Remembering Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Remembering Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Everyone who met him has vivid memories of him. I served as his chaplain when he spoke at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, and met him again when I celebrated a morning Eucharist at St. Thomas Fifth Ave that he attended with his wife. As most people know, Archbishop Tutu was not a large man. In fact, when he was with his wife, she often seemed to tower over him as she usually wore a traditional African headdress which added several inches to her height!
We spent the day and evening together in Detroit, during which we shared meals and, in the evening, I assisted him through the movements of the liturgy according to the American Book of Common Prayer. While a wholly unique experience for me, I realized that this was but one event out of the literal hundreds of events that the Archbishop participated in round the world. Nevertheless, two years later in New York, after the service was over, the Archbishop came up, embraced me and said, “Father, what are you doing here so far from Detroit?” This, I learned, was typical of him. In remembering, he made a human connection.
In a life as long and as rich as Archbishop Tutu’s, I’m certain that there would be aspects of his theology or social views with which I might disagree or approach differently. When I consider his role in peacemaking and reconciliation, however, any such differences fade into insignificance. It is said that when Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, he was often in tears as he heard the testimony of the atrocities that took place under apartheid. Yet, despite the pain of the truth, Tutu embodied the power of forgiveness and reconciliation and was not ashamed to model and embody a distinctly Christian self-sacrificing love while many others demanded vengeance and retribution.
He is one of whom it can be said, “The glory of God is man fully alive…”
So, today I remember Archbishop Tutu.
I remember his humor, his easy laugh and, most of all, his quiet centered reverence despite the flurry of activity that surrounded him. Small in stature, he was a giant.
Requiescat in Pace…