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South Africa welcomes Welby

11 July 2014

by Michael Binyon


Exemplary: the Archbishop washes feet in Johannesburg

Exemplary: the Archbishop washes feet in Johannesburg

IN A ceremony of remembrance and reconciliation, on Thursday of last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury laid a wreath at the door of the house where Nelson Mandela first lived in Johannesburg. The Archbishop called South Africa a beacon of light in a world of increasing darkness.

Flanked by the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, and a former South African President, Kgalema Motlanthe, Archbishop Welby offered a prayer in memory of Mr Mandela, in which he called for "grace to put aside the prejudices of our heritage and our background".

He spoke of the huge challenge that South Africa still faced to bring greater equality - a gap, he said, symbolised by the freeway that divides Alexandra township, still largely slums, from the wealthy business district of central Johannesburg.

The visit - his first to South Africa - came after his keynote address to the opening of "Anglicans Ablaze", a rally of more than 2000 Christians from Southern Africa. He told the bishops, clergy, and hundreds of young people that the reconciliation that South Africa had practised after apartheid had become a personal inspiration to him, and an example to the world.

"A storm is brewing in Iraq, Sudan, and Nigeria," he said. "Where are the beacons of hope in this storm?"

During an address to a conference of young Anglicans, he washed the feet of 12 young people, and urged them to follow the dreams given by God, not those offered by the world.

Reconciliation, he said, was one of the three aims of his ministry as Archbishop. It was fragile, it took time, and it sought to transform diversity from being a threat to being a hope.

He also said that Christians should put prayer at the heart of their lives, and that they should bear witness to their faith. "We are preaching Christ, not Anglicanism."

The Archbishop arrived in Johannesburg on Wednesday of last week, after travelling to Zambia, as part of his visits, over his first 18 months in office, to the Primates of all the 37 other provinces in the Anglican community - where he has been received enthusiastically by large numbers of people.

The Archbishop praised South Africa for appointing women bishops before the Church of England, and said that he hoped that the Measure would succeed at the coming Synod meeting in York.

But, he said, the Church did not "have the luxury" of being able to throw out those with whom it disagreed, any more than a family could throw out its own relations.

Interviewed on stage, he also said that the Church was "profoundly divided" over sexuality. He would not pre-empt the "guided conversations" that the Church of England was to begin on the issue of same-sex marriage. He later said on South African television that the issue was causing pain.

Speaking about changes in social attitudes in recent years, he said: "You are a fool if you don't recognise what is happening in the world around you. You do not necessarily have to accept all these changes.

"But it is essential that the Church faces the reality of change. For example, there is a huge growth in materialism, and we are challenged in our response."

The Anglican Communion, Archbishop Welby said, had to hold itself together, despite differences on attitudes to sexuality, or on the gap between rich and poor.

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