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October 30, 2013

Indaba – A new way of being

by Admin

In conversation with Bishop Raphael

The diocese of Saldanha Bay, stretching from Cape Town to the Namibian border, is a both beautiful and exciting young diocese. Formed in 2005 out of the mother diocese of Cape Town it is a vibrant diocese actively exploring what it means to be the People of God. Part of that exploration was their involvement in the Pilot Phase of Continuing Indaba, journeying in conversation with the Dioceses of Ho in Ghana and Mbeere in Kenya.

Following the engagement of a team of eight in the pilot conversations Bishop Raphael was keen to share this ‘new way of being’ with the whole of the diocese. This has meant changing the way he leads the diocese, the way Synod functions and a whole lot more.  It seemed that exciting things were happening in the Diocese of Saldanha Bay so at the end of May 2013 I went over to South Africa to see what was happening. At the end of my 10 day visit sharing in the life of the Diocese, I sat down with Bishop Raphael Hess to talk about what being part of the Pilot Conversations meant to him and his diocese and what the place the spirit of Indaba has in the Diocese. 

Living Indaba

Indaba came to the Anglican Communion from the Province of Southern Africa through the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Mkgoba. It is a common word throughout South Africa, for meetings held by those in power  and is also the name of a large household goods chain of shops! The ‘Spirit of Indaba,’ as Bishop Raphael refers to it, in the diocese of Saldanha Bay is much more than facilitated conversations, it underpins all that the diocese is and does.

As we sat together in kitchen of Bishop Raphael and Myfanwy’s home I asked him to unpack for me what Indaba is and how that is being lived out in his diocese. It has been a long day but there is energy and excitement in his voice as he talks about Indaba in the abstract and in the everyday details of the diocese.

Celebration Poster SML

During the facilitated conversation in Limuru, where the team of eight from Saldanha Bay talked with the teams from Mbeere and Ho following their exploration of each other’s context, the idea to change the way the Diocese of Saldanha Bay worked was fermented. The desire for “Indaba to infiltrate and infect diocesan meetings” was clear for Bishop Raphael but he was left with questions of how to get those on Chapter, the Finance Board and others to also catch the vision. Arguments were had about canonical procedure verses Indaba and a strong feeling emerged that both are needed. This sowed the seed for doing their 2012 Synod, which also marked their 7th year as a diocese, in a different way; combining procedural Synod days with a “conference” day using ‘world café ‘ facilitation. You can read more about the diocesan synod here.

A new way of being

We talk about how he thought the diocese had changed following this “Indaba infection”.  Since beginning to try to embed Indaba as a diocesan process in Saldanha Bay, Bishop Raphael has formed partnerships. This is embodied by his ‘Bishop’s Executive’. This Executive works with and as the Bishop and,  as there is no canonical institution for an Executive, they are shaping it as they go. However in the church of Southern Africa each parish has an Executive which is made up of the priest and the two churchwardens, the Bishop’s Executive is a mirroring of this model. Just as a parish exec carries out the decisions of the Vestry or Parish Council the Bishop’s Executive carries out the decisions ofthe elected bodies such as Chapter, Diocesan Council, Finance Board etc. Bishop Raphael reflects he has “peace and tranquility about my management.” This is not a phrase I’ve heard before in the context of diocesan business!

This “Indaba infection” seems to have spread to those bodies mentioned above.  Indaba, according Bishop Raphael, has raised the conversation a few notches. For example the Finance and Trust Boards have changed the lens through which they look at their work. They are now “men and women focused on mission talking about money”. Beyond the diocesan structures,the language and principals of Indaba are permeating the diocese:  from how the bishop addresses his ordinands on retreat to how the youth meet and have a voice across the vast diocese. There is no sense here that Bishop Raphael thinks he and the diocese have got it all sorted, but that they have a vision and direction rooted in journeying together.

Indaba leadership

Bishop Raphael  describes his leadership style as changing from one that was very directive to a much more collaborative approach. Indaba, he suggest, means that things slow down. Collaborative leadership needs to be inclusive, says Bishop Raphael, which means slowing down and asking who’s not here. “A good leader must ask the question who is not here”. When I asked him to elaborate on this, in reference to a conflict resolution process, he reflected that before he was more of a one man band who wanted to contain things who saw situations as open and shut and wouldn’t take risks.

Leadership that reflects Indaba principles, according to Bishop Raphael, is slower, more patient, aware of its own inadequacies, is consultative and willing to take risks. This is reflected in the way Bishop Raphael works with the new Bishop’s Executive and Chapter,  sharing power and bringing in the necessary skills and voices needed.

Indaba and power

Bishop Raphael with newly ordained deacons "Indaba creates space for authentic conversation. Authentic conversation causes creation, inauthentic conversations are destructive. In the creation stories in Genesis Indaba almost becomes the big bang which creates the space for the conversation" between God and Creation to happen that creates and brings life.  Bishop Raphael addressing ordinands on retreat

Bishop Raphael with newly ordained deacons Suzette Strydom and
Joy Joshua y
“Indaba creates space for authentic conversation. Authentic conversation causes creation, inauthentic conversations are destructive.
In the creation stories in Genesis Indaba almost becomes the big bang which creates the space for the conversation” between God and Creation to happen that creates and brings life.
Bishop Raphael addressing ordinands on retreat

Bishop Raphael described indaba is something that all come to on equal footing. When I asked how that works in terms of his authority and power he responded by saying: “you need to consciously relinquish perceived and real power. You can’t hold onto power going into Indaba. This mustn’t be tokenism:  people must feel like power is shared, that we are all in this together”. Facilitation is absolutely key to Indaba for Bishop Raphael, and there is a real sense as he talks of the vulnerability that is exposed in a power holder by bringing in facilitator. “If we are committed to Indaba we will open ourselves up for facilitation.” This he links to the need for authenticity and sharing power.

Living in Indaba

As our allotted conversation time came to an end, there was more to discuss and so we moved to the table and shared food with Myfanwy, I wondered where the energy came from to sustain this Indaba way of working. Bishop Raphael reflected that it is an open ended process; that the conversation has to continue until a solution arises. However it is vital to find interim, observable, results and it is in celebrating these that we gain energy for the next phase. For Bishop Raphael spontaneity is vital, that we are not tied down by being committed to particular outcomes like a choice between a or b. Living in the spirit of Indaba is , for Bishop Raphael,  underpinned by the idea that “we are all in this together” and that we have to keep the conversation going, even if that means living in constant misunderstanding together.

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