Monday, 5 October 2015


The after party for my deaconing on December 1 2000, was a hoot. 

Hat's off to my family and the northern suburbs white friends who braved the journey from the Cathedral in the centre of the city to Soweto in the deep south. It was a  trip to no-man's land for most of them. Moreover, it was a Saturday evening. 

Their abiding image of Soweto was of death, carnage and violence. In fact it is a 'city', with a variety of neighbourhoods and various levels of safety. 

Diepkloof was a nice suburb. 

Some upmarket homes

and others not so posh.

Because I hired a bus to get them in and out everyone was pretty relaxed.

As I've mentioned before, my parish did me proud. The food was beautifully cooked and presented. The hall was decorated. The music and the singing was unforgettable. The St James folk had gone to inordinate lengths. (As I write this I am choked.)

A deacon's stole
Next day I wore my deacon's stole appropriately crossed in front and tucked into the girdle around my alb, which my domestic helper and I called 'that long white dress'.

(Cringe. I know. I know. I'd lost my money. We'd moved into a pretty crummy suburb and used the dog's bath for a while. But I was basically a kugel. My wonderful domestic helper travelled that long road with us. Today she manages a small business for me.) 

Back to being a deacon. 

At that time there was huge drive to push the concept of 'the ministry of all'. As lay ministers we'd visited the sick, conducted funerals (too many people were dying of AIDS related diseases). Many of us had also conducted Baptism and Confirmation classes. We'd even officiated at services with pre-consecrated wafers! Essentially we'd been doing 'deacony' stuff for quite a while before our ordination. 

I seriously wondered why one couldn't just be done and dusted straight into priesthood in one shot.  

Not by osmosis
By then I'd studied and passed 13 theological subjects but I have always been conscious of not having absorbed Anglicanism - the tradition, the vestments, the ritual - by osmosis.  

So I was delighted to discover the modern cassock alb which meant I could chuck the girdle. To this day I see nothing holy in a pall, especially for the extra chalices. It's only a useful cover to keep insects and dust out. My heart bleeds for lay folk who get themselves into a knot about these things when serving at the altar. There is such a danger of confusing ritual with worship.

Useful for keeping flies and dust out

My other world, which included working as speechwriter and media liaison officer for Archbishop  Njongo Ndungane, involved bishops, whose names I could never remember. 'Doll' did come in useful as most were very gracious.  (It's a strange fact - bishops are often less status conscious than their clergy.)

A horrific pandemic
There was also that 'AIDS' thread. Although Njongo's prime focus was development, by 2000 the HIV/AIDS pandemic was horrific. Africans were dropping dead at an alarming rate. Stigma reigned supreme. Our State President and our Health Minister were denialists. Refusing to acknowledge any connection between the HIV virus and AIDS she advocated garlic and sweet potatoes over anti-retrovirals.  They were dubbed 'a medicine from hell.'

Njongo declared the national AIDS policy "sinful" 
in 2000 led a protest march on parliament.

Meanwhile, his international advocacy role was growing apace and President Clinton invited him to a White House function on World Aids Day  on the first of December that year.

Always one to marshal expertise for his pet projects, the archbishop zoned in on Ted Karpf. The tall  Washington  priest with a Texan accent had written the liturgy for the AIDS Day service. But was better known for risking the loss of an entire congregation for insisting that a man with AIDS be allowed to attend the Eucharist and receive Communion using the chalice.   

The Rev Cannon Ted Karpf
That first week the infected person was too ill to attend and nobody else pitched. In short, he experienced every priest's nightmare - an empty church.

Ted has a great turn of phrase so I'l let him share the next bit, "The night before the White House events, I learned an important life lesson: never drink scotch during a decision-making session with an Archbishop on an empty stomach. In the course of a long conversation, he suggested that I come to South Africa to help build an AIDS response.

"It was a major challenge as the province included 10 million people in seven countries, including the worst-affected in the world. Njongo argued that God had answered our prayers and it was clear what I was really called to do. I capitulated.

"The next morning at breakfast with the President, Sandy Thurman, and South African ambassador Sheila Sisulu, the President offered the Archbishop whatever support he wanted. The response was: “I want this priest, Ted Karpf, to come to South Africa to work with me.”

Ted was instructed to go to Africa where the archbishop steered him into strategic planning on how to meet the challenges of HIV/AIDS in 23 dioceses over half a dozen countries.

Above all, our new AIDS champion was to listen.

Never one to stay quiet for long, Ted soon had us all listening and responding. He and the archbishop quickly became a formidable force.
Together they developed a programme, coining the notions: We are building a generation without AIDS, as well as No one dies alone and no one cares alone.

Funded by the British government (DFID), the Americans (PEPFAR) and many others, it was until recently, the largest funded programme for faith-based AIDS work in Africa. 

An added bonus for me was a very special friendship. The spare room in our home is still referred to as 'Ted's'. (Don't get too excited, he's gay.)

Part of what brought us together was the fact that we had both discovered Anglicanism in adulthood. And he, like me, had a strong Catholic connection. 

Do you see Jesus?
Ted tells the delightful story of a great aunt, an immigrant Irish nun, a Sister of Charity. "She saw it as her mission to convert her heathen nephews and nieces. We would go to see her at her convent, and she would take us, gravely and with great care, to the sacristy in the convent. 'Do you want to see Jesus?' she would ask. 

"Then she would solemnly take the key out of the sash in her robes, go to the tabernacle box, and open it slowly. 'Do you really want to see Jesus?' 'Yes', we would answer. 

"She would reach in, and pull out the host, (a large consecrated wafer.) By now I was convinced that Jesus must be tiny, a kind of Tom Thumb. She would carefully pull out her hand, then, before we saw anything, thrust the door closed. 'You can’t see,' she said, 'because you are not Catholic'. And that was that."

There's plenty more to tell of Ted. I have an abiding memory of  him teaching me how to celebrate the Eucharist the night before I was priested. We used an ironing board, dishcloths and an excellent red wine.

No comments: