DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Next Year in Cape Town

Written by: on September 21, 2020

This week I am living into the reality of an unrealized dream. Our doctoral cohort was supposed to be gathering in Cape Town, South Africa for the second of three international “advances” on Leadership and Global Perspectives. This trip, like a great number of things this year, was postponed due to Covid-19. The decision not to travel this year was made several months ago. But it was still sad to turn the page to this week on the calendar and to see the dark lines scratched through the words, “Cape Town.”

The plan is to try again next year. We will substitute the Hong Kong advance for a second attempt at Cape Town. I am hopeful, but also realistic. It is very possible that an international trip will not be feasible even in a year’s time. We are in a very real state of “Not Knowing” as the global impact of Covid-19, along with several other factors- “x, y, and z”- may require another alteration of the plan.

This is the state of our lives right now. Perhaps this is how it has always been and we are just now more aware. So much is out of our hands. And yet time marches on. We work. We study and learn. We plant and reap. We pray. We put one foot in front of the next and strive to keep going, perhaps with one eye on the path at our feet and the other on the horizon.

Our Jewish friends have a saying that happens at the end of the Passover Seder meal and at Yom Kippur: “Next year in Jerusalem.” Literally, the words are a statement of intention to gather together as a body in the holy city in one year’s time. It is also a phrase that serves as a reminder of the exile and the hope of returning to a rebuilt Jerusalem. It binds the community by uniting them in their shared experience and it also gives a direction in which to set their gaze as they pray for day of peace and reconciliation.

However, more often than not in the following year, Jews around the world find themselves not together in Jerusalem, but scattered still, blooming where they are planted and keeping the faith from a distance. And yet their hearts’ desire continues to be “Next year in Jerusalem.” They may never be and there is certainly the reality that one never knows what the coming year might bring, but the words function as a call to a life of hopeful expectation.

This is the life is described by Renner and D’Souza who write about the blessings we can find in the space of the unknown. They write, “Not Knowing is an active process, a choice to open up to new experiences and learning. It is a way of living and working with complexity, ambiguity and paradox, tolerating uncertainty and the uncomfortable feelings that we notice at the edge. This view … reframes Not Knowing as a positive space of potential and opportunity, where we can access new, emergent knowledge.”[1]

We cannot know all that this next year will hold, but we have a choice. We can choose to be consumed by sadness, disappointment, frustration, and anger, all because of things way beyond our control. Or we can try a better way. My hope and prayer for this week begins and ends like this: “Next year in Cape Town.” I will accept where we are today. I will face each new day’s needs, problems, and opportunities with faith, hope, and courage. And I will look forward to the possibility of reunion and renewal one day in another part of the world. Most days that is all we can do. For this day, it will have to do.

[1] Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza, “Not Knowing: The Art Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity,” (New York: LID Publishing, 2016,) 137.

About the Author


John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

10 responses to “Next Year in Cape Town”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Jesus’s words in Matthew 6 speak louder than ever:

    “34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

    Covid has shown us just how little control we actually have. Entire lives have been derailed as Covid’s swept the world. Now that we’re in the midst of it and it’s slowly becoming a “new normal”, we can still see people trying to claw back from the pit and reestablish the “old normal.” We continue to look forward to the day when what we once knew becomes reality again.

    That fixed point of “Next year in Jerusalem” is a powerful image. What is the hope and destination you’re hoping to fix your congregation on in these times?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      The hope and destination I point to as a pastor is in Jesus and the reality of his reign on earth. When disciples in Jesus’ day were invited to study with a rabbi, the goal was for them to become exactly like their master. There was a phrase, “May you be covered in the dust of your master.” In other words, may you follow your rabbi so closely, that the dust kicked up by his feet would land on you. I’d like for the people of my church to look more like Jesus- to live as he lived and love as he loved. That’s the only thing I really care about- though my church loves to keep busy on lots of other things too! That’s my “next year in Jerusalem.” Every year.

