Once a year the Church of the Province of South Africa holds a general synod. All the who’s who of the Anglican Church attend and hob knob for a week or so. My dad is a rector and has participated for a number of years. They discuss significant things like money, politics and doctrine. They Talk, they argue, they posture. It drives my father nuts.
In the 1980’s a conference was held in Port Elizabeth, I was 10. The issue of the day was the church’s response to homosexuality. Every session went late into the night and Friday was no exception. My mother had brought me along that evening to pick my dad up, but by 9’o’clock they hadn’t even broken for dinner. I stood outside the doors of St Hugh’s huge conference hall with nothing more exciting to do than eavesdrop, listening to the weighty debates raging inside.
Late into the evening they broke for a bite to eat. It was a rush job. The doors to the hall sprung open. A few hundred delegates poured out and spilled into the kitchen facilities. I scrambled out of the way of all the eminent people and retreated to a chair in the foyer a bit out of the way, bored, waiting to go home.
A call to resume went out and the men started shuffling back to the hall to continue their all important business. A shortish roundish black man came out. He was hungry. He was rushed. He needed food. He needed to get back before the proceedings resumed.
Head down deep in thought, like all the others before him, he headed though the foyer in the direction of the kitchen. As he passed me he stopped in mid stride, turned and faced me directly. A kindly face looked at me for the briefest of moments, smiled and then enquired, “Have you eaten?”
I knew who he was, he was our family hero, everyone in South Africa knew Desmond Tutu. One of the leading protagonists waging a war of words against the Apartheid regime, while others cowered he stood like a giant against injustice. He wasn’t as big in reality.
“No,” I replied, suddenly aware of the hole in the pit of my stomach.
“Don’t move,” he said.
About 5 minutes later he bustled back with two plates of food balanced in his arms. He placed a plate in front of me and put cutlery down on either side, fetching a chair for himself, he sat down. I had no clue what to expect.
Warm smile on his face he asked, “Would you pray?”
I gave thanks. We ate. We chatted as well. Being the Arch Bishop of South Africa he had commitments, however you would never have known it. He took his time. The conference started up in the background, but he stayed, quizzing me about what I thought of the country, of religion, of politics, of school, of being a child of a pastor, of… a million things.
He has an infectious laugh. It is like a child’s, full of joy and happiness. At some stage someone came across to him and whispered into his ear. He frowned. He nodded. He stood. I knew it wasn’t going to last forever but I was glad to have had the opportunity to have met him, to have spoken.
He looked at me and grinned. “Would you like some pudding?”
“Oh yes please.”
There’s a couple of reasons why I was reminiscing on this story over the weekend. One of them is because I had recently read the words of Peter regarding Christian conduct in the early church. In 1 Peter 4 verse 9 he writes:
For me, for then, Christian hospitality was exemplified by a guy with a lot to do taking some time out his schedule to serve a nobody.