By Linda Bloom*
During a week celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela, United Methodists and those from other Methodist denominations and the ecumenical community continued to reflect on his legacy.
The Rev. Cecil Rhodes, a South African pastor who served in the United Methodist Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference for six years, sent a message back to his friends there, noting the “common desire and commitment” to make his legacy last.
“His life and death are actually great reminders of what resurrection power is all about,” he wrote. “Love, acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation are difficult, if not impossible, attributes to bury. Everywhere you go, whoever you meet, people are speaking about his impact in their lives.”
The Rev. Ivan Abrahams, top executive of the World Methodist Council and former presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, gave the sermon at Tuesday’s memorial service in Soweto, which drew world dignitaries and celebrities, South African leaders and, most importantly, ordinary citizens who wanted to pay their respects and celebrate his life.
Prayer service at Mandela home
Abrahams also accompanied the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, top executive of the World Council of Churches, to a Monday evening prayer service outside the front door of the Mandela home.
Tveit offered condolences to the family on behalf of the WCC fellowship and noted that people of all faiths had been inspired by the South African leader— “… inspired to believe that it is possible to work for justice through peace,” he said. “And it is possible to see that forgiveness can rule in this world and change what is wrong, change the minds of people and change nations.”
The service was organized and officiated by the Rev. Vuyani Nyobole, top executive of the Methodist Church of South Africa.
The government of South Africa said Dec. 13 that it was grateful to the thousands of South Africans who had come to bid farewell to the former president as he lay in state Wednesday through Friday at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
“The response has been overwhelming and heartwarming with 12, 000 to 14,000 paying homage to Tata Madiba on day one, with two people passing every 3 seconds on day two,” a government news release said.
A state funeral in Qunu, the village in Eastern Cape where Mandela grew up, was set for Sunday, Dec. 15, followed by a private burial. Dignitaries at the service will include Prince Charles of Great Britain and the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Chicago, a longtime Mandela friend.
Many Methodist connections
The current presiding bishop for South African Methodists, Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa, noted in a statement the many connections that Mandela had with the church.
“As a Church, we hail the qualities that confirmed him as a true son of Methodism: a life of faith in God lived in service to others,” he wrote. “Madiba’s life demonstrated the finest characteristics of the Methodist faith: integrity tempered with graciousness; a strong ethic of industriousness and honesty with reconciliation.”
In a Dec. 7 reflection from Capetown, the Rev. Peter Storey recalled his first meeting with Mandela 50 years ago as a new part-time Methodist chaplain at Robben Island.
“My memories of Mandela were of a strong, vital character in the prime of his manhood, all strength and contained energy. He had a ready smile and clearly appreciated the dilemma of a young minister trying, under the cold eyes of the guards, to bring a moment of humanity into this desolate place.”
Storey often crossed paths with Mandela in the years after his release from prison. “The Mandela I knew became beloved by me, not so much for the grand gestures, although he was a master at political theatre,” he wrote, “but for the lesser known acts that revealed a truly human genius for Ubuntu – the awareness that his life was inextricably bound up with the lives of all his fellow human beings, especially his enemies. He was the great includer; nothing was too much trouble if he could cajole or charm another opponent into friendship.”
“Nelson Mandela attended Methodist missionary schools during his formative years,” said the Rev. Ruth Gee, president of the British Methodist Conference, in a statement. “His understanding of Christian values was reflected in his passion for social justice.
“Representatives from the Methodist Church in Britain who were fortunate to meet Mandela have spoken about him with admiration: he was a welcoming, gracious and charismatic leader of exceptional ability who did not hold any bitterness about what had happened to him.”
From prison release to election
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society, noted Bishop Robert Hoshibata, president, and Jim Winkler, top executive, “stood faithfully alongside Nelson Mandela and all others who sought the end of the evil, racist system of apartheid. We campaigned for many years for his release from prison and celebrated his election as president of South Africa in 1994.”
In 1994, the Rev. L. Charles Stovall, pastor of Light of Love Covenant Community Church, Dallas, represented the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in an ecumenical monitoring program of the South Africa Council of Churches.
He recalled Mandela’s campaign and election as the first black president of the country. “What impressed me was the hope (Mandela) inspired in the people of South Arica to vote,” he said. “I remembered how the elderly took that moment to vote like it was a spiritual thing — long waiting fulfilled. When they touched the voting box it was like touching the ‘holy grail’. The lines on that first day were as long as the entire voting period.”
Oklahoma United Methodist Bishop Robert Hayes told the Tulsa World that Mandela’s 2006 meeting with the United Methodist Council of Bishops in Mozambique was “probably the most significant and cherished moment of my life.”
Mandela was seated next to Hayes, who conversed briefly with him at the table. “I had the opportunity to meet him, shake his hand and tell him we appreciated him being there,” he said.
The World Methodist Council “remembers Mandela as a person who fought for dignity and equality for all, not through violent means, but instead through the moral authority that comes when the cause of justice is on one’s side.
The lives that were touched by Madiba’s words and deeds are impossible to count, but his story will live on for generations to come as an example of how to lead in the face of oppression.”*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.