Tuesday, November 29, 2011

'Nature and Art’ Key Stage 2 Study Day

Dorchester Abbey Education Department in conjunction with the Hurst Water Meadow for the first time launched a joint full day art workshop initiative to create a ‘Nature and Art’ study day for our local St. Birinus Primary School in October 2011. Over 30 Key Stage 2 children were able to take advantage of this exceptional experience where they spent half the day in art workshops at the Hurst Water Meadow and the other half at Dorchester Abbey. At the Hurst they were able to create artworks using natural materials inspired by the work of the famous 20th C British artist Andy Goldsworthy. The artworks they created used leaves, acorns, twigs and other found objects arranged to evoke innovative patterns ranging from spirals and undulating lines of leaves to carefully arranged acorns ‘lids’, thus introducing the children to the role of colour, pattern and line in art and nature.

At the Abbey the pupils were introduced to the fantastic range of art and architecture dating from the 12th to 20th C originally inspired by nature. The architectural and decorative progression of which was best seen in the Abbey’s Cloister Gallery displays, as well as throughout the Abbey with its rich sculptural, glass and painted decorations. Children were introduced to this rich fabric of history and encouraged to find inspiration from these original medieval craftsmen, for example to create their own version of our remarkable Jesse Window.

It is hoped that this small-scale pilot project will develop into a much larger programme involving many more of our local Oxfordshire schools taking part in the not too distant future!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pilgrimage and Worship Inter-faith Key Stage 2 Study Day 15th June 2011

The Pilgrimage and Worship Inter-Faith study day was a great success, being attended by 173 children from five local Oxfordshire schools, with over 20 teachers and adults accompanying them. The Bishop of Dorchester even dropped in for an afternoon visit to see us in action!

We represented the four world faiths of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity, arranging them into four individual areas of focus, with each session being presented by members of the relevant faith community. It was a fantastic demonstration of co-operative faith in action! The four faith sessions took place simultaneously, with schools subdivided into small groups enabling them to meet and interact with pupils from other schools. At the beginning and end of each session we rang a bell to signal the end of the session and to create a moment of reflection for the children before moving on to the next faith presentation. Three sessions took place before lunch and the final one after lunch, with a final plenary where some children were able to contribute their thoughts about what they had learned during the day.

Judaism was located in the St. Birinus chapel, Christianity used the high altar and the Shrine Chapel, Hinduism was located at the west end of the nave and Islam was accommodated in the Abbey Guest House. Both Hinduism and Islam incorporated Powerpoint presentations, as well as demonstrations. Hinduism had two faith providers with a focus on worship at a shrine and the role of food as part of puja, with a shrine set up and demonstrated to the children. The children were given small packets of sweets and dates to take away with them. Islam had three faith providers with a focus on the role of prayer, the impact on genders, the mosque, fasting and the Hajj pilgrimage.

Judaism had two faith providers with a focus on the festival of Shavuot, the celebration of Sabbath and the role of the synagogue, with children being given challah. The Christianity session examined the High Altar before going to a mock up of an altar, where the Eucharist was re-enacted.

Some of the children were able to dress up as medieval pilgrims and take part in a ‘Medieval Pilgrim Hot Seating’ session where they could ask questions about pilgrimage. The children were each given a shell brooch to take away with them as a memento of the day. In addition, as part of the day each child was given a pilgrim’s passport that was then endorsed by each faith area after the children had visited each one.

We had a range of very positive responses from both pupils and teachers. Here are some of the comments they made:

‘Thank you for showing us about the different religions. I really enjoyed it. I learnt about pilgrimages.’
‘We all loved the day trip to Dorchester Abbey. Thank you for letting us come. It was lovely. I really enjoyed it because I have not been there [before]. It was fun. I liked the bit where we said Om. I learnt about different religions. It was fun.’
‘Thank you for arranging the trip to Dorchester Abbey. I would really like to go to Dorchester Abbey again for another day. I learnt that in March at springtime they splat paint at each other. I really liked the Islam because it was interesting and very good.’

‘Thank you for arranging the trip. I really enjoyed it. I liked learning about Hinduism.’

‘Thank you for arranging the trip, it was so good. I really enjoyed it. The Christianity part and the pilgrimages were good. I learnt that pilgrims have shells on their tops and hats. Also I learnt that Christian’s wine was grape juice for the children.’

‘We learnt a lot about each religion – the practical parts were most enjoyed.’
‘The chance to compare the four faiths in a day was fantastic and really helped the children to see the similarities rather than just think about the differences.’
‘The Christian workshop was by far the most interactive which was very motivating...’
‘The organisation was very good and the day flowed well. The contributors of all faiths were very welcoming, warm and friendly… All the children said their favourite part of the day was the 'Christian' presentation - the children liked the dressing up, getting up and moving around and found [the] hot-seating both interesting and fun.’

Blogged by Margaret Craig, Education Officer for Dorchester Abbey

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Activities Day in Dorchester - Monday, 14th March 2011

This day was organised by Ridgeway branch of the U3A (based in Watlington) as part of the Thames Valley Network’s Riverside Project and over 100 members turned up. We were really lucky to have a lovely sunny spring day, which everyone enjoyed. Participants were greeted on arrival in the Abbey by coffee about 10 a.m. and then heard a fascinating illustrated talk on the history of Dorchester and it’s Abbey by Margaret Craig, the Education Officer.

She was followed by John Metcalfe MBE, who talked about the multi-million pound restoration project, which has been only recently completed. Jane Sellwood nobly stood in at short notice to make a presentation on the Industrial History of the Thames to a smaller interest group.

