The Dean Rowan Smith
In 1974,I wrote a letter to the then Archbishop of Cape Town, Robert Selby Taylor in support of the application of a young priest for the position of Youth Director for the Diocese of Cape Town. I still have a copy of that letter in my private archives (a cardboard box containing all sorts of things I have never managed to throw away).
Reading that letter again recently, I was absolutely amazed that all the wonderful things I said about that young priest way back then. But in all honesty I must say that if I were writing that letter today I think I would find myself saying bascially the same kind of things I said all those years ago.
Rowan Quentin Smith has continued to this day to be the same wonderfully, caring, loving, supportive, non judgmental and deeply humble human being that I encountered more than 40 years ago.
I met Rowan in 1968, shortly after his return from King’s College London where he trained for the Priesthood. He was serving his Title at the Parish of St Nicholas, Matroosfontein.
In 1970, we both served on the Committee for the celebration of the Centenary of the C.P.S.A. About this time a group of young people got together in an effort to get the Church to take seriously the need for a youth ministry in the Diocese. This group saw in Rowan all the wonderful qualities of leadership which were already manifesting themselves and elected him as its leader. When later the first Diocesan Youth Council was formed, Rowan was elected its Chairperson. His deep sensitivity and his ability to see beyond the obvious guided and directed many of us in those early years.
Rowan was not appointed Youth Director, the powers that be citing the waste of a good priest as its reason, so much for taking the needs of young people seriously.
Rowan went on to serve in the parish of Bonteheuwel and then All Saints Plumstead where he ministered mainly in the Grassy Park area. When the Parish of the Good Shepherd gained its independence, Rowan was appointed, its first Rector. After a few years in Grassy Park he decided to test his vocation with the Community of the Resurrection C.R. (a religious community situated at Mirfield in the U.K). In May 1977, he entered the Novitiate of the C.R. He was Professed into the Community at the Priory Church of St Peter’s Rossetenville, Johannesburg and served as Chaplain to St Martin’s School.
He remained in Johannesburg for a few years until he was recalled to the Mother House at Mirfield.
After 10 years in the Community I suspect that driven by loneliness and a deep longing for his family, he applied for leave of absence from the Community and retuned to Cape Town where he was appointed Chaplain to UCT. From Cambria, he went to Bishopscourt as Chaplain to Archbishop Desmond Tutu who later appointed him Provincial Exectutive Officer for the CPSA. In 1995, the Dean of Cape Town, invited Rowan to become Canon Pastor of St George’s Cathedral within a few months, Colin Jones resigned as Dean of Cape Town.
In 1995, months away from his retirement, Archbishop Desmond Tutu decided to leave the appointment of Dean to his successor. In 1996, the newly enthroned Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane appointed Rowan , the Dean of Cape Town. He was installed in St George’s Cathedral on 13th October 1996.
In all these various positions and situations in which Rowan found himself I believe that he conducted himself with honesty, dignity and integrity and exercised a superb ministry both pastorally and spiritually. This is bourne witness to by the love and support with which he is enveloped by people all over the world whose lives he has touched.
One cannot in al lhonesty write about Rowan Smith, without referring to his role as an icon for the gay community. I was present in St George’s Cathedral on a Sunday afternoon in 1998, when Rowan, as the Newspaper’s referred to as “Outed himself.”
What prompted this was probably two minutes of a 30 minute address in which he spoke about his sadnes at the way in which gay and lesbian people are sidelinedand talked about but never to. And are dismissed as “those people” by both society and the Church. He said they are Somebody’s Son, Somebody’s daughter, Somebody’s brother, Somebody’s sister. He concluded I find it especially painful as I am one of those people. I believe that those words were spoken by someone who had wrestled long and hard with himself and had come to the prayerful conclusion that honesty and openess was the only solution for himself. So what of the aftermath of his decision to publically state who he is? I believe that by his actions and his courage, Rowan has given hope and strength and empowered to countless numbers of gay and lesbian people, both young and old to look into the face of the bigots, hypocrits and homophobes and the fundamentalist and to say to them, accept me for who I am – I am here to stay.
I believe that Rowan still has a great deal to offer the Church of God, both spiritually and pastorally and may he still continue to inspire all of us. To which I would expect the people of God to say a resounding, Amen.