Messengers of Hope: Commitment to Justice arises, not out of some political theory, but because we have gazed into the face of Christ and seen there his suffering love for humanity.


Peter John Story Lecture, 2022
By Dr. Hlophe Brigalia Bam
Seth Mokitimi Seminary, Pietermaritzburg

● The President: Dr Rowanne Marie
● Rev. Peter Storey
● Distinguished guests
● Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honoured by your invitation to come and give the Prof. Rev. Peter Storey
Lecture, an intellectual, a patriot, a pioneer, a leader, an ecumenist, a visionary,
a theologian, an ethicist. I also wish to express my appreciation for this tradition
of acknowledging people and their contributions during their lifetime. Many
others also have contributed to little events, but few have greatness to turn the
course of history. Today we also celebrate the years and the significance of the
accomplishments for the cause of (freedom, justice and peace). There are many
religious leaders who have made significant contributions in their ministry. But
today we are giving an account of a creative and successful public intervention
by religious individuals and the groups they represented.

I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of Seth Mokitimi. It brings back
memories of my time at Lovedale Institution. When ‘Bomber’ (as we referred to
him), from Healdtown was the scheduled preacher, it brought excitement and
joy to us students. He was a moral tower, and great preacher in the mould of
Billy Graham and Jonathan Edwards. This lecture not only gives me the
opportunity to reflect on the life of a great faithful servant of the Methodist
Church of Southern Africa (MCSA), but also gives me an opportunity to reflect
on his sterling contribution to the growth of the Ecumenical Movement. To the
young Church historians among us, the story of the influence of the Methodist
leadership on the Ecumenical movement is still to be told. You will notice that
the topic of this presentation is taken from his theme address as President of
the Connexion in its 1984 conference.

My last collaboration with Peter Storey has been on the newly launched
exhibition entitled ‘Truth to Power: Desmond Tutu and the Churches in the
Struggle Against Apartheid.’ The two of us, with others, were approached to
advise on the content and approach of the exhibition which was curated by The
Apartheid Museum in partnership with Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy
Foundation. This exhibition is the first of its kind as it shows how churches
became a powerful force in the struggle.

Peter the Pastor
Peter Storey was a son of the Manse. He was born in 1938 at the backwaters of
the emerging industrial town of Boksburg but grew up in the multiracial
Kilnerton Institution and Cape Town. You will recall that his father’s (CK Storey)
move to Kilnerton coincided with the election of the Nationalist Party in 1948.
His stay there was cut short by the promulgation of the Group Areas Act and the
Bantu Education Act. In 1957, he, as President of Conference, stood with the
then Archbishop of Cape Town, Geoffrey Clayton, in opposing and engaging in a
clerical protest march against the Native Laws Amendment Bill, which had the
so-called ‘Church Clause’. To the older Storey, apartheid was akin to slavery. I
am mentioning this to indicate how in fact Peter Storey’s social and theological
perspectives on the ‘vision of God’ for the Church, of a ‘Church under the Cross’
of Christ, John Wesley’s doctrine of Perfect Love, and advocacy for a Black
President, (leadership) were ingrained in him early in life.

Following his ordination in 1962, while working in Cape Town, he was also a
chaplain to Robben Island, where he ministered to the recently incarcerated
Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, and their colleagues. He was bruised and
touched by the pain of his congregation. The Circuit was able to focus on the
Inner city ministry. Amongst other initiatives he launched the first Life-Line
Centre in South Africa. The Church became a hive of activity with the families
who were still living around District Six. When he went up to the Central Church
in Johannesburg, he expanded and grew this social outreach ministry. He was
also part of several Commissions within the Connexion, one of which was on the
Renewal of the Church that led to the decision to ordain women. This decision
drew women from the shadows of the Connexion to significant positions within
it. It was during his tenure at Central that he became a representative of the
MCSA to the SACC. He was eventually elected the president of the SACC. In his
ministry, the world became his pulpit.

