The Bishop’s E-Pistle: Celebrating the life of Archbishop Tutu

Just before Christmas, the Diocesan House staff took an afternoon to watch the film, Mission: Joy, a documentary about the 2015 meeting of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  We watched with laughter, tears, and reflected afterward about the insights of these two faith leaders who are so inspiring.  

When I heard the news of Bishop Tutu’s death on December 26, I was grateful we had just shared that time together.  I commend the film to everyone—both those who have spent time with his public witness, his writings, and his speaking and to those for whom Bishop Tutu may be only a familiar face.  Gather a group at your church to watch it and discuss it—and celebrate the life well lived.

His commitment to justice and reconciliation, motivated by his faith in Jesus and his prayer, was held at great cost. He was both revered and reviled for his moral clarity, and his unwillingness to be silent when the Gospel was in need of a voice crying out in the wilderness.  

Anyone who has ever physically been in his presence felt both the strength and impishness he projected, along with his humility and interest in people.  At the General Theological Seminary, where I was blessed to see him a few times, the image I will carry with me most strongly is a photo that captured him with his friend Frankie, the man who owned the deli next to the seminary, and who he always spent time with when he was in NYC.  He could be around people with worldly status and power and was happy to do so to further the aims of the gospel. But he valued his connections with ordinary people and made sure to honor them with his presence and attention. 

Bishop Michael Nuttall preached at Bishop Tutu’s funeral, and concluded his sermon with the text of a song in honor of the Arch: 

Voice of the muted multitude, son of the dark mysterious land,
Called at the height of crisis to the Cape of Storms to transform it into the Cape of Good Hope;
Mbishobhi Omkhulu!

Take rest at last, lala kahle, our dear friend the Arch.
You have tended the wounds of noble strife, the wounds of Ubuntu;
enter now into the full embrace of the great and generous God you served.