Lunch, in various local hostelries or sandwiches in the sun according to taste, was followed by a range of activities. Some members chose a Natural History visit to the Water Meadows with one of the leading conservationists. Others took a conducted tour of the Abbey and St Birinus Church with Margaret Craig and Fr John Osman respectively.

Six energetic people were driven over to lunch at the Wagon and Horses at Culham, from where they undertook the six mile walk back to Dorchester along the Thames Path.

Another group strolled down to Day’s Lock for an explanation of its workings and that of the weir from David Stanley, the duty lock-keeper.

Two groups ‘Walked into History’ around the village under the expert guidance of Professor Malcolm Airs and Mrs Margot Melcalfe, both very knowledgeable local historians.

Tea and cake back in the Abbey rounded off the day. Many, many thanks to those of our members who helped make it a success. Many thanks also to all the experts who gave lectures, led groups and generally shared their knowledge with us all in so generous a manner. This surely is what “lifelong learning” is all about.


The U3A is a worldwide organisation for retired and semi-retired people who are interested in lifelong learning. There are around thirty-five branches in the Thames Valley area alone so there is certain to be one near you. Further details may be found on our website. If you are interested why not come and join us. We are a university in the true meaning of the word with no entrance exam and no degree at the end but we have fun and improve our knowledge of a huge range of subjects with lectures, visits, study days, interest groups and activities.

(Blogged by Susie Berry of Ridgeway U3A, Thames Valley Network)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Some Kimberley Reflections

(On many days in Kimberley I came home and began a ’blog post’ which was ’overtaken’. This is a collection of some of those - I’ve edited some but the tenses do vary and I decided to leave those that do for the sense of immediacy!)
Arriving In Kimberley in January is rather like arriving somewhere in England in the middle of the August Bank Holiday!!

We were fortunate to have stayed with Tom and Emma Moffatt in De Aar on our way across the Karoo as they had suggested a Guest House near the Cathedral where we stayed for four nights. On our first morning I donned clerical collar and went to introduce myself at the Cathedral and the Diocesan offices next door. I didn’t even get to the door before being welcomed by Gladys who appointed herself my guardian and introduced me to Mother Anne in the Cathedral Office and Maureen in the Diocesan Office who were most welcoming and encouraged me to ‘come back next week’ when everyone was back! Although we had been told that everything ‘shuts down’ over Christmas and New Year and although we knew that quite a few people wouldn’t be around, it was still quite a shock to find just how deserted things become at this time of year.

Our first contact with Galeshewe parish was in the ‘Spur’ restaurant opposite the Cathedral which was where we met Mrs Joy Crutze one of the St James’ churchwardens for the first time. Joy had been given the job of taking care of us as she was just about the only person on the Church Council who was at home! It was very good to meet her, she was most welcoming and arranged to take us to St James the next morning. I’m not certain whether our introduction to St James was amusing or embarrassing! Joy was going to meet us at the Guest House where we were staying at 9am to arrive in good time for the 9.30am service. We were ready and waiting at 8.55am and she arrived at 9 so it was about 10past when we arrived at the Church - very early by African standards! However the sermon had nearly ended the service having begun at 8.30 not 9.30!! (First Sunday in the month syndrome!!) Fortunately we were forgiven!!

That afternoon we had our first car disaster - we went to the car hire office at the airport and arranged an extension of the hire for a week and keeping it for the rest of our time here. As we left the airport (on one of the best roads we had travelled on!) a passing lorry threw up a stone and with a crack that sounded more like gunshot the windscreen cracked.

Joy and Simon, the Treasurer AND alternate Churchwarden helped us look for accommodation. We spent four nights in the Ikhaya (means at home) guest house in Galeshewe which was great in the sense that it was at the centre of the community but less so partly because it doesn’t feel like part of the community at all (in the same way as staying at one of the pubs in Dorchester might have done) and also because a month long stay was going to be quite costly (even at their best rates!) Whilst Father Reggie was still away Joy (who had some time off work) and Dougie (may not be spelt right!) took me to visit many of the housebound ladies of the congregation. They (Joy and Dougie) had grown up in St James and were well known and welcome visitors everywhere we went. We chatted, prayed for the home and in many cases the household and I left a postcard of the Abbey - later when I went to take communion to the housebound with Fr Reg it was good to be welcomed back to some of these homes.

On Thursday, remembering that the Dean would have returned I picked up the phone to make an appointment to see him. He was in and I was invited for tea!! The Dean of Kimberley is newly appointed - he is an Englishman (very unusual now in a senior appointment even though once it was the norm) from the Blackburn Diocese who came to work in Bloemfontein as sub Dean after organising a link visit to the Diocese of the Free State! This was definitely a Holy Spirit meeting - the next day Simon was meeting his fellow Deans of Bloemfontein and Maseru and I was invited to join their meetings and to give them some idea of the academic work I was doing.

After much thought and discussion we moved out of Galeshewe on Friday and into a ‘granny flat’ attached to the home of the owners of the Jungnickel Guest House. The granny flat is comfortable and has everything we need and it’s a relief both to be able to cook for ourselves and not to have to go out for meals all the time although we have a lovely evening out with Joy’s family and Simon at Joy’s home. Although Joy and her mother have been involved in St. James since its foundation they now live outside the parish and Esther (her mother) worships at the Cathedral. Next day is a Saturday and we decide to visit the Big Hole - everyone asks if we’ve been there and it’s certainly very impressive - it is a VERY big hole - the site of the original Kimberley Diamond mine and it has an excellent historical and scientific interpretation as well as an underground ’real’ display complete with blasts! (See the photo of the Big Hole at the beginning of this blog.)