In dealing with a person such as Peter Storey, one must take into cognizance the
apartheid context in which he ministered, and the nature of the Church he
served. The church that time was gripped with a pervasive attitude of fear to be
prophetic as well as the tendency to shun critical self-examination in our context
by our churches because of political expediency. Following the protests and
massacre of Sharpeville, the state had intensified its repression and passed
draconian laws that were to deal with anybody who transgressed the straight
and narrow path of the Nationalist Party. The World Council of Churches (WCC)
established in 1969 The Programme to Combat Racism (PCR), which was to give
humanitarian support to liberation movements world-wide, did not help the
cause of the Churches in South Africa. As Villa-Vicencio in his book, Trapped in
Apartheid says, ‘it was a decision to shift the focus of the ecumenical church from
protest and benevolence to resistance and support of those engaged in a
liberation struggle’. (Pg. 109) This threw the English speaking Churches into a
‘theological frenzy, ethical indecision, theological consternation, and political
storm’. There were heated debates in churches, controversial Conference and
Synod resolutions and what I would call self-righteous and self-serving
ecclesiastical distancing from the WCC, in a futile attempt to curry favour with
the government. What was clear is that the churches were not ready and
prepared to cross the Rubicon of protest to resistance to the institutionalized
oppression of the Apartheid State.

The Methodist church was unequivocal in condemning the decision as reported
in the minutes of its ninety-sixth National Conference of the Methodist Church
of SA. They further produced a theological statement ‘The World Council of
Churches and the Methodist Church of SA (1979) They propagated that the WCC
should discontinue the grants. Sadly, the statement failed to engage in a
theological discussion within itself and the WCC regarding ‘sign of solidarity.’
The South African church, in its forked tongue response, was seen as defending
the repressive violence of the apartheid regime. Unfortunately, the churches
did not see this as an opportunity to ask themselves how far the churches’
‘architecture of mercy and justice’ go and how they could facilitate dialogue with
the liberation movements. The latter took the courage of White Businessmen in
the late eighties.

The Methodist Church of South Africa were the founding members of the World
Council of Churches in 1948. The Methodist Church of South Africa was among
many of the member churches that raised very strong objections to the PCR.
And it was important for the World Council to pay special attention to the
objections raised by the Methodist Church especially from South Africa.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, W.E.B. Du Bois, in his seminal work, The
Soul of the Black Folks asserted that:

The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour-line,
– the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and
Africa and the Islands of the sea.

This was true for the English speaking established churches in South Africa. For
the greater part of the twentieth century, these churches lived comfortably with
the reality of racial discrimination and domination within the Church. This found
expression in practices such as taken for granted white leadership, unequal pay,
condescending attitude towards Black colleagues, etc. Given the church’s
history and links to colonialism and its presumed superiority of Whiteness, the
church in South Africa has always had an ambivalence and shame in naming and
demystifying the evil that the church was struggling to overcome. Thus, Trevor
Huddleston, a former priest in Sophiatown, could say, ‘the church speaks in its
sleep.’ (Cf. Eph. 4:1-5).

However, I must add that there were voices and activists on both sides of the
colour line who advocated for a different future for the MCSA. If you examine
your historical records.

Peter the Ecumenist
The first time I saw Peter Storey was in the bombed ruins of Khotso House, six
weeks after my arrival in South Africa. At the crack of dawn, here was this white
man demanding access to the ruins. He was the only church leader who was
there, trying to establish if there were any victims in the ruins. This invariably
led to confrontation with the police who were there. This was the beginning of
our long journey of working together. In another instance, the first march in
Johannesburg on ‘Standing for the Truth,’ with the soldiers and police seeking
to block the march, church leaders and throngs of people, he began the march
with a very passionate prayer, and I wish I had recorded that prayer. After that
prayer I realised that here was a man of deep faith, and that God would lead us.
He was bold, resolute, and courageous. Lo and behold, the soldiers and police
opened-up and let us through.

