5th January 2022

I have a vivid memory of the first time I met Desmond Tutu. The occasion was the 6th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver in 1983. Tutu was then the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. The Assembly had already begun but Tutu’s presence was delayed because the South African authorities had been difficult in providing him with a visa. This was foolish tactics because if he had arrived with all the other delegates his presence would not have been remarkable, but in fact he arrived rather sensationally when some of us were engaged in a midnight Prayer Vigil. And I well remember his message to us. Considering all the problems in the modern world he said, ‘O God, I am glad that I am not God – who on earth can cope with so many issues causing conflicts and problems? I am glad I am not God.’ And then he began to talk about prayer and was particularly impressed that there were people in Alaska praying for him: ‘In Alaska, praying for me’, he repeated in a high pitched voice, which led him on to the profound reflection that when he found life difficult beyond human comprehension then he found the resolution of his difficulties in his affirmation: ‘O God, I am glad that you are God, because only you can help, only you can put these things right!’

John Briggs