The next day we meet Father Reggie for the first time - a young and gentle giant of a priest he is immediately welcoming and arrangements are made for the next couple of days. We will meet again properly on Tuesday morning as Fr Reggie has things to catch up with on Monday. We have lunch with Mr and Mrs Masithela. This older couple had offered to have us to stay in their spare room for a whole month so it was important that our first meal was with them! They were most hospitable although Mr Masithela spoke mostly to Richard and I put my foot in it slightly as everywhere else I have been asked to pray beginning middle and end of every visit - naturally when Mr M suggested we pray I launched in - at the same time as my host (whoops!) so I shut up pretty quickly!! After this false start we have a great time together. Mr Masithela comes from Lesotho and was brought up by missionaries with whom he was sent as a servant/translator as a young boy by his grandmother. The Masithela’s are amongst the people who can remember moving from St Matthew’s Church to St James and the building of the new Church. She was a teacher and is a member of the Mothers’ Union to whom I am going to speak next week! Before we leave they invite us to visit a project for the elderly (GAASCA) of which Mr Masithela is Chairman of Trustees and we agree to do this on Wednesday. Mrs M insists that we breakfast with them too!

Bishop Ossie invites all the clergy who live within travelling distance of the Cathedral to Mass at 8am on Tuesdays, celebrates and gives a brief homily. I have arranged to meet Fr Reggie and Fr Wallace there and then to talk with them and visit the hospital as this is part of their pattern for Tuesdays. The Bishop also asks to see us. He hopes all is going well, is very friendly and makes some suggestions about link parishes. He is also very complimentary about Fr Reggie.

Reggie, Wallace and I borrow a room in the Diocesan office to meet and the conversation is probably easier than I expected. Reggie outlines his week. He and Fr Wallace say morning prayer at 9am and Evening prayer at 5.30pm and I say that I will join them as often as I can - it is unfortunate that I am already not able to do this tonight (a meeting at the Cathedral) or tomorrow morning after a week of having been able to! Fr Reggie’s sounds like the kind of week I aspire to with different kinds of activities on different days. (In retrospect it’s aspiration rather than reality for Reggie as well!!) So Monday is catching up after the weekend, Tuesday is Bishop Ossie’s Mass (for which Fr Reggie organises the rota), Wednesday planning for the weekend, then Thursday communion and sick communion.
This communion has relatively few people attend and so he has encouraged the pre school staff to bring the children - I’m looking forward to this! He and Fr Wallace then normally take the communion to the sick after this service. I am struck again by the fact that Fr Wallace Joy and Simon all seemed to wait for Fr Reggie to come back before suggesting that I might go to any of these ‘regular’ events.

When I ask about projects it feels like I’ve hit some kind of a nerve. The previous priest had a ’project’ and Reggie begins to talk of ’the problems’ of projects - people expecting a lot - questions about where money has gone etc etc. He says that the project caused big divisions in the Church and that even now you can see the battle lines draw up along these ‘sides’. He is very honest - this year has been a difficult year for him personally - the previous priest did not want to leave and he appears in peoples homes ’telling the story they want to hear’ because ’everyone wants a story'. Fr Reggie sees his ministry at the moment as being one of healing and getting back to the gospel. (Building community again?) He says several times what Joy and Simon have said about the fact that St James was one of the most important parishes in the Diocese and it is sad that it no longer has that place. He says what they don’t say which is that they should be paying much more assessment (parish share) - ‘you only have to look at the cars parked in the car park on a Sunday morning to know that’ he comments. I am reminded of Langa township parish in Cape Town with its wonderful poster (home made) on the wall of the church saying…”God gives with open hands - how do you give?” We talk briefly about a less formal meeting where we can get to know one another and Fr Wallace begins to look rather anxiously at his watch - time to go to the hospital.

We visit two hospitals - the private ‘state of the art’ - the place where people who have private medical insurance will be treated. Here a lady has had a major operation (Fr Reggie says when it is ladies he doesn’t ask for the details!) She is worried about her sons at home and he will visit them. Across the road in the public hospital we cannot find Mrs Olifant’s name on the list - not with any spelling! Fr Wallace goes off to look for her and comes back saying he has found her. We follow him, can’t find her, he talks to a nurse and they go off whilst Reggie and I wait in the corridor. The posters here are similar, even the same as those at home - Diabetes and STD advice - but these are joined by posters about HIV (people here rarely say AIDS) and cholera. Reggie is getting impatient - he goes to find Fr Wallace…the nurse…Mrs Olifant. A few minutes later Reggie and Wallace return - Mrs Olifant has been discharged!

Everywhere we went folk greeted Reggie - he is still known for being at St Matthews even though it is a year since he left - outside the hospital he met a guy whom he had played football with when he was a youngster and went to catch up with him. He is a lovely gentle kind of a man. I am really looking forward to getting to know him better. But for now we are going to make some new friends as we have a lunch date with Mrs Sediti - Jeannie as we quickly learn to call her. She has two grandchildren staying with her for their education during term time. Tsholofelo and Aobakwe. Many of the names here are wonderful in their translation 'faith' and 'joyful gift' being amongst them!! Aobakwe is very keen to play pick up sticks with us and we have a great time. Jeannie was a Guider and had visited the UK she is another retired teacher! Like many other people we have (or will) meet she talks to us about Miss Falcon. Miss Sybil Falcon was here with the Fathers’ at the time of the founding of St James. Her formal role, as far as I can make out, was in the Girls’ hostel but she had an enormous influence beginning Guides and Brownies and simply being God’ presence in Galeshewe. Jeannie visited the UK as a Guider and met Mrs Edwards (as she now is) some years ago. I am determined to track her down on my return and tell her not only that she is still remembered but also what a profound effect she has had on people’s lives in Galeshewe. She is a wonderful example of my thirty year rule. (We never know what effect we are really going to have on a person's life until thirty years on - so, mostly, we will never know - full stop!)

