Michael Weeder reminisces about a dream in which his ancestors told him he was set to be ordained as a dean, and the reality of living his dream.
The photo was taken in Lima, Peru in the week of mid-November 2010. I am standing on a stage alongside five of my fellow conference delegates.
I am the only African present and the others are from different countries in Latin America
I am wearing a shirt made in Ghana and which I had bought in Mbabane, Swaziland.
It reminds me of the historic day, 25 years ago, when the Anglican Church of Southern Africa made the momentous decision to ordain women to the priesthood.
The year in which the photo was taken, marked the end of a 12-month search for a new dean for St George’s Cathedral.
On the first Friday in Lent of 2010, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba had met with the first four candidates, including me, at his residence in Bishopscourt.
We shared our concerns. First, we were all male, coloured and from the same region.
I was moved by these uncaucused insights of my fellows: Fathers Terrence Lester, Keith de Vos and Ron Phillips.
We were alert to the question that had informed our approach in the struggle for justice and in the life of the church: “Who was not at the table?”
To his credit, Archbishop Thabo opened the process and individuals based in the US, UK and other parts of South Africa – eventually numbering 10 or more – applied for the position.
Inevitably a spirit of rivalry surfaced, not among the candidates, but within the church and beyond.
At one time I withdrew but, after asking Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to pray for me regarding my decision, I resubmitted my name.
I heeded his advice to submit myself to what he referred to as “the process”.
On Tuesday of that week in Peru, I had a dream that caused me to contact the current Bishop of Pretoria, Allan Kannemeyer, a dear friend since our seminary days.
I told him that our ancestors had informed me that I was to be dean.
I had dreamt that Chapter, the body of senior clergy that advised the bishops, had met to deliberate on who would be the next dean.
Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, sitting next to me, had said: “I am sitting next to the new dean”.
I had declined, wanting to hear some motivation on his part. Keith de Vos, on the other hand, had said he would accept the position.
The meeting over, I had driven from the grounds of Bishopscourt. I was reluctant to return home and I struggled with my “no”.
I experienced a deep sense of regret.
Next I dreamed I was sitting in the front room of the late Aunty Connie Abrahams’s house in Ashton. (During my time in the Parish of St Joseph the Worker, I would visit her when I needed some direction, which was often.)
A 14-year-old girl walked into the room. She resembled Austin Jackson’s daughter, Rosemary.
I realised it was the Virgin Mary, who then told me I should be numbered among those who heal that which grieved her about the Church.
She did not specify what the wounds were. I asked her to show me what it was that I should do. Mary handed me a copy of the English Hymnal, a lime-coloured one with the music settings.
The cover was torn and the binding in tatters, stringy. I decided I would take it and have it bound and made beautiful and then return it to our Lady.
When I woke from my dream, I said the Office of Evening Prayer. I was struck by the readings: Luke 17 verse 10: ¨We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty; James 4:7: Submit yourselves fore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
A section from Psalm 119: “And let me not be disappointed by my hope.”
Archbishop Thabo called early on the morning of Friday, November 19 to ask if I would accept the invitation.
I told him later that I had been privileged with a great gift. I am still unwrapping it.
Slowly and joyously.