Peter Storey was among those within the Connexion, who advocated, early on,
for the Church to place equality issues of clergy in the Connexion at the top of
the agenda. He was of the view that the need for such action was long overdue.
The church could not continue to espouse equality and family values more as a
slogan than fundamental virtues. The intervention of the ecumenical movement
would provide the Church to speak with one voice about the challenges and
common dream for South Africa. Problems such as government misrule,
discrimination, poor nutrition, inadequate provision of health care and housing,
poverty, and ineffectual schools, the church could not ignore. The church,
through its faithfulness to its mission, should command national attention. The
church had to put its resources where its mouth was. For him the church must
be unequivocal in expressing its understanding of the problems that faced
society. It was not enough just to criticise the Nationalist leadership for a callous
attitude, when on our part we ignored these problems. His response was
embodied in ministries in the various circuits he served. He embraced a
restlessness against the deprivation of many South Africans, especially its
African majority.

In the mid-seventies onwards, South Africa was increasingly getting isolated,
politically, diplomatically, militarily, culturally, and economically from the rest of
the world. Rhodesia was under increased pressure from insurgents and
Portuguese colonies, Mozambique, and Angola, got independence, and political
activism within South Africa was becoming uncontrollable. This forced the South
African Government to adopt a defence policy to counteract what they called
the ‘total onslaught’. The government developed a defence policy captured in
the 1977 White Paper on Defence, which called on the “marshalling of all
resources of all state resources to combat revolutionary warfare”. This meant
the role of the security forces had to be foregrounded and the military
architecture reconfigured, with the force size dramatically increased. It also
meant all medically fit White male 18 year olds were eligible for National Service
of 24 months, and voluntary conscription for White females. This resulted in the
militarization and increasing polarisation of the country. The gradual increase of
‘body bags’ coming from the ‘border wars’ and the intensifying violence that led
to the killing of the ‘innocents’ within the country, raised serious moral
questions of the military policy of the state, giving rise to international
condemnation and resistance to military conscription. This resistance coalesced
around organisations such as the Conscientious Support Group and the End
Conscription Campaign. Peter Storey, as a father of an eligible son, and a
Christian of conscience, got drawn into this conundrum. He called upon the
church to be a ‘fearless witness to the truth’ and solidarity expressed in the ‘pain
of togetherness’. He muted mutiny on the part of the conscripts. He penned
Hope for South Africa in which he articulated a different vision for a new united
South Africa. His Presidential visits to different circuits exposed him to the raw
‘rage of despairing people’. Again and again, he called the church to a different
kind of faithfulness, to undertake a process of continued discernment and
discovery, and that they should be purveyors of hope in the land of despair.

The writing of history of any nation, arts, artists, music, architecture, etc., its
contours get embodied in the heroic actions of individuals and events. This is
what Pericles meant when he said, “If Athens shall appear great, consider then
that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their
duty.” And I think this is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 6 verse 17 when
he said, “Let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the scars of Jesus.”
In the early eighties, there were a constellation of events, such as the
intensification of the border wars, political convulsions in the townships, state
of emergencies, the increased visibility and exposure of the SACC, international
sanctions, and isolation of South Africa that culminated in the establishment of
the Eloff Commission by the government. The government was ready to unleash
on the SACC and the churches its plethora of draconian laws such as the
Unlawful Organisations Act of 1960 and the Fundraising Act of 1977. This was a
watershed event for the church at two levels. The Church had to unequivocally
articulate its self-understanding of its Being. They also had to make a case for its
material religious practice against the accusation of being the handmaiden of
‘communists and terrorists’. They pointed out the danger and futility of the
Government’s pursued political policies. The submission of Peter Storey on
behalf of Church Leaders and Desmond Tutu on behalf of the SACC to the
Commission, must be required reading for all theological students in South
Africa. The articulation of the Church’s moral imperative to stand with Jesus who
gave his life for humanity, why the church cared so much for humanity as a
demonstration of God’s ultimate goodness, and why the actions of existential
injustice of government precipitated a situation of status confessionis for the
Church, and the necessity of international solidarity of churches to fight against
this scourge, stand alongside Martin Luther’s 95 Theses or Wesley’s Twelve
Sermons. The work of the Churches through the SACC was to give practical
effects to our mission and bring about societal change. And that this faith
response has personal, political, social, and public dimensions.

This was an epic fight not just for the survival of the SACC, but also an articulation
of a theological position between transcendence and immanence. They argued
that as much as the church should avoid being perceived as an additional
pressure group, their ministry raised the fundamental questions of whether
theological propositions could be translated into political choices. And these are
perennial questions that have occupied the Church over time in its apostolic and
catholic mission. They emerged victorious but emotionally scarred.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)
“A journey through the past and present – into the future of South Africa” Piet

The TRC was established in 1996. Peter Storey and I were part of the team that
was appointed and served as members of the panel of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. Storey became involved in this very difficult process.
He and Paul Verryn were chief witnesses in the hearing of the death of Stompie
Moeketsi. He was a teenage United Democratic Front activist from Parys in
South Africa who was kidnapped on 29 December 1988 by members of Winnie
Mandela’s bodyguards, together with three other boys.

The Truth Commission was the beginning of a process that would take many
years and many generations. We as churches failed this nation by not involving
ourselves and we showed very little interest and commitment. The churches can
still get engaged in issues of reconciliation, justice and healing.

In Search of a church that Cares.
Morally Complex Environment

We live in a morally complex world. It is beset with complexities and paradoxes.
The certainties of the past are put under duress by development of modernity
that gives rise to a different set of theological questions and moral challenges.
In that sense both society and theological discourse changes and grows, creating
a high level of uncertainty about traditional ways of knowing and doing theology
and giving rise to what we have referred to as hermeneutics of suspicion, social
sin, structural evil, and social justice. Despite that state of flux, we cannot simply
diarise our Christian virtues. God is calling us to be active participants in the
creation of a different future. Our eschatological hope beckons us and our task
is to sustain moral regeneration.

Our witness is about our response to this complexity, particularly as they inform
and shape the ethical imperatives of being the church in the South African
context. The challenge before us is how we lead moral lives amid such moral
complexity and ambiguity. This complexity calls upon us to grow ‘into moral
adulthood’. Unfortunately, this goes beyond mere platitudes in a sermon.

Hotbutton issues of the contemporary world demand more than that. This involves

having sufficient grasp or appreciation of the moral issues at hand, and at the
same time know our moral framework that would enable us to grapple with the
issues so that we do not outsource our responsibility to assert moral choices or
subjugate the bible to ideological interests or naively respond to newspaper
headlines. We need to always guard against making quick decisions based on
insufficient information as that might lead to misjudgement. For example, what
is the moral difference in ‘vitalism – the prolonging of human life, and
euthanasia? In our world, parameters between right and wrong are no longer
clear-cut. If you don’t agree, just read the Zondo Commission Reports, and listen
to some of the responses. As one ecumenist said, ‘get the story straight before
you get the story out.’

Adding to that complexity is the cultural diversity of our congregations, with
diverse experiences of pain, suffering, failure, and sin. And that calls for the
church, as a sanctuary of conscience, to have credible discernment, discipleship,
and evangelism. People come to Church with a genuine desire to find God and
to fashion their lives accordingly. Afterall, the church is a font of ethical

Righteous Indignation
Every society in the world has a demarcation that divides its people into the
haves and have nots; rich and poor; manifested in access to services that impact
on their livelihoods: health, education, access to jobs and life affirming
opportunities. In a recent study South Africa was designated as the worst
unequal society. Globalisation has accentuated these gaps, thus embedding the
experience of marginality for many people. To understand the communities we
minister to, we must appreciate the experience of those at the centre and those
who have been pushed to the septic fringes of society. Awareness of this reality
raises the question about what guides our moral imagination? What it means to
be a church in such a situation. A Message to the People of South Africa 1968
makes the following observation: “We believe that this doctrine of separation is
a false faith, a novel gospel: it inevitably is in conflict with the gospel of Jesus
Christ, which offers salvation.” (P.214) The church has a propensity to be
seduced by trappings of power, and pander to the workings of the empire.
Materialism of the world becomes too good to resist. We tend to be
uncomfortable with the social periphery. Our cosiness with the empire
invariably blunts our prophetic courage. Fidelity to the message of the God of
Justice, who talks about the dignity of the widow, the orphan, and the poor, gets
flatfooted. Can we say, without fear of contradiction, that we are a church that
also ministers to the socially marginalised?