Sadly there are no Guides at St James any longer (though Richard has visited Scouts in Galeshewe!!) but there is a youth group of thirty or so over 16’s and a Sunday school which is huge. I had a brilliant time with the youth group spending two afternoons with them (they meet on Saturdays!). I learned a dance and a new game and spent some time talking with them. It happened that the first week I asked what was good and what bad about being a young person in South Africa at the moment. Whilst adult answers to this would have been very political theirs were about the new sense of potential they had. However there were concerns - one of which is that large numbers of young people in South Africa commit suicide and, somewhat to my amazement, they asked if I would come back next week to talk about this. What a privilege - we talked and bible studied and prayed together - as well as more dancing and more games and I have to say this was a highlight of my visit!! The visit to Sunday school was great too - though perhaps not for the teachers as I suspect I managed to wind them up something dreadful!! (Not much new there!!)

This seems like a good place to draw this group of reflections to an end - to keep you on the edge of your seats I have discovered a wonderful addition to the Miss Falcon story - more next time!!!!

(Blogged by Rev Sue Booys during her South African sabbatical)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A morning with Father Reggie touring Kimberley Churches!

This morning I went on the promised tour of Kimberley churches with Father Reggie! We met first at the Tuesday morning Eucharist in St Cyprians Cathedral at which Bishop Ossie regularly presides and preaches encouraging the clergy to come and join him. The attendance is good and this morning Bishop Ossie preaches about the important things of ministry - and the importance of supporting one another in ministry. He encourages us to share problems, joys and opportunities whilst warning of the danger of living ‘in one another’s pockets’.

From the Cathedral we make the usual trek to the hospitals which are conveniently located within a few hundred yards of one another and the Cathedral. As usual we wait for the list - meet lots of people that Father Reggie knows and eventually go off in search of our patient - a Lay Minister who has kidney disease. We go from pillar to post - no one knows quite where the lady in question is and we hear a rumour of someone who has been moved from the renal unit to the medical recovery ward and then discharged herself. When we have visited everywhere Fr Reggie decides that the dischargee must be our ‘quarry’ and he will go and find her at home. On our travels we have met the uncle (a parishioner) of a young man who has been bitten by a spider and has been waiting in casualty for ‘ages’. We go to find him and to be honest he doesn’t look at all bad though his arm is painful it’s fairly easy to see why he’s been waiting! Fr Reggie prays a splendid prayer and we head for the car - whilst he says what I’ve been thinking!! I love this priest!

We head first for St Barnabus Church - this is a possible link parish for the Dorchester Team although this visit is an opportunity for me just to visit and not discuss. I don’t know whether Bishop Ossie has mentioned this to Fr Gilbert, whom I have met briefly at the Tuesday morning mass and heard speaking at Diocesan Council last Saturday, but I think not. The original St. Barnabus was built shortly after the Group Areas Act specifically for the new coloured residents who were moved into the area from a number of places including the Malay camp. Fr Gilbert was a child in this Church, as was Bishop Ossie whose father (a greatly respected priest in Kimberley) was the parish priest at one stage. A new church was built by the congregation in the 1960’s when one of the Wardens Joseph Mcanda was a builder - he masterminded the rebuilding and led the labour force evenings, weekends and holidays. The resulting wide space is slightly reminiscent of St Andrew’s Hatters Lane and the old church forms a hall across the back of the church space with the old sanctuary neatly screened off to form cupboards. In the new building there is one Vestry for the clergy and another for the servers and Lay Ministers and a Lady Chapel, which now houses the altar originally placed in the new Church. The existing altar is made of kitchen or bathroom tiles but it is the right size for the space and looks surprisingly good in situ!

On one of the walls is the reminder to ‘Pray Regularly And You Everyday Receive’ and next to a beautifully carved statue of Our Lady is a rough cross with a bag hanging from it with an invitation to place your burdens and prayer requests with God. They are not opened, read or used in any way because God knows what is on our heart - Fr Gilbert says that he periodically takes out the numerous pieces of paper and burns them.

Fr Gilbert had refused to come back here for some time (a prophet being without honour in his own country!) - now he has been here for 6 years and jokes that he is coming towards retirement. When he came to the church as it’s minister he did so in order to ‘swap’ with a younger priest who was having difficulty with transport getting his child to school in the city centre. We also meet the assistant priest Fr Jock. I warm to Fr Gilbert later when Fr Reggie tells me why Fr Jock is ministering with him - he is a very light skinned coloured person who was sufficiently well off to pay to register as white and marry a white woman. The legacy of apartheid is such that another church refused his ministry and Fr Gilbert offered him a place alongside him at St Barnabus.

Our next stop is St Matthew’s - I’ve heard such a lot about his Church that I almost feel that I know it already. Another reason for feeling this would be its layout - although some of the Churches we have visited have obviously English Anglican features St Matthew’s is a bit like stepping into one of our village churches!! It was built in 1899 but not consecrated until a year later because the Bishop had such a large area to cover that was as soon as he could get there. In 1945 it was expanded when a Chapel was built (St Michael’s Chapel) for sisters who were living and working in the parish. A Lady Chapel was built at the same time. This is another parish in which Bishop Ossie’s father ministered!

