Thursday, October 6, 2011

Desmond Tutu, ecumenist

This Friday (October 7) marks the 80th birthday of Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. While Tutu's role as a prophetic Christian voice against the apartheid regime in South Africa and for human rights globally is well known, comparatively few know of his ecumenical work as a former member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, in connection with which he once declared, “Apartheid is too strong for the divided churches."

One of the most visible focal points of the current divided state of the churches is the Eucharist. The Eucharist, Archbishop Tutu, and the unity/disunity of the church have been associated in my mind since my first experience of the Anglican practice of "open communion" (open to all baptized Christians) in October 1994. I was doing a year of graduate studies in patristics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and I noticed in the Washington Post that in connection with Nelson Mandela's visit with President Clinton in the White House, Desmond Tutu was going to preach in the (Episcopal) National Cathedral on Sunday--which was, of course, where I decided to worship that Sunday.

After preaching a homily that called our attention to the practices of ecclesial reconciliation the emerged from the (then much more recent) end of apartheid, Tutu served as the guest celebrant for the Eucharist.  The congregation that day was beyond capacity, and vergers steered us into lines for multiple receiving stations at various places in the sanctuary. As the line to which I was directed neared the chancel rail, I discovered that Archbishop Tutu himself was serving us the Eucharist. (Being on the receiving end of Desmond Tutu's contagious bright-eyed smile is something of a sacramental experience in and of itself!) That particular Eucharist remains for me a reminder of the visible unity that is possible for the church as well as of its current lack.

Happy birthday, Archbishop Tutu!

1 comment:

  1. So is it right to say that Tut recognises the Roman Catholic religion as being Christian even though the Gospel of grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone, is sondemned as heresy by the Roman Church, just as much today as it was in the days of the Protestant Reformation?

    It is also true that despite his wonderful vision of the equality of all people regardless of colour (We're all descended from the one Adam), Tutu is not evangelical and that he promotes homosexuality?