In the first chapter of Nehemiah, we read about some people who brought news
about the desolation, destruction of Jerusalem and the abuse and affliction of
its population. Many of us tend to fast forward to read about how he went about
building the city. Verse 4 tells us that he was bruised by the pain of Jerusalem
and its people, despite his relatively privileged position in the court of the king.
He did not only feel righteous indignation, but he also consecrated himself and
his sorrows; gave his sorrows to God; and personally initiated relief efforts to
take to Jerusalem; and lastly, he dirtied his hands in rebuilding the walls of the
city. The Church cannot remain indifferent to the plight of others. Sympathy is
not enough. How does the eschatological hope of the Kingdom of God get
expressed in our day to day ministry? How do we work for justice of God in our
time? As Allan Boesak puts it, ‘we need to have holy rage’.

This is what the ecumenical movement accomplished with the churches. We
mobilised resources internationally and locally and distributed these among
communities around the country. This brought relief to many people who would
otherwise die of hunger. It energised churches to journey with their people. It
spread wide the ecclesiastical map of influence and care in South Africa. The
ministry of presence by the church was felt everywhere. This was because it
bridged the different understandings of the church (ecclesiological), informed
by different theological traditions, historical contexts, as well as practical
considerations. More importantly, it brought together clergy of various
denominations in the work of ministry, bringing into sharp focus the vision of
catholicity, and learning the virtue of consultation in the process. Haberman
called this Communicative ethics. Our understanding of faith was
complementary and mutually corrective. It facilitated transcending barriers,
building solidarity, and fellowship. (Of course, sometimes these relationships
were messy, confused, and complex.) This was not a super church, but a united
work of ministry to destitute communities. It went beyond just being a personal
call from God, to touching the lives of others. It was faith working through love.
In so doing, as Avery Dulles puts it, ‘it was also a present participation in the
work that God is doing – in the task of bringing forth justice to the nations.’ It is
God of the bible who demands justice. Through the Ecumenical movement, the
church embodied Messianic solidarity with the oppressed amid hopelessness.
Those days it might indeed have been the only hope hoped for. I believe this
saved the Churches from propensity of privatisation of religion and abdication
of political responsibility.

The second thing is that the ecumenical movement pushed the frontiers of
theological thinking. Without the ideas from theologians, north and south,
injection of ideas from young theologians, we would not have had SPROCAS, the
Kairos Document, the across the board acceptance of the ordination of women
and the emergence of contextual theology. These tended to evoke spirited and
recriminatory debates in ecclesiastical circles. I was the first lay woman General
Secretary. I recognize with admiration the increased number of ordained
women in the Methodist Church. The Ecumenical movement provided a
platform for the exchange of theological ideas, access to fresh and new
theological thinking and scholarship in a safe environment, away from
ecclesiastical oversight.

After 1994, the ecumenical movement began to unravel. Individual
denominations sought to sit on the right and left of the African National
Congress Kingdom. This undermined the cohesion of the ecumenical movement.
We are still to recover from that.

Covid-19 has proved an enemy beyond our strength. Reports in the past two
years indicate a steady rise in domestic violence. Many of the victims are
women. As you might have heard, broken people create broken marriages,
broken families, and scarred communities. The issue of GBV is something that
we cannot just deal with on a basis of responding to news headlines. I can
venture to say, we interface and interact with both victims and perpetrators
daily. We should know that the problem is multi-layered, nuanced and
institutionally embedded and rooted in socio-cultural norms. In some cases,
subtle and covert. And as such, we must address it at various levels. It is about
anyone who would seek to control, demean and/or exploit another person in a
repeated and systematic way. It involves issues of hegemonic and toxic
masculinity, patriarchy, regarding women as possessed objects and sexual

As many of us know, violence against women has spiked to epidemic
proportions. Numbers of women who are raped are high. Girl-child, old women
are more vulnerable. All this happens in an environment in which victims are
afraid to speak against their abusers, violence is normalised, perpetrators evade
responsibility for their actions and the clergy overlook the signs of depression in
their congregants. Our communities are scattered with people who are
permanently and emotionally scarred, spiritually broken, many throwing
themselves onto the jaws of permanent despair and perennial anxiety. There is
a palpable brokenness in our families and society. People live in painful and
destructive ways.

