his flesh and blood touching his children’s flesh and blood. I want to eat fresh bread and mussels with him. I’m sick of this theologically sophisticated version of ‘pie in the sky when you die.’ It isn’t enough. We’re sitting in the sunshine looking across at the mountains. I remember Steve saying when he was here, “This is my favourite place in the whole world.” I want him to be physically present here, smelling the newly mown hay, hearing the cowbells, feeling sun on skin. Our discussion feels like I’m covering for God, who could do something, but doesn’t seem to bother. I feel a wave of despair. And then Letha talks about hearing a distinguished Old Testament scholar say how wrong it is to privilege our western, intellectual approach to discount miracles. Why should we feel superior to those who may be less educated, less sophisticated, but who really believe? It hits me: I have allowed my perspective to be limited: my inherited scepticism about miracles isn’t necessarily true. Millions who believe God performs miracles in the world may be right. I want, I need a miracle, more real than what can be captured in theological discussions. I need to know God has skin in this game too.

“What does a miracle look like? Over the last few months, I’ve seen many—researchers in white coats, carnival cars and cheese curds, loving compassion, dropping CEA counts, people who show up with food or to walk the dog. Miracles of people realizing how much they love each other; remembering what really matters. Of people praying all over the world. But I’m dropping my sophisticated, over-educated façade. Call me primitive, foolish, or some kind of nut. I’m thanking God for all these miracles, and asking, not only for the miracle of healing, but for cure.”
Mary Ellen Ashcroft

My love to you all

Andrew Hunter

Dean’s Letter, 8th November 2015

Dear Cathedral family
Today, the Sunday nearest November 11th, is observed as Remembrance Sunday, in memory of all who have died in war. The First World War ended in 1918, at 11 a.m., on the 11th day of the 11th month. Ever since, this has been observed as a moment of quiet reflection and prayer. The military parade on Church Square taking place this morning is part of this long tradition. The scars left by war remain with us for generations afterwards.

We are involved in a battle now, a community at war within itself, with the attacks on foreigners and their families. Children have been driven out of their schools. Shops have been looted and burned. There is suspicion, fear and hatred. In a recent statement (26th October 2015), the Bishop of Grahamstown said, “Law abiding citizens of foreign birth were forced to abandon their possessions and flee. We call upon those who incite others to acts of violence against foreigners to refrain from such acts. How do you sleep at night when you know you have caused harm to your brother or sister? We call upon our community leaders to expose these people. The law must take its course. Let there be peace in the City of Saints. We cannot allow the devil to take over this dear city of ours. We commend SANCO led by Mr Singata, the Executive Mayor, Col Nel of the Police, the business community, churches and students, for taking action to assist the displaced families and to restore order.”

It has been good to hear that on the whole, universities have been able to complete the academic year and that most students are writing their final exams. We thank our Vice-Chancellors, university management, student leadership, and others, for making this possible. It is a great pity that there has been destruction of property on some campuses. Nothing is achieved by such action. And, even where no physical damage was done, the events over the last few weeks did serious damage to relationships of trust and mutual respect. When we cast aside the norms and ways of how we interact with one another, and resort to aggression, intimidation, and even violence, we do considerable damage to the entire community. Buildings can be repaired and restored. How do we repair and restore broken relationships? What can we do, as individuals, as the Cathedral, to keep talking, to keep listening, to rebuild bridges and to re-establish trust?

The stark alternative to seeking to build and to heal, is that we shall end up on opposite sides of the battle-field, with only misery and destruction ahead. Is there a better way forward? How can we keep talking, and hold together?

We as the Anglican Church fully support the call for tertiary education to be accessible for all. How can we ensure that no-one is prevented from further study for financial reasons? How best can we build on what we have, and not destroy it?
My love to you all

Andrew Hunter

Dean’s Letter, 1st November 2015

Dear Cathedral family
Today, November 1st, is All Saints Day, or All Hallows – and many of us are aware that yesterday, apart from being the Rugby World Cup final match, was Halloween – All Hallows Eve. October 31st has been a difficult day for some communities in recent years, with rumours causing chaos and terror. Given the fragile state of our community, we don’t need any encouragement to go that route. All Saints Day, and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day, which we celebrate this evening) is the gospel proclamation that in the face of evil and sin, the light of Christ shines. The love of God overcomes all hatred and death. During these difficult and fragile days, we affirm and hold on to this message of hope.
We congratulate our Sub Dean Mzinzisi Dyantyi on his appointment as Archdeacon of Grahamstown. He will be licensed by the Bishop at the next meeting of the Diocesan Chapter, on Tuesday 17th November. The office of Archdeacon of Grahamstown has been traditionally held by successive Deans, over a number of years, and I have continued with this. However, given the work and responsibilities I increasingly carry in the life of the diocese, particularly as “archdeacon to the archdeacons”, it has been agreed that I be allowed to step down from this particular office. Archdeacon Mzi continues as Sub Dean, but will now take responsibility for the oversight of parishes in Grahamstown (apart from the Cathedral – the Dean exercises archi-diaconal responsibilities in the Cathedral parish), and leadership of the archdeaconry and all that this entails. Our prayers are with him and Lilitha, and Sambe, as he takes up this load. I am very grateful for my time as Archdeacon of Grahamstown, following in the footsteps of Archdeacon (later Bishop) Merriman, ancestor to my godmother, Nola Houston, who was born and continues to live on the farm outside Stellenbosch once owned by John X Merriman, one-time prime minister of the Cape Colony, and son of Bishop Merriman. The office of archdeacon has given me direct contact with our various communities that make up Grahamstown, and the many wonderful people who live here, the scars of our history, and the issues that we all face. I thank all in the archdeaconry for their love, friendship and support.
We have given help this past week – mainly food – to those displaced by the xenophobic attacks. The situation may be clearer by the time you read this. Items can be given, and details are available on request. Let’s help as much as we can.
We continue to appeal for a smooth and trouble-free exam period, for our students and our matrics. I believe it would be very counter-productive if exams were not written, and the year’s academic work and fees wasted. We need to find a way forward that builds on what we already have in place.
My love to you all,

Andrew Hunter

People and Places, November 2015

October 2015 was a disturbing month, in Grahamstown as well as in other university towns around South Africa. Leaders of faith communities, among them our Bishop Ebenezer Ntlali and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, were firm in their support of the campaign to make university education affordable to all students, while at the same time calling on protesters to refrain from violence and destructive action. Students at COTT joined the protest in solidarity with Rhodes and East Cape Midlands College students.

Here in Grahamstown the fee protest coincided with an unconnected outbreak of xenophobia. This was especially sad in a city which had previously prided itself on its welcoming attitude towards foreigners, but it was encouraging to hear the calls from students, religious and business leaders, for people to open their hearts and give generously to those who had been forced to flee their homes and shops. Many voices were raised in the neighbourhoods served by foreign-owned shops, expressing regret at their closure. We pray that these hard-working people may be welcomed back and allowed to live their lives in peace.

The Dean of Grahamstown has for many years carried the extra burden of being Archdeacon of Grahamstown. We rejoice that Dean Andrew is being relieved of this duty, and warmly congratulate Sub-Dean Mzi Dyantyi on his appointment as Archdeacon of Grahamstown. At the same time we congratulate Cynthia Webbstock, the Bishop’s Personal Assistant, on being appointed Archdeacon of Albany, to succeed Robin Murray. We pray for them both as they take up these important additional duties.

Congratulations to the Chair of ANSOC, Simphiwe Gumede, on being this year’s recipient of the Rhodes University Student Leadership Award. Well done!

Once again Cathedral parishioners carried off a number of awards at the annual Grahamstown Flower Show. Ann Stockwell’s roses were among the prize-winners, as were Marian Jayes’ herbs and flowering shrubs. The Hartzenberg sisters also scored with their roses. Special congratulations to Sally Terry, who won awards with lettuce, herbs, arum lilies, and roses, and deservedly walked away with second prize overall in the show. St Philip’s Church again received first prize for a community garden with their overflowing boxes of “Spring Harvest”.

This year’s St George’s Fair, on 31 October was blessed with perfect weather, no rain but not too hot. The hard-working team led so capably by Marian Jayes is to be congratulated on an event which gave people a great deal of joy, as well as raising a sum in excess of R34,900!

The short film about Amasango Career School, which was shown at the Festival in 2014, has now been expanded into an hour-long feature, in which there are a number of interviews with Jane Bradshaw. This film was shown twice on SABC2 in October.

We give thanks that June Walters is making a good recovery after her recent operation.

Sally Ashby, wife a former Dean of Grahamstown Godfrey Ashby, died of pancreatic cancer on 7 October, in Exeter, England. Many of her family were able to be with her in the time leading up to her death. Prayers are asked for Bishop Godfrey and the family.

The funeral of David Hodgson was held in a packed St Andrew’s College Chapel, most appropriately for someone who was not only a past pupil, but a member of staff for many years. He was treasurer of the Old Andrean Association for 51 years, and attended meetings until very recently, even though he was in a wheelchair. We continue to pray for Jeanette and the family.

On 18 October the Cathedral welcomed back Roderick Walsh as our preacher and celebrant, together with his wife Jenny. Rod and Jenny had lived in Grahamstown when they were studying, and a few years ago came here to look after the Cathedral parish for some weeks while Dean Andrew was overseas working on his Masters degree. Peter Silva, a former Chaplain of DSG, and his wife Penny, a former churchwarden of this Cathedral, also visited South Africa in October, and worshipped at the Cathedral. Penny is still working part-time for the Oxford English Dictionary in Oxford, England. She last visited here after the death of her mother, Peggy McCoy, three years ago, but Peter had not been back to South Africa for fifteen years. Wilf Stout joined his wife Barbara here for a few weeks. They spent time sorting out the contents of their Grahamstown house, but as they are not selling it, we hope to see them again in the not too distant future. During their visit they added their special voices to the Cathedral Choir on more than one occasion.

The Rhodes Chamber Choir gave their last concert of the year in the Rhodes Chapel on 15 October, once again thrilling the audience with their polished and lively performance of a variety of works, ancient and modern, from around the world. Congratulations to A-J Bethke, who conducts this choir as well as the Cathedral Choir, which only two weeks later gave a concert of sacred music “Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs” on Friday 30 October. That was the beginning of an intensive weekend of music for the Cathedral choristers, as the following day they recorded a CD which we hope will be available shortly, and on the Sunday sang A-J’s beautiful “Little Requiem” at a moving evening Mass for All Souls’ Day. The recording and editing of the CD was done by Peggy McCoy’s son David.

Matrics and students are writing exams at the moment, and on 1 November we said farewell to the College of the Transfiguration students who had assisted so devotedly at the Cathedral throughout 2015. Bruce Wooley had already been made deacon before he finished his studies, and he returns to the Diocese of Natal. Marlon Porter goes to the Diocese of False Bay, Theo Tshazi to Mthatha Diocese, Olebile Galebotswe to the Diocese of Botswana, Zinzile Mdululwa to Mbashe Diocese and Deon Manuel to the Diocese of George. We wish them all God’s blessing as they write their final exams, and then begin their ministry as deacons.