We have awakened today to the news of the death of the Most Rev. Desmond Mpilo Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The world and the Church have lost a great saint who dedicated his life to God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation, and tirelessly fought for justice and dignity for all people. Archbishop Tutu’s life and accomplishments will be recognized and celebrated widely, as well they should be, so I will not rehearse them here. What I do want to do is share a few brief recollections of a man who was a dear friend and mentor to me; and who taught me the real meaning of God’s reconciling love in Jesus.
I first encountered “Arch” (as he liked to be called) at the General Convention of 1982 when he shared the stage with then Vice President of the United States George H. W. Bush. I recall how Arch joked with Vice President Bush that he was in the United States illegally as the racist government of South Africa refused to issue him a passport. I then met Arch personally in 1984 when I worked in the World Mission Department at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, and he had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He came by the Episcopal Church Center to discuss how The Episcopal Church could better partner with him in his fight to end apartheid in South Africa. Years later, after the end of apartheid and following his transformative leadership of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Arch came to the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) as a visiting professor in 2002. At the time Mpho Tutu, one of Arch and Leah’s four children, was studying for the priesthood at EDS. During his time at EDS, I was incredibly blessed to teach alongside Arch; and my family became close to Arch and Leah, his wife, and Mpho and her young family. Our children remember that we always needed to have Arch’s favorite ice cream, rum raisin, on hand for his visits. Finally, I was incredibly honored that Arch agreed to be the preacher when I was ordained Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut on April 17, 2010. It was one of Arch’s final public appearances as he retired from public life later in 2010.
While we are all saddened by the death of Archbishop Tutu, we can give thanks to God for the life and witness of this great servant of God. The world is a more just, compassionate, and loving place because of Arch. We are moved, particularly in this Christmas season, by the way that Arch incarnated the love of Jesus, especially among the marginalized and oppressed. And we commit to carrying on his struggle for justice as we celebrate Arch’s new life with God. Please join me in giving thanks to God for the gift of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Pray for his family and loved ones especially Leah and their children in their time of grief and loss. Please also hold in prayer the people of South Africa, and our companions in Christ in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, that they may continue the faithful witness of their beloved Archbishop. May Archbishop Desmond’s soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas
O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants, especially Archbishop Desmond, who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP page 502)