Are we so self-obsessed as a church that everything and everybody is measured
by their usefulness to our bottom-line, both in terms of numbers and money?
Religious communities lose their voice when it comes to dealing with issues
outside the four walls of the church building. Compassion and empathy are in
short supply. As a community of moral wisdom, we are called upon to act
courageously confront those who engage in sinful acts. (Galatians 6:1-2 and
Mathew 18: 15-22).

Ours is a fight of monumental proportions. It will not take an event on women’s
day to win it. It is a task for societal moral re-formation, a recommitment to a
new social contract in which we fight for equal regard for all, in which the dignity
and respect of all are affirmed and violence of any kind is scorned. As a Church
we could do the following:

● Prevent the creation of socio-cultural and religious obstacles and
incentives that facilitates and makes abuse tolerable.
● Preach against it and provide safe platforms (e.g., the Women’s Manyano)
to talk about it.
● Centres of counselling and healing.
● Sanction known perpetrators.

At the end of the day, the challenge before us is how we can sustain our
challenge to the ‘new South Africa’ with holiness. It is about upholding the
otherness of God and at the same time embodying his immanent presence
among us. We need to find ways of getting out of the present trap of brokenness
to wholeness. And the answer we may find in Peter Storey’s and Desmond Tutu’s
submissions to the Eloff Commission. In the words of Robert Kennedy, “So, the
road toward equality of freedom is not easy, and great cost and danger march
alongside all of us.” (Day of affirmation address). For such a time as this we have
been called. Discipleship costs and Grace is not cheap.

How does the church become prophetic in its own time? We must be vehicles
through which the presence of the divine invades the here and now. Both our
Christian values and the context should inform and drive our choices that we
make. Storey’s ministry raised the perennial question of who speaks for the
church: its synods, gathered congregations or dispersed witnessing individual
Christians? His ministry left a legacy for the church to be compassionate, to have
empathy, humility for discernment, goodness, and courage. He embodied a
capacity to enter another person’s pain and injury; to make another persons’
trouble our own. He embodied a spirituality that says commitment to the
teaching of the gospel is not just for personal enrichment. It includes the
transformation of unjust social structures. In the words of Eric Clayton, “It is for
the good of those we encounter, those who suffer, struggle or are hurting.” He
believed that in a shared commitment by churches, equality and a caring society
would be achieved. That means as a church and its members, we should embody

The idiom, ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’, could be an apt description of
Peter John Storey. It is in that context that the church should not tire in being
moral warriors. The church is facing challenges of modern society and I am
reminded of the question raised by Konrad Raiser,
Is there a positive role for religion in the human future?”
He continues by writing,

“The expectations that economic leaders and politicians have of religions and
their leaders as guardians of the moral and ethical traditions of humanity, and
of their ability to mediate in the current situations of conflict, requires
religions, and not least Christian churches, to engage in critical self-reflection
about their action in the public space.”

The resurrected Jesus says meet him in Galilee. Let us keep the sacred flame of
hope in our hearts and ministry. Let us abide in his love so we may live his love
for others.

Finally, I would like to share with you the message from the World Council of
Churches. The WCC sends a message to member churches on ‘Horizon of Hope.’
“For a world that seems mirrored in difficulties and so often discouraged we
stand unbowed to offer hope for a better future and a better world. Let us
illuminate the horizon of hope for all but with action.

As we look back with gratitude on ministry of Peter John Storey, I am reminded
of the words of Karl Rahner:

“In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we eventually learn
that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.”

The resurrected Jesus says meet him in Galilee. Let us keep the sacred flame of
hope in our hearts and ministry. Let us abide in his love so we may live his love
for others.