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Wendyl Martin reflects on Tutu’s hell jibe for serving a hearty breakfast on a Friday morning

Published Dec 26, 2021

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“I AM going to buy you a ventilator to use in hell,” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu quips at me one Friday after mass.

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I had just tucked into a plate of bacon and eggs at the café on the ground floor of Newspaper House in Cape Town.

As an Anglican priest, the Arch believed and preached that Fridays were for fasting, not hearty breakfasts. I looked away in shame, with little to say in response as Father held my shoulders and joked about my poor fasting and faith habits.

Fridays for the Arch began with presiding over mass at St George’s Cathedral. Promptly at 7.15am, Father was robed and ready to conduct the prayers of An Anglican Prayer Book 1989, gently place a wafer in each worshipper’s hand, to welcome people who had often come from far away to the Friday flock and to kuier after at the café. These are the markings of a pastor and a shepherd.

It was like clockwork, every Friday the Arch would appear in St John’s Chapel in the cathedral, he would recite the prayers, pray for South Africa and the world and shepherd a Friday congregation.

He had long since retired from “public life” as his PR team put it, but there is something about priests: people who are so drawn to their calling that not even retirement can bar them from shepherding and prayer.

In spite of this suggested retirement, the Arch trekked out from his Milnerton home or the retirement centre he later lived in in the Overstrand every Friday for as long as he could to pray, preside over mass, give communion, and to shepherd. One Friday, after many stays in hospital, it became too much. During the mass, he expressed fatigue, and his Friday ministry came to a pause.

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Priesthood is as much about prayer as it is about shepherding. Amid all the Arch did for South Africa, he maintained he was not a politician, he was a priest.

The Daily Office is rhythm of prayer practised in Anglicanism: prayers recited at set hours in the day, a practice linked to monastic hours of prayer. I understand that the Arch followed this rhythm of prayer, through his “public life” and his moments of solitude.

The Arch was a listener: he buried his hands in tears listening to years of confession at the TRC. He listened to the pain of mothers describing the loss of children during apartheid, he listened to the evil of people who committed atrocities – all while living the Jesus value of forgiveness.

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The Arch lived love and embracing.

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I’d say sorry. I mean, I’d much rather go to that other place,” said the Arch at a press conference in 2013.

I remember the Arch as a warrior of the marginalised, even when systems say “no”.

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To Mthunzi, thank you for aiding your father-in-law to be present for the Friday mass; you helped him live out his calling to the end – to be a priest.

* Wendyl Martin is a freelance copywriter and copy editor. After many years at Weekend Argus, he is enjoying writing about a wide-range of topics for UCT. In his spare time he enjoys karaoke, watching live music, cake and wine. Martin is a worshipper at St George’s Cathedral.

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Desmond Tutu

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