North Wiltshire Methodist Circuit

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I was saddened to hear of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Boxing Day.

Like many people I really became aware of him during the 1980s when he became a prominent voice opposing apartheid in South Africa. This small man showed great personal courage in speaking out against the oppression of many of South Africa’s people.

In 1989 my wife and I joined thousands of other people at an open-air church service when Desmond Tutu preached, held at the Aston Villa football ground. Sadly, I can’t remember what he said – as much as anything due to a very poor PA system!

When apartheid ended following the release of Nelson Mandela, Tutu undertook a remarkable piece of work when he set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. This brought together people from both sides allowing them the opportunity to express the hurt they experienced but also to say sorry and seek forgiveness. And whilst Desmond Tutu will be remembered for many things, his chairing of this commission is for me a part of his ministry that should never be forgotten.

I read many of the obituaries and tributes to Archbishop Tutu but there was one that stood out as it was very different to the rest. The television personality, and former politician, Gyles Brandreth wrote it.  I would not have expected him to write so movingly. In fact, what I read was an article he’d written for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper in April 2001 after he’d interviewed the Archbishop. You can read Gyles Brandreth’s blog at https://www.gylesbrandreth.net/blog/2021/12/26/meeting-desmond-tutu

Why I find the article so memorable is that in Gyles Brandreth’s interview, Desmond Tutu talks about heaven, his faith, and his family. But particularly about forgiveness. (The article was written not long after the work of the truth and reconciliation commission had ended.) The Archbishop is quoted as saying:

“Forgiving is not easy. Forgiving means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but, in my experience, it is a loss which liberates the victim.”

Desmond Tutu recognised the importance of forgiveness if South Africa was to move on from its cruel past. And for individuals, forgiveness meant a release of part of the burden they carried.

Jesus instructed his followers to forgive. For example, in Matthew’s gospel chapter 6, just after Jesus had shared with his disciples how they should pray (what we call “the Lord’s Prayer”) Jesus says:

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6: 14 – 15

We are all hoping for a happy New Year. Maybe one way we can help this come about is to forgive someone who has wronged us?

 Revd David P. Gray
5th January 2022