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)