A Johannesburg parish on the Fourth of July

It seems a long time since I was worshipping at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Gaborone on my first April Sunday in Botswana, I think to myself as son Trevor and I walk down the street to the local Anglican parish, in the neighborhood of Auckland Park here in Johannesburg. It’s the Fourth of July.

St. Peter’s is a lovely old parish, very English in its design. Now it boasts quite a mixed congregation. The Rector is Vicentia Kgabe, and she is the Archdeacon for this region of the Diocese.

Today is ‘Favourite Hymn Sunday,’ and the requests have been eclectic. One parishioner asks for the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and this the congregation sings with great energy, seemingly oblivious to its history and our Fourth.

The ‘special prayer’ offered today is ‘for our country, our visitors, and that xenophobia does not arise again.’

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John Muafangejo and Rorke’s Drift

Rorke’s Drift’s claim to fame is as an icon of British military history. It’s in the heart of what used to be the Zulu Kingdom, and here a tiny remnant of British forces held off several thousand Zulu warriors in 1879. Never mind that the Zulu had pretty much wiped out the British at Isandlhwana, just up the road, the day before. This is what the British military choose to recall, and what Hollywood makes movies about. Think Zulu (1964).

But I’m not much of a battlefields’ buff. Instead, I’ve taken this route northeast of Pietermaritzburg because the battle at Rorke’s Drift was at a Swedish Lutheran mission station. (On who cleaned up the mess and repaired the mission’s buildings after the battle was over, military historians are scrupulously silent.)

Less than a century later, in the 1960s, the Lutheran mission began an arts and craft center. Apartheid was in full sway, and the idea was to bring black artists to Rorke’s Drift for further training, and to do their own work in the mission’s studio.

I know of this story because of John Muafangejo. He trained here. I met him in Windhoek, in Namibia, in 1983. He was teaching survivors of landmines to make some marvelous wool tapestries, a project the Diocese there helped to start. I still recall their sitting in front of their looms, in wheelchairs.

But Muafangejo was known most for his woodcuts, large things on liberation struggle themes. I bought two.

A troubled man, he committed suicide a few years back. There is a book of his woodcuts out. Madiba, Nelson Mandela, wrote the foreword.

 

We visit Isandhlwana this afternoon. Near the battlefield is an Anglican church – named St. Vincent’s, on whose feast day the battle was fought. The church was built only five years after the Anglo-Zulu War ended.

Its stained glass windows depict ‘Christian Warriors.’

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South African insights on ministerial formation

At a fine farewell dinner the conversation gravitates away from the Church to the World Cup (which has its own theology). In that frame of mind – otherwise I am not quite ready to leave – I depart Botswana on a short flight to Johannesburg the next morning.

There, united with son Trevor, who has just flown in from London, I drive south toward Ladysmith. Complete with snow flurries.

Two days later we are in Pietermaritzburg, staying at the Church Land Program guest house, with meetings scheduled throughout the day. Soon-to-be-seminarian Trevor tags along.

Besides being the capital of the province of KwaZulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg is a university town. It used to host the Federal Seminary, an ecumenical effort that could not survive apartheid pressures. Now there is the Cluster, a cooperative arrangement among separate denominational seminaries.

The Anglican House of Studies (AHS) here is still working out its identity, for the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (read, ‘the Anglican Church’) has had a hard time figuring out what it wants it to be. The AHS needs to ensure that it’s not seen as in competition with the College of the Transfiguration, the Anglican theological college down in Grahamstown. To do that it has taken on a post-ordination role, and soon will have formal links with the University of KwaZulu Natal’s School of Theology.

I want to know whether this model may be helpful as Botswana designs its own AHS.

Peter Wyngaard heads the Anglican House of Studies, and we spend a stimulating couple of hours talking less about the politics of a House of Studies and more about ministerial formation itself.

He divides formation into a trilogy: Academic, spiritual, and the practice of ministry. The academic he considers easy to accomplish. He would, in a university environment with a highly-regarded School of Theology. The practice of ministry he considers secured by the placement of ordinands in parishes under senior experienced priests. It’s spiritual formation where he sees the challenge, and the priority. How do ordinands maintain a spiritual discipline and reveal maturity in faith? How does the Church discern spiritual qualities among ordinands as their period of formation continues?

I’ve been thinking on these things during these past two months in Botswana. How, I wonder, does a sense of community fit into all of this, especially if numbers are tiny, as they will surely be in Botswana? Can we even be formed in the faith without meaningful community?

Sigh.  I picture another clump of paragraphs in my final report.

 

Lunch is with Gerald West, who came onto the international Anglican stage in his role designing the Bible study at the last Lambeth Conference, and now with the Bible in the Life of the Church project.

He’s on the university faculty and head of the Ujamaa Center, what used to be called the Institute for the Study of the Bible.

His program follows the old Institute of Contextual Theology (ICT) model, a South African variation on the Latin American theologians’ liberation approach to the Gospel. (The ICT is especially known for its role in the creation of the Kairos Document during anti-apartheid days.)

The Ujamaa Center, I learn, offers required courses for theology students, and places the students in the Center’s community-based projects.

‘Could Batswana ordinands come down for an intensive course?’ I want to know. He’s enthusiastic. ‘Absolutely!’ is the answer. ‘We can tailor it to their needs.’

‘How much will it cost?’ I finally ask.

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