St Matthew’s and St James have a strong connection, as St James was founded by a ‘missionary’ congregation from St Matthew’s in the time of Father Wade. Father Reggie was posted there before he came to Minister at St James and churchwarden Joy‘s father, who was a priest, was one of the clergy involved in the founding of the new church. Many of the older members of the congregation at St James remember this time - some were even part of the ‘plant’. Both St Matthew’s and St James enjoy great loyalty - perhaps particularly the former - with many people being willing to travel significant distances still to worship there.

There is a pre-school using the buildings at St Matthew’s - the buildings are let to the education authorities for this purpose - and the church is not really involved in this at all. St Matthew’s is now in a fairly poor part of Galeshewe but many of the people who attend the church are mostly those who have moved away so that this Church which was once community based is not so close to its’ community any longer. There was a project to help local children who needed to attend school based here, which was helped by Finchampstead parish, but that is no longer running. However the Mothers’ Union here apparently have a small house that can be used as a refuge.

In St Matthew's as in St James one of the startling things are the Stations of the Cross and other 50’s style pictures of a very white Jesus and these are clearly the legacy of Fr Wade and his colleagues. They have surprised me, particularly in St James where we are the only white people in the congregation and the language used for worship is Setswana - with the sermon translated into English regularly for the benefit of those who can do the service but not the sermon (they are mostly Xhosa and some Afrikaans speakers). Seeing these pictures here enables me to have the conversation with Fr Reggie that I’ve wanted to have almost since walking into the Church - why the pictures?? Get rid of them!!! He tells me that he has had the conversation with the Council but these things are very dear to them and that we (I) do not understand the level to which the white Jesus is inculcated in the culture of these communities, who still have such great respect for the white people who helped them build their churches. I realise that I do have a glimpse of this after the numerous conversations about Miss Falcon but I wonder what the young people who attend church feel about them?

From here we go to St Francis Church - there is also a pre school here and once again it is not connected with the Church. St Francis is also the centre for the HIV project and I am able to meet Mother Carol (whom I’ve kept not getting round to meeting since I’ve been here). Bishop Ossie has just appointed Mother Carol to a wider Diocesan role as HIV advisor across the Diocese and ‘Gender Desk’ (I love this expression which I have also met in Cape Town where women clergy seem to take turns!) Mother Carol’s assistant will take on greater responsibility at the project. They are just expecting children to arrive for lunch and I look at photographs, visit the vegetable plots and arrange to visit next Tuesday.

After this detour I visit the church itself with Fr Valentine and Fr Reggie. There is a wonderful ‘composite’ picture of previous priests (made for the 50th anniversary last year!) and I am fascinated by the way that priests remain local in Kimberley. Fr Dan’s (Fr Dan is a regular at the Tuesday morning communion and a Diocesan Trustee) father was an early priest here. - a contemporary of the Bishop’s father in fact!! Fr Valentine talks (like all the clergy) about the difficulty in getting people to give (there is a chart on the wall of the church with smiley faces printed for every week that a pledge has been paid!) and the difficulty which all the parishes face not only in getting individuals to give but in getting Councils to pay their parish assessment. I have noticed that a parish that has been generous in their hospitality to us (indeed have tried to be over generous!) are very reluctant to pay parish assessment and engage their parish priest in all kinds of quibbles about expenses. This makes me all the more grateful for the parishes of the Dorchester Team and the Aston and Cuddesdon Deanery.

Fr Thomas at Roodepan is one of Reggie’s good friends. He has said it’s not a good day for a visit because everything is in turmoil - a familiar sight greets me as we walk into the Church which has a scaffolding tower in the middle of it!! The church is having new fans installed. A further interesting conversation about money ensues - the fans and installation are being given by a member of the church who chooses to support this way rather than by giving regularly! We all sigh!! Fr Thomas explains that the church does not have pews because they have no hall and I am shown a wonderful plan of a new building. If the money can be raised this will be built and the use of the two buildings probably changed (as at St Barnabus). I am enthusiastic about the space with chairs and try to explain that many churches in England are looking towards being open all week and used by the community from Monday to Saturday. I am quite unable to make my point - yet not one of the churches we have visited has been open and later when we visit St Augustine’s we are not able to get in because the parish priest isn’t there!!

Fr Thomas invites us for coffee - it’s after 12 and he hasn’t done the parish visits he intended because he got tied up with the work in the church - anything he hasn’t done by 12 has to wait for another day. His day seems to be the reverse of the country parson who worked in his study in the morning and in the parish in the afternoon. This is a welcome break for us and we repair to his home. The conversation doesn’t stop. I had been told that Fr Thomas was a refugee from Zimbabwe but not that he had been a principal of a Theological College. He is deeply concerned about the lack of training of many who are ordained priests in Africa (reinforcing a concern that I’ve heard more than once before) and the low standard of demands made of those seeking training. He is doing research about this and is looking for comparative figures from our diocese and the wider Church of England.

I am interested in a conversation with Fr Reggie on the way back - Mugabe is a bitter disappointment but particularly so because he had so much promise and did good things before the power went to his head and his pocket. He is not wholly responsible for problems in church where hunger for power is as much a problem as it is in government. I wonder whether some of the concerns about the desire for money and power amongst government officials and politicians here is affected by what has happened in Zimbabwe and sense some anxiety from sensible people that South Africa needs to be cautious about the same problems.

