Meeting in Kwazulu Natal, the Synod of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa passed a resolution "to work tirelessly to eradicate from our churches and communities the sin of stigma which continues to undermine the implementation of an holistic and comprehensive strategy to minister to people infected with, or otherwise directly affected by, HIV and AIDS and to combat further the spread of this pandemic."
The Anglican Provincial Synod is the highest legislative body of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. It meets once every three years. Among the guests was the Revd Canon Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion based in London.
Canon Kearon spoke of the meeting in the highest terms commending the way the entire synod was set-out and how well it accomplished its tasks.
The Synod has also voted to step up its programme of education of lay and ordained church leaders in order to break the HIV AIDS stigma and develop effective responses to the disease at the parish level.
Dioceses will be requested to strengthen existing partnerships and to establish new relationships with other Christian churches and faith-based organisations, faiths and local governments to optimise implementation of the church's HIV and AIDS strategy.
Delegates recognised that culture poses an enormous problem in the area of stigma and has encouraged church leadership to enter into dialogue with relevant cultural leaders around this issue as a matter of urgency.
The church's HIV and AIDS office has been commended for the development and implementation of Anglican supported anti-HIV and AIDS programmes and support for diocesan and parish projects.
Canon Kearon said Archbishop Ndungane was commended for his leadership in the field of HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa, Africa and within the world-wide Anglican Communion.
The synod also requested setting up a gender task team. This team will investigate the possibility of the creation of a Southern African Anglican gender desk.
It is envisaged that this gender desk will produce a consolidated report on all resources, research findings, training and support in order to assist dioceses and organisations to apply gender-sensitive guidelines in their teachings and practices. This report will be produced for initial consideration in 2006.
The gender task team will also serve as a "challenge group" to keep gender issues on the church agenda. They will give feedback on this during 2006. A visioning exercise will be held within the church to contribute to the work of a gender desk.
The church has resolved to produce a strategic plan and a budget for continued work of a gender desk by 2006.
This resolution was made partly in response to high levels of poverty and domestic violence in the Southern African region, and also to UN statistics showing that 75% of those infected with HIV in Africa between the ages of 15 and 24 years old are women.
This issue has been discussed previously by other Church structures. There has been agreement that investigation is needed into the implications of gender-related issues and how they impact on the life of the church and its teaching and practices.
Archbishop Ndungane has been asked by the synod to call on the governments of South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique (that is all countries which form part of the Anglican Church 'province' of Southern Africa) to take responsibility for the provision of care to orphans and vulnerable children in their countries and to ensure that their rights are protected.
The synod also resolved to prioritise the needs of AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children.
It was agreed by delegates that the future of the world depends on the healthy development of children and therefore it is vital that the rights of children to proper nurturing and development are protected.
The synod noted that the church has a responsibility of caring holistically for its members, especially the weak and vulnerable in society. The CPSA has declared HIV and AIDS a human emergency and has implemented programmes whose main objective is a generation without AIDS. Keeping children free of the disease is a major focus area.
Diocesan bishops will be asked to create mechanisms in their dioceses whereby parishes are equipped to follow up on the health and welfare of babies in their churches and communities so that children at risk can be identified and protected from infant mortality, domestic violence and child abuse.
Each diocese will identify and utilise diocesan resources to establish: one stop health care centres; children's care centres providing pre-school education, aftercare, recreation and nutrition; and models of church based community care for orphans.
Gays and the Church
The synod meeting also debated the issue of homosexuality in their province. Bishop Peter Lee from the Diocese of Christ the King in southern Johannesburg began the debate with a presentation from the evangelical Christian perspective - a perspective endorsed by many so-called 'conservative' Anglicans.
This was followed with a presentation by retired Bishop of Grahamstown, David Russell, who presented homosexuality from a pragmatic perspective. Bishop Russell is seen as more 'liberal' in his views on the issue.
Delegates were then addressed by a mother whose daughter is homosexual and who has now accepted her daughter's lifestyle, a homosexual woman and a homosexual man. All three spoke about their experiences of continuing marginalisation by their families and communities.
Debate followed, during which many present expressed their appreciation at being exposed to other people's experiences and opinions on the issue.
Canon Kenneth Kearon spoke highly of the manner of debate on this sensitive issue facing the entire Communion. It was his first visit to the province since his appointment as Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.
No resolution has been reached but Archbishop Ndungane said: "Our discussion and debate on this issue was of a high level of maturity and has broadened our thinking and understanding. The church will continue to listen to the voice of the people and engage on this issue."
New name coming
A decision has been made to change the formal name of the church. Previously known as the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA), it will now be known as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA).
The archbishop said this decision was taken because of the confusion arising from the word 'province'.
"We are an ecclesiastical province of the world-wide Anglican Communion, but we also have nine provinces in South Africa and provinces in other parts of our region such as Mozambique and Angola. So the word 'province' confuses people," said the Archbishop. "The name change has a lot to do with clarifying our identity," he said.
"The name change will not come into effect immediately because it changes the constitution of the Anglican Church. It will only be finalised at the next session of the Provincial Synod in three years' time," said Archbishop Ndungane.
Complied by ACNS from CPSA sources