Friday, January 30, 2009


A problem, I think, with being in a different culture is not so much picking up the new culture, but learning to let go of one's own - especially when the two contradict each other. So coming from a church culture that tithes, one wants to tithe and then is distressed when expected to give at numerous fund-raising collections. We try to tithe AND give to collections. We need to let go of the tithing and give as the new culture gives. The same with time-keeping and commitment. I have to be in two places at once tomorrow. Somehow I must fit them in. According to my values I am going to let both parties down - but it is not my fault. Somehow I need to appropriate the values of those who set up the system. If I'm late that's ok. If I don't do the job fully well at least I showed willing.
Not so easy at all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Discerning God's voice is a challenge. Not so much in that it is hard to do, but in so much as when you hear it you need to listen. Today and yesterday were my third session at Phase 1 College in Port Elizabeth. It seems to happen that Tuesday leaves me feeling really depressed and discouraged, but by the time I have driven home on Wednesday I have renewed hope.
I think that I struggle when I see complacency and a lack of desire to change and little hope for church to be an expression of the body of Christ, rather than an institution. The point of college is, I suppose, to conform the church's trainee ministers to a mould. And in some areas this is essential. But some areas irk me. I don't want to conform. There is maybe 5% of college that really gets to me - and I need to recognise that it is only a small percentage!
We had a great devotional Bible Study with Rev Anthony Sutton from Jeffrey's Bay last night. And I realised that God was saying stuff to me. For the past three or so years he has said the same thing to me with almost monotonous regularity. It was good to hear something different, but it frightens me. I need work at clarifying what he is saying and the challenge of refining my sense of call. Is God calling me to the pastoral ministry - or to some other ordained ministry role?
Part of this rises from the almost certain fact that I will be spending 3 years at seminary from next year. Communication within the church is not good in this area and everything is very new, but what I have established from talking to various people is that however difficult I might find this way forward personally it is probably best for the Methodist Church as a whole.
And somewhere in this, God is modifying my calling and I know that I don't want to hear him. But - where is there to go but to Jesus because he has the words of life (with thanks to Peter in the NT).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Methodist Organisations

This is a 'touchstone post'! The workings of the Organisations (capital O) within the Methodist Church touch on my Masters Thesis and the environment in which I am working now. So what are the organisations?
For most Methodist Churches in South Africa, whose membership is predominantly 'black', the Organisations are the 'being' of the church. I will expand on that in later posts. The main Organisations are: The men's groups called the 'Young Men's Guild', