The Diocese of York enjoys Companion Links with the three neighbouring South African Dioceses of False Bay, Saldanha Bay and Cape Town. Canon Sue Binks, Vicar of the Kirkdale churches in Ryedale, and Cleveland Archdeaconry Link Officer with the Diocese of False Bay, met Bishop of False Bay the Rt Revd Margaret Vertue around a decade ago, and recently represented the Diocese of York at Bishop Margaret’s retirement.

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I had the lovely privilege of sharing with the people of False Bay Diocese in the Farewell Services at the end of August to celebrate and give thanks for the service and ministry of the Rt Revd Margaret Vertue on her retirement after ten years as their Diocesan Bishop.

False Bay is a young diocese; Bishop Margaret was only the second Diocesan Bishop to serve False Bay, and also the second female Anglican Bishop to be elected in the Southern African Province.

The Services were held across False Bay Diocese starting on Friday afternoon at Masiphumelele, a township and mostly Xhosa speaking community, which tourists bypass on the way to Cape Point, in Mountain Bay Archdeaconry (an Archdeaconry in South Africa is comparable to a Deanery in our own diocese). Here Bishop Margaret dug the ‘first sod’ for a project close to her heart, a new church building, to be dedicated to St Matthew. It had taken a decade to secure the plot and funding, and to get through all the complex planning permissions - and construction is now under way.

The formal Service of Thanksgiving was held on Saturday in the largest-capacity Church in False Bay, at Die Kruiskerk (a Dutch Reformed Church) within the beautiful surroundings of Stellenbosch University. Supported by the Church Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade, Bishop Margaret marched into the service with evident enjoyment and absolutely in step.

Representatives from every Parish, Diocesan Organisation and every conceivable aspect of Diocesan life and ministry - including the Anglican Women’s Fellowship, the Mothers’ Union, Ecumenical Partners, Young People’s Ministry, Academia and Hope Africa presented gifts and expressed their deep love and appreciation for Bishop Margaret.

All the services were conducted in a beautifully crafted fusion of Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, and a magnificent texture of musical genres was interwoven. The Khayelitsha Cluster Choir sang the Te Deum and Mendelssohn’s ‘Grant us thy peace’, classical soloist Danielle Speckman sang the Kyrie Eleison, the Lavender Hill Marimba Band played a lively medley of worship songs and the Congregation sang traditional hymns. Just four hours later we spilled out of church into the sunset.

Bishop Margaret presided at the Eucharist on Sunday morning at All Saints’, Somerset West, which had been dedicated as the Cathedral of False Bay Diocese at Pentecost 2022. The Revd Canon John Ford of the Diocese of York and an Honorary Canon of False Bay Diocese was the Guest Preacher. John served as Co-ordinator of the Link between the Diocese of York and the three neighbouring South African dioceses of False Bay, Saldanha Bay and Cape Town for many years, and he and his wife Barbara (both pictured with Fr Richard Dunsden, the York Diocese Link Officer within False Bay Diocese) have become close friends to Bishop Margaret. The Dean, the Revd Canon Ron Phillips hosted a Reception at All Saints’ Cathedral Hall in the afternoon, and we all had the opportunity to spend some more informal time with Bp Margaret; dress code smart, elegant or traditional attire, but not clerical!

We travelled to Bredasdorp’s Church of the Holy Spirit, very close to Cape Aguilas, the geographic tip and the southernmost point of Africa, on Monday, the Feast Day of St Augustine of Hippo. Bishop Margaret recalled that she had undertaken her first Episcopal Funeral here of a young woman who had been kidnapped and tortured and left dying.

She said, “We have been through a variety of seasons together, yet remained resilient and united, despite being challenged in some major areas.

"Covid was a particularly harsh season that tested our spiritual, physical and mental faculties. Then there were droughts, fires, floods, loadshedding, xenophobic attacks, human trafficking, escalating poverty, crime and violence. By God’s grace we have many joys and highlights to celebrate as well. Wrapped in the love of God we continue to show compassion and encircle others in care.”

This final Farewell Eucharist service included the ordination of the Revd Craig Koopman, prevented by a devastating stroke from being Priested with his Deacon Cohort in August but now sufficiently recovered. Bishop Margaret (on behalf of Archbishop Thabo) also licensed the Dean as the Vicar General, responsible for caring for and administering the matters of False Bay Diocese until the appointment of its third Bishop. It was a deeply poignant and very powerful experience to witness Bishop Margaret lay down her bishop’s staff on the altar. Now False Bay Diocese starts the process of electing Bishop Margaret’s successor.

The remainder of the week was spent in Mountain Bay Archdeaconry, especially connecting with the Revd Richard Dunsden, the Rector at St Augustine’s, and the York Diocese Link Officer within False Bay Diocese.

I was deeply touched to be invited to share in the Farewell services. I had first met Bishop Margaret when I was an Ordinand having the opportunity through the Companion Link Relationship to spend some time in False Bay Diocese, particularly in Mountain Bay Archdeaconry. It was a transformational experience and a time of inspirational learning. I took every opportunity possible to spend time in False Bay, to continue to learn, and Bishop Margaret very generously always invited me to meet her.

Kirkdale Benefice has over the last decade enjoyed a Link Relationship with St Augustine’s Church, Lotus River, and Mountain Bay Archdeaconry. As a Benefice, over a decade, we have been enriched in the sharing in our worship and fellowship with both clergy and lay minister visitors from Mountain Bay. In July 2022 Bishop Margaret stayed the two weeks before the Lambeth Conference in Kirkdale, and joined in our worship and fellowship, helping us put up the Parish Tent at the Ryedale Show and attending a Pub Quiz funding raising for Ukraine and sharing in our Living Christ’s Story.