Our final visit of the morning is to the Cash and Carry - not because we are stocking up but because it is here that Fr Mandla from St Paul’s (the third church in Galeshewe) works - he is a self supporting minister in charge of this large charismatic church that is just celebrating it’s 50th anniversary as well as being manager of the cash and carry. We have a brief and good hearted conversation and I agree to try to go to St Paul’s briefly on Sunday - they will start at 8am and go on until gone 11am whereas in St James we are generally about an hour and a half - very short by many South African standards!!

It’s long gone lunch time by the time we get home, but this morning has been great because of what I’ve seen and learned about the differences and similarities in the life and work of a priest here and at home and in the life of the Churches. But most of all it is because of the different conversations - a flavour of which I hope has filtered into the description of the churches as it did into my conversations!

(Blogged by Rev Sue Booys whilst on her South African sabbatical)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Visit to Lesotho

As many people in Dorchester (and perhaps some from further afield in the Team who were part of the Team Flower Festival in the Abbey some years ago) there is a school in Lesotho called Leseli (the light) begun by Kieke (or Greet, as they call her here) Van der Zwaal. Leseli School started in Kieke’s garage as a place of education for able bodied and disabled children alike and arose out of the needs that she saw around her in the community near Maseru the capital of Lesotho. The school now has some 300 students of all ages from kindergarten age upwards. Children from wealthier families pay to come to the school and this supports work with poorer families. The school facilities are excellent including a new computer suite and library, a unit for autistic youngsters, classrooms for each grade and a new kitchen and dining hall building in progress.

Some of the disabled children have become young people who are enabled to continue to work on the school site - some work at putting together electrical components whilst others have been trained to work in the kitchen and are supporting the work of the school. The skills these young women have grown will soon be used in the new school kitchen and dining room which it is also hoped may be opened to the public. I noticed the similarity of thinking with the Home Farm Trust - an organisation local to us - who also enable their service users to gain skills and use them on site which for some of them becomes a stepping stone to employment elsewhere. The Friends of Leseli continues to support this work that is now 30 years old and the head of the school is still the same lady who began the work with Kieke!!

Thirty years later a new project is in the throes of being born. Leselinyana - the little light - is in a different suburb of Maseru - Masionakeng. The Rev’d Merriam Foto (previously pastor there but now Chaplain to the University of Roma) has a dream of a slightly different project but with similar aims to Leseli. We met Merriam when she visited Dorchester a few years ago and as we have become very ‘South African’ about distance the 800 kilometre round trip seemed to fit quite well into a gap that had opened up from after Church on Sunday and during Monday. The only thing we needed to be careful about was to be back in the light on Monday since we had been warned by someone who drives the N8 regularly that it is not really safe after dark when the Buck of different types, including Kudu which are HUGE, regularly stray onto the road.

This part of the world has been badly affected by rain and it rained non stop from the moment we left Kimberley until the day after we returned. This made the journey to Lesotho and the journeys around the villages ‘interesting’ to say the least. The highlight of the outward journey was the giraffe just gazing across the fence as we travelled on the road between Kimberley and Bloemfontein! The ‘lowlight’ were the single lane road works that were about 7 kilometers long with a twenty minute or so wait for the traffic to arrive from the other direction!

We arrived at the Border in Lesotho - where we were met by Merriam and directed to the little house where the children are living! (I have written a full report with pictures about the different children, the house and their needs). There are three children and a ‘mother’ living in the little three roomed cottage and two other children come and live alongside them by day returning home to sleep. We feasted with the children on chicken, vegetables, salad, rice and maize and enjoyed getting to know them before travelling with Merriam and her husband to their house on the University campus where we stayed the night. The rest of the evening was spent with Merriam briefing me about the project and the children and we slept well, breakfasted on millet porridge and bread and set off on our travels for the morning.

Our first stop was the secondary school at Masinakeng where most of the children are receiving their education. The school is run by the Evangelical Church and has a new headmaster who seemed excellent. It is what is called an ‘English Medium’ school which means that all the teaching and all the conversation takes place in English. Rightly or wrongly English is seen as the passport to a good education and the best future prospects. (This is also true in South Africa) There is a smart uniform and there are books to be purchased and fees to be paid. Kieke has arranged to send Merriam the fees which are paid termly but with higher costs at the beginning of the school year (which is now as the children are just returning to school after their long summer holiday!).

Excluding Uniform the costs for the education of one of these young people for a year is M2,000 (about £200). It was a good time to visit as we were able to go shopping with Merriam later in the day to buy the usual round of beginning of term stationery (including Oxford Mathematical Instrument Sets in exactly the same tin that I, and I am sure many of you, will remember only too well!) The children - in other words the project - have to provide their exercise books as well and the usual paper to cover both exercise and text books. It’s now quite a long time since we did ‘beginning of the year’ shopping and it was a good opportunity for us.

The school had been reasonably easy to reach, if a little muddy, but the next stage of our journey was rather more hair raising. We set off to visit the project land. Mostly in this kind of area people either walk or have four by four vehicles. Mostly it doesn’t rain for more than a couple of hours the way that it had been for a whole week previously. Once you are off the main route from one major place to another the roads are red mud and our route was highly reminiscent of similar journeys that I had experienced when visiting Kenya with the Nasio Trust in 2010. Richard was awarded a ‘credit’ for his driving by Merriam and in my book he’s right up there with John Cornelius for driving along roads with ruts a foot deep, embedded with rocks and full of mud. We made it to the plot - and back again re-routing once and getting grounded (don’t tell the car hire company!) just once as well. Ford Figo’s are lovely little cars but probably not the right ones for this particular task!!

