Posted in Croydon

Learning to speak ubuntu from Desmond Tutu

I have been privileged this week to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was visiting Croydon to see, and celebrate some of the work of the Tutu Foundation (whose first Chair was the late lamented Colin Slee). With many hundred others, I saw a dance performance blending south Indian music and rhythms with salsa and western dance music, and listended to music combining a drumming ensemble and classical musicians. These were emblems of the Foundation’s work to bring together people of different traditions and backgrounds, and to enable them to celebrate what each has to offer the other. The Foundation has been working in Croydon, as in other area of possible social dislocation and division, to promote ubuntu. What is ubuntu (when it’s not a computer operating system!)?  – here is the Foundation’s own definition:

Said to be the ‘glue’ which held together the volatile and fragile nation of South Africa after the end of apartheid, ubuntu teaches us to look beyond ourselves – and in so doing, to become more fully human. Ubuntu is a traditional Southern African philosophy which emphasis our common humanity; our connectedness and interdependence as fellow human beings.

“I am, because you are” says Archbishop Tutu; “how I behave impacts not only on me but also others around me because we all belong together.” So a person with ubuntu is generous, thoughtful and respectful towards others, appreciating the differences that together make us greater than the sum of our parts.

Reflecting on ubuntu also helped me to recognise the gift that I received from our recent visitors from the diocese of Central Zimbabwe. The most precious gift was exactly that sense I had when with them, that our human identity is something that springs out of our relationships with each other, rather than coming first. We are not first of all individuals, but first of all we are in relationship.

That is an insight of many centuries in southern Africa, and it is also profoundly Christian. Many Western Christians have lost sight of the fact that we are called into faith in a body – the body of Christ, which is the church. As Christ lives in us and we in Christ, we are also equally intimately linked to one another. Some Christians in richer countries worry about how our relationships with believers in places like Zimbabwe can be an equal one, when we have so much. We may need to heed again the message to the church in Laodicea, in the Book of Revelation ‘For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing.” You do not realise that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.’ (Revelation 3:17). The riches of human relationship which the philosophy of ubuntu opens up – and which the gospel teaches – are far greater than any amount of material wealth.

Posted in Croydon

What a 24 hours

Home with a cup of tea, and recovering from / delighting in everything that’s happened over the last day. It started with the gorgeously sung choral evensong at Croydon Minster – and realising again what a privilege it is to be called to serve the people and churches of the Area. Then this morning – the taxi arriving at 6:45 was less of a highlight, but celebrating the 8am eucharist at the College of St Barnabas was pure joy. The breakfast’s pretty impressive, too.

Then on to the Orpheus Centre. Thanks again to the students and staff for making me so welcome. So good to see somewhere which really respected the students (who all have disabilities of one sort or another) as adults. Not just a place focusing on creative arts, but a really creative place.

There had to be one parish visit during the day – that is where the heart of the Church of England beats, after all. St Mary’s Reigate is doing the business is one of the many and varied ways that the Church of England offers. Great to get to know a bit about the parish (and to play ‘it’ with the children at the school). Looking forward to enjoying sharing the life of the other parishes across the Area.

Not done yet, by a long chalk … Then on to Croydon College, to meet the chaplaincy team and the Principal – such challenges, and opportunities, in equal measure, and such a resource for the town and the borough. On the tram (everyone pretending to ignore this man in a purple dress) to CFER to meet with representatives of other faith communities in the area. Very glad to see that we all agree about the importance of working together for social cohesion and renewal. Now looking forward to sharing a little of the life of the different communities as I’m able to visit, and develop our relationships more.

Then, wonderful civic ceremony to finish with the Croydon mayor-making, and a bash to finish.

And the best thing is, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. Bring it on! (But let me have a good night’s sleep first.)