Port Elizabeth’s outgoing Anglican leader Bishop Nceba Bethlehem Nopece has ended his 17 years in office in the city with a call for uncompromising adherence to the Word of God.
The Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Port Elizabeth, who has earned the respect of his peers across denominational lines because of his faithful and effective engagement with many challenges and crises in the city, made the call in a farewell letter to the diocese.
Over recent months Bishop Bethlehem has visited many parishes and organisations to say goodbye and the diocese bade him farewell with a gala dinner in the Feathermarket hall on Saturday July 21, followed by a service in the Nangoza Jebe hall in New Brighton on July 22.
His final service will be in the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin in Central on Sunday July 29 when he will lay down his staff (the shepherd’s crook a bishop carries as a sign of being the leader of his flock). This service will be open to anyone who feels they would like to attend.
For a time such as this
Who is Bishop Nceba Bethlehem Nopece? He came into the diocese from the Diocese of Grahamstown and let it be known that he believes that the Bible is the Word of God and is not to be compromised.
When a practising gay bishop was ordained in the Episcopal Church (Anglican) in the USA, and other liberal decisions were being made within various sections of the Anglican Communion, he spoke out against them.
He became involved in the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) which was birthed to look at the way forward for Anglicans who believe the Word of God cannot be messed with.
He has just returned from the third global meeting of Gafcon which was held in Jerusalem and wrote this about it in a farewell letter to the diocese: “The Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) we attended recently in Jerusalem has made for the third time yet again a call to ‘Proclaim Christ Faithfully to the Nations!’
“In a broken Anglican Communion and the broken world the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible must be proclaimed in accordance to his Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations; baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching and nurturing them till the end of time (Mtt 28:16-20).
“More than ever before the kerygma or proclamation must be vigorous and passionate, to keep our breaking Communion united together in the Truth of the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord as revealed in the Scriptures. The Bible is the Word of God proclaiming the Word from the beginning, who is Jesus the Christ, calling the world and all people to repent from sin of unbelief and humbly turn to God, walking in humility with him daily in all our doings.
Therefore, what the Bible says is sin remains so until we repent.
“Reason is part of our exercise and a tool to use in applying Scripture to our daily lives in conformity to the demands thereof, not to twist what the Bible says in gratifying our desires, likes and lusts and so bless sin and sinful living (Gal 5:16-17ff)”.
Compassion and justice
Bishop Bethlehem also believes that the Church must be seen to take a stand within civil society to bring relief to the poorest of the poor and to speak out against and challenge any injustice.
He earned the respect of many of the Christian leaders within the NMB Metropole who spoke about his role among them when they paid him an emotional farewell at their monthly Bishops’ Breakfast meeting on Thursday July 12.
Apostle Neville Goldman thanked him for his presence when he walked into a chaotic meeting on taxi violence and brought the meeting to order with a few words.
He spoke of Bishop Behlehem’s involvement in education, service delivery, unrest and so much more, where the leaders could rely on him to come at short notice whenever needed.
Supported Trevor Jennings of Transformation Christian Network (TCN) spoke of the first gathering he called to initiate TCN, where he was challenged by the then chair of SACCEC, the late Canon Mcebisi Xundu, who said they did not need another umbrella body. Others said their churches did not belong to the SACC.
Jennings said that Bishop Bethlehem walked in and challenged Canon Xundu, and agreed with him that a gathering of Christian leaders from all churches within the Metropole was needed.
“In response to an invitation to some Christian leaders to meet me for breakfast Bishop Bethlehem and five others met with me and we discussed a vision of Christians working as a united front. Bishop Bethlehem suggested we move to Hoogland Church and pray — and from there, the monthly Bishops’ Breakfast meetings were inaugurated,” he said.
From that beginning more leaders came on board, said Jennings. At one stage, when a leader challenged the others about starting things that do not last, Bishop Bethlehem replied: “If this is of God it will be around in the future. If not, it will disappear like the wind.”
Bishop Bethlehem encouraged key leaders to join him in being a “presence” in the city, where he gained a reputation for interventions such as bringing peace during taxi wars, disruptions in the Northern areas and #feesMustFall unrest.
Many times Bishop Bethlehem was late for — or missed — diocesan engagements because he had been called to intervene in a situation.
Man of God
Jennings said, “Bishop Bethlehem’s absolute, uncompromising belief in what is right and what is wrong has made others realise they are in the presence of a man of God. The unity we enjoy today is thanks to his laying the cornerstone all those years ago.”
Bishop Bethlehem is retiring to Cove Rock in East London. However, according to Bishop Ebenezer Ntali of Grahamstown: “There is nothing about retirement in the Bible so, like the apostle John, who was still working at 90 on the island of Patmos, Bishop Bethlehem will still be involved in ministry.”
The dean, Mark Derry has been licensed as vicar-general by the Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. He will oversee the smooth running of the Diocese of Port Elizabeth until a new bishop is elected and installed.