The land we had travelled to see comprised three plots which have been made available for the project Leselinyana and another patch of land that has been promised. The vision for this land is to build rondavels for living a kitchen and dining room / meeting hall and to make these the centre of a sustainable community which would provide care for the youngest children, education and a place to live for people who do not fit into society. One of the reasons it is called Leselinyana (little light) is that if the dream can be realised it will provide hope and shelter for some of the young adults who cannot leave Leseli and others like them but for whom provision in what is essentially a school will always be limited. Merriam’s dream is that the members of this mixed community would receive education and counselling according to their needs and learn a wide range of practical skills enabling them to become self supporting within an environmentally sustainable community. Merriam has written an outline project proposal which is available from Kieke.

Our next step was to go and collect Napo from the project house. Napo is 18, has been orphaned for many years and is dependent on crutches. Because of his disabilities Napo has not been successful in secondary school and we were going with Merriam and his aunt to see if we could find out whether there is any progress in getting him into a special boarding school for young people with disabilities. Just turning up at the school seems to help - although it is still closed for the holidays Napo has now been told to attend for an interview/assessment on 14th February.

Our final visit is to Leseli. It was a wonderful contrast to see a well established project alongside all the hopes for Leselinyana a project in its infancy. Leseli began in a garage and the project grew as the school grew and it has grown and grown!!

Leselinyana is a big dream but its beginnings in the effect it is having on the lives of individual children is a good one! Who knows where this dream will lead? Merriam has the support of a management group and willingness from the Chief’s family to support the project but to us it felt a bit ‘stuck’ just for the moment. The management group is about to meet and there is real hope in that one lady who works at the University and is about to retire is willing to give some time. At the present time the exact next steps and approximate costing of them are not decided. It will be really good to hear what the committee decides at its next meeting.

Merriam is a busy lady with many responsibilities and driving the main project forward alongside her work as a University Chaplain and as voluntary mother / supervisor making sure that the existing children in the project are properly cared for are three big tasks!!

We could help make those tasks easier by ensuring that money is given to meet the needs of the existing children (Merriam and her husband have taken the two original boys into their family and support them.) We know that it will cost about a two hundred and fifty pounds a year to support each of the four children - Mamochatsi, Hlaoli, Morero and Relebohile in Masioneng High School. The costs for Napo’s boarding and further education are unknown. It will cost £600 per year to pay Nkita for her work. Then there is money for food and electricity (which the house is still waiting for). There is only an oil stove for cooking until the electricity comes and we were able to leave some money for the purchase of a calor gas cooker which will be safer and more effective.

This visit made us especially grateful for the support that Dorchester PCC had given us as the additional costs of travel would have made us think twice about undertaking the journey and its additional costs. This leads me to more thinking. Merriam and her family are provided with a house on the University Campus which is in poor condition. She is not provided with computer, internet access or a meaningful stipend. The comparison between Merriam’s accommodation and the Roman Catholic Halls of Residence for students that are so expensive most of them are empty is appalling. These are the responsibility of her church and the comparison makes me realise not only how privileged I am but also how privileged some of the South African Anglican Clergy and Teachers whom we have met are by comparison. Perhaps privileged is not quite the word I am looking for because it is right that people are enabled to do their work properly.

If this project is worth supporting it may be that Merriam herself needs some support in the form of transport / internet expenditure. She has neither - depending on the taxi busses for transport and friends for internet where she can. She made the most of our visit by taking us to places she also needed to visit. Administrative costs for charitable work are always a bone of contention but I am interested to note that I have spent two days visiting the project in Lesotho and at least the same amount of time marshalling the information and photographs, reflecting on both visit and information and putting it into two communicable documents. I’m fortunate to have had the support of the Diocese, the Parish and two charities to get myself here, establish internet connection, arrange transport and have the luxury of time to help us all understand more about this project and the impact it will have on the lives of these children. There are sharp questions to be asked about administration costs - but perhaps even sharper ones to be asked if there is no support for those who lead and administer projects.

(Blogged by Sue Booys on sabbatical in South Africa)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Of Heights, Depths and Tortoises

Having travelled the coast from Cape Town to the wilderness we headed inland. We had heard that there was a ‘fabulous pass’ inland from Knynsa (say nigh - sna) and so we decided to travel the Prince Alfred Pass. Fabulously perilous and very long winded but a tremendous experience it turned out to be! It is hard to describe the sheer size of Africa and the African countryside and looking at the photos I took at every twist and turn of the pass I can imagine people saying: Well, it’s just like the Dales/Lakes/Pennines - depending on which is their favourite! But it isn’t!! Or at least perhaps it is in the sense that C S Lewis uses at the end of the Last Battle that everything is just rather bigger than the thing we had known and understood in England - reminiscent, perhaps, but not really at all the same. It took much longer than we had expected to travel the kilometres and so we were later than expected at our next stop in the Klein Karoo.
I had heard that the Karoo was beautiful - but it was raining. We had booked accommodation in a refurbished self catering farm cottage that turned out to be a mile from the farm and reached by crossing a quite deep ford on a gravel track driven at speed by the farmer’s wife in her four by four. In our hired Ford Figo in the rain with me driving (Richard had done the Pass!!) this did not seem like a glorious arrival. Things didn’t look up when we found that one of the two doors to the cottage was locked shut and that was the one from the kitchen to the dry veranda (stoup)! A brief walk in the wet red sand alerted me to the fact that there were biting ants and I was well and truly bitten!!
Too late to look for anything else I said firmly that we might not want to stay 2 nights as booked - but I’m writing this 3 mornings later overlooking some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen to the sound of early morning birdsong. The Karoo is beautiful and so peaceful that yesterday we saw only each other and the wildlife! Initially we had two reasons for stopping here - we wanted to see the Cango Caves and it is a stopping place on the way to Kimberly - when we leave here there will be a long drive to De Aar (I’ve yet to say this for anyone South African to understand) to visit Tom and Emma Moffatt and then another not quite so long drive to Kimberly. Then we shall be still for a while and wait to see what the next stage of our adventure brings.
On our first morning we asked the farmer’s wife about the caves and she booked for us - at noon, showed us the way to travel and suggested we might like to stop at the junction where a photographer/artist/woodworker and his wife (a stage costume designer) had a studio and coffee shop. On the way we waited for a tortoise to cross the road before arriving at the most beautiful oasis type garden where a man was on a ladder doing something to his roof. What a lovely man - and he made fabulous coffee too. His photographs of the people here were amazing - he settled here by choice from Cape Town about 4 years ago and talked about he way that being settled they were being accepted into the community. They have begun to teach the locals to play rugby!!

Of course we had lingered too long and so we belted to the caves arriving just too late for the noon tour. Not for the first time I lamented that tourist Africa is not as laid back as the African people! However they do have more sympathy for latecomers (my kind of country!!) and we were met and rushed through to join our group. Some twenty minutes later the guide said this is where the tours separate if you are going on the ’adventurous’ tour please come over here. We weren’t but we wanted to and the wonderful man allowed us to join. There were moments in the hour or so that followed when I wondered what I’d let myself in for. The tunnel of Love (where you get lots of hugs and cuddles from the rock!) was fine - especially for those of reasonably short stature like myself.
The coffin sounded a bit scary but wasn’t, the ladder looked it but was much less difficult than the Abbey tower staircase and entirely safe compared to the ladders on Table Mountain! But the chimney and the letterbox were turning back moments - not for us but for others and how good did that make me feel!! In the chimney (unless you were Richard) you could only go in one way - right shoulder in first 90 degree turn and feel for the footholds. Feeling for footholds when you have little legs and they are an inch above the point your foot generally stretches to is a bit challenging but I was lucky that Richard had come into the bottom of the chimney behind me and kindly fixed my first foot in the first foothold - another and another and then I was faced with an enormous smooth boulder - how could I get up on this? What would I do - I couldn’t go back? Then slightly below and to my right a passageway - but nobody there - which way? I called out and a face appeared ahead - all I had to do was step down two inches and squeeze around a rock - ascending the 3 metre chimney had been (almost) a breeze and I was upright again.

Suddenly the passage flattened out and I could see the trainers of the person in front - I flattened too and realised that the people in front of me were not only flat on their stomachs but departing head first through a slit in the rocks - the letter box - but I was the next post! Stupid to go down head first onto rock I think and manoeuvre myself so that I can descend feet first. From below the guide says gently but very firmly you must turn around I want you to come head first. Obediently I do as she asks and begin the descent my shoulders are about to get stuck and I’m proud to have moved to the right before she tells me to - also suddenly remember that if your shoulders will go through then the rest of you will follow. As I am wondering whether this is true of the fifty odd year old post Christmas me I hear the guide say… I want you to exhale for me … I know instantly that this will make me thinner … and then I am down perhaps not very elegantly head first into her lap!! Followed rapidly by Richard. We take photos and it is only when I look at the photo of me which has a later person emerging from the letterbox in the background that the similarities between this and childbirth strike home. I am born into a new and braver 55 year old than the 17 year old who never quite managed to pluck up the courage for potholing!

The farmer had told us about the Swartberg (or Prince Albert pass) saying that it was not to be missed. Full of new found adventuresomeness I offered to drive this one. It was in theory more well used than Alfred’s and would therefore be better maintained. It was equally beautiful and equal in all other respects too - the hairpins - the sheer drops just as you were passing people - the landslides and the bizarre signs that appeared very occasionally to say than the road was uneven - normally just before a rather more even patch than you’d covered in the last mile. Another hour and a quarter and in a day I had descended lower and driven higher than in my life before (and its only 3rd January). As passengers Richard and I both acknowledged the sense that ‘I’ll only know the fear of plunging over the side for a few seconds’. Is this a comforting thought or not?? Like the Magi we returned by another route - longer but less harrowing and taking a about the same time.

We had been told about cave paintings in the hill just behind the house so next morning we were up early (don’t go too late as there’s a bees nest there and they are more likely to react to human sweat she advised). It was the most fabulous walk, but we couldn’t find the caves. Then we thought we’d come upon them but perched high up and at the top of a sheer drop. In my new found adventurous spirit I was all for a route that looked possible but Richard was quite determined we wouldn’t try. I resisted the temptation to go it alone and, once again, we set off home by a different route - and found the proper caves on the way. At ground level they were clearly man made (but cattle inhabited from time to time these days) and an intense buzzing came from within a crack above them. (On reflection this has been a rather Winnie-ther-Pooh couple of days - tight places and bees - let the reader understand!) We examined both paintings and caves and departed.

Five minutes later Richard’s voice came from in front of me urgently STOP/LOOK. I stopped and looked having seen a shed snake-skin earlier I was looking for a snake. It took me some moments to spot the enormous tortoise - about 18-20 inches in diameter just to the left of the path. It was so well camouflaged that Richard had only noticed it when it hissed at him. We made friends - his reptilian head popped out in curiosity and he allowed himself to be photographed and we returned to our temporary home for breakfast and bird watching.

(Blogged by Rev Sue Booys on sabbatical in South Africa)