  2. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Like you, I have been distinctly aware of the crossed out plans on my calendar. I spent the weekend with my friend who is from South Africa. She was going to go with me this year and show me her country before our advance began. It was good to spend the weekend with her and her family, but not the same as taking that journey which would lead to a very different kind of transformational experience.

    Thank you for sharing the words, hope, and vision shared at the end of the Passover Seder meal. Like Jews, we can’t always make our pilgrimage to the “holy land,” but we can choose to be faithful pilgrims in the lands in which we live. How are you marking this disappointment or circumstance that is out of your control while also living a “life of hopeful expectation”? Is there tangible practice you are embodying or using to complement your “See you in Cape Town” mantra?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      How am I living a life of hopeful expectation while also enduring disappointment? I honestly don’t know. Like it is for more so many others, this year is taking a toll. I’ve been sustained by support of family more than anything.

      Is there a tangible practice? Not at the moment, but I will think more about it. (I guess if I come up with something, you’ll need to invoice me for the spiritual direction.)

      • mm Darcy Hansen says:

        If anything, these days have shown just how important our relationships with others are. We cannot weather such heavy days alone. I’m so glad your family is there for you. And no worries- you won’t see a charge for spiritual direction. Thoughtful questions and conversations are free for my cohort crew:) We are in this for the long haul. Helping one another become is all part of the process of learning. Grace, always.

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    I too, look with the hopes of seeing everyone in South Africa. Hope is something we all need. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that Hope deferred make a heart sick…. I wonder if Paul had this in mind when writing in 1 Corinthians about hoping in the return of Christ and the resurrection of body.

    The concept of hope, this optimistic state of mind is seen in many aspect of life. We see it in American consumerism and the stock market. People spend and invest bases on there outlook or hope in the future. There is no doubt that the objects of our hope vary as much as or more than a restaurant menu. What trends give you caution that people are placing their hope in? How do we assist others in find good solid reasons for hope in a hopeless world?

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    I think that’s part of our problem. Hope is selling cheaper and cheaper these days as we race for quick fixes, instant cures, and discipleship without challenge. People flock to the churches that boast having all the answers, while churches that invite questions, accept ambiguity, and require sacrifice are struggling to survive. Hope in a hopeless world doesn’t come from having more stuff or getting your candidate elected to office. It comes in knowing no matter how many years we live in exile, God will never leave us and we will return home one day– even if it’s not in this life. Hope comes from being content in that.

  5. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Man. We should be sipping local beers together in South Africa right now.

    Next Year in Cape Town!

    And, I wonder what our disappointment has to teach us. I’m used to setting a plan or a goal. Marking time. Working hard. And eventually getting there. The perpetual uncertainty that we find oureselves within has the potential to be a great teacher to us…if we give ourselves permission to sit at her feet.

    I hope to be together with you in Cape Town next year, sipping beers, and talking about what perpetual uncertainty taught us about God, us, one another, and the world that we live in.

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    I am truly grieving not being together this week, too! You mention a “better way” at the end. Often I like to think of what ditches lie on either side of an issue. One ditch you mention of being swallowed by grief. I think the other ditch is a naive, overly-religious optimism that refuses to pause, reflect, and grieve. Are you seeing people fall of tho that side, too?

  7. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Not knowing.

    I love how you linked ‘next year in Jerusalem’ and ‘next year in Cape Town’.

    Not knowing has been quite a troubling notion for me. Present tense, being lied to. I can’t carry an apathy concerning ‘not knowing’ anymore. There’s truth that is vital for us to know in order for good and correct decisions to be made today and down the road.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Eesh, I had no clue. And, just being enlightened. The ongoing struggle for people of colour and those with other differences that arouse a discriminatory response in those who ‘think they know’…so much to learn and grasp and be formed by in order to be moved (to resist), in Truth, by the Love of God.

    From Oxford 2019 to the Zoom of 2020, we are not the same. Different people from who we are gathering as in this Zoom advance will be coming together in CapeTown 2021 (maybe). God-willing!

    Thanks John, your post raised some questions for me and, some hope too. Apologies for not dropping any question marks for you. Contemplating some things now.

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