(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)