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)