They want me out

Professor Barney Pityana has proffered his resignation as priest-in-charge at Christ Church in Arcadia, Pretoria, one of most influential Anglican parishes in the country.

Professor Barney Pityana has proffered his resignation as priest-in-charge at Christ Church in Arcadia, Pretoria, one of most influential Anglican parishes in the country.

Although Pityana declined to comment this week on the reasons behind his resignation - following a recent, explosive church meeting - he has accused "hostile" white parishioners of ganging up against him.

He made the accusation in a revealing letter to his archdeacon, Rev Pallo Tabane, which was leaked to the Motswako News Agency.

The rebellious parishioners refuse to allow Pityana to run the parish the way any ordinary head priest would do, claim Pityana's supporters.

They say most of the parishioners constitute a mainstream of white conservatism and they have not taken kindly to the appointment of Pityana, whose roots were firmly embedded in the history of political struggle against apartheid.

Bishop Jo Seoka reacted with alarm when told Pityana had offered to resign: "I am shocked that a person of his calibre can walk out of a meeting. He is one of my finest priests. I will be going into the matter, but only after I am informed by the archdeacon who heads up the matter."

The rebellion centres on former parish priest Father Peter Auret, who is adamant he will continue leading services because "the congregants accept me".

And, despite Pityana's opposition, Auret doggedly continues using a version of the mass ceremony that his priest-in-charge believes is inappropriate.

The ceremony allows Auret to officiate and for another priest to deliver the sermon.

Auret said this week his advancing age underlay his motivation. "My legs just can't take it any more ... my legs won't let me stand (for long periods)," he said.

He refused to comment further, saying the matters was "an embarrassment" to the parish.

The Anglican Church in South Africa's official website still lists Auret as "retired priest - permission to officiate".

Matters came to a head two weeks ago at the fortnightly church council meeting.

Pityana claimed in the letter to Tabane that a clique of parishioners had made it clear they would not accept his leadership.

He says "there were some - granted a minority - who took an aggressive stance".

The Friday meeting was the last straw. He says in his letter: "I withdrew from the meeting and I have no intention of going back until these matters are resolved - or the bishop asks me to return."

While in exile during the '80s, Pityana undertook training for the Anglican ministry in Britain. - Motswako News Agency

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