Mpho Tutu: Her Faith, Her Ministry And Her Father

By Cathleen Falsani
Religion News Service

(RNS) Parents of teenagers who have wandered from their family's religious traditions--or teenagers who have no interest at all in anything religious or spiritual--may be heartened to hear the story Mpho Tutu tells.

The youngest child of Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning, retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Mpho was once a spiritually adrift youngster herself.

Ordained as an Episcopal priest by her father in 2004, Tutu recently published a book co-written with her father, "Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes a Difference," where the pair speaks candidly about their shared Christian faith.

Tutu talked about her book, her path to the priesthood and what her famous father taught her about faith. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are you earliest memories of learning about faith and God?

A: I can remember getting into my teenage years and being in a boarding school where I had friends who were Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and from other Christian denominations--and really starting to probe what my faith meant at that time and in that context.

Growing up in southern Africa, the language of faith--you breathe it in with the air. There isn't the kind of talk about faith and about God, but it's very much more the lived experience. I didn't learn about Christianity from the text books; the pattern of faith was that the door was always open for whoever wanted to come by--and they always seemed to show up around meal time.

It wasn't, "This is who God is and this is what God says and this is what you're supposed to know about God." We learned about faith from the way my parents lived.

Q: Do you believe children learn more about faith from their parents' example than from what the parents actually try to teach them?

A: Yes. My older daughter is now 13 and is writing and doing stuff. She's trundled around the world with me to all kinds of places. And I'm always amazed by what it is that she sees. The thing that was for me a throw-away gesture or a throw-away line is that thing that she latches onto or focuses on. It really is far more in how we live than in what we say.

Q: When you were that questioning teenager, did you ever imagine you'd become a priest like your father?

A: Absolutely not! That was the one thing I was absolutely clear I was not going to be. I wasn't sure what I was going to be, but I was very sure what I was not going to be.

Q: When did you realize you might have a calling to the priesthood?

A: I came via the scenic route. There were two pieces of experience for me. One was a little like Jonah where God says, "I want you to go to Nineveh." Oh no. I'm going to Tarsus. Tarsus sounds like a really nice place. I'm heading off in the opposite direction. And fast!

And then came the uncertainty and asking, "Is this right? Is this really a call? Or am I just making this up?" It's not that it sounds really sexy because a lot of what I saw growing up was that it was definitely not a sexy vocation.

But there was just this gentle insistence, God saying, "You need to be moving in this direction." Also having that call affirmed through several rounds of discernment, in my congregation, and then at seminary and then in the diocese.

Ordination means that your role is to preside over the sacraments. I've had a lot of life before, and so the experience of standing at the altar the first time as I presided at the Eucharist--and knowing I was standing in the right place--I can't even begin to describe what that feeling was other than to say, I know I'm in the right place. This is really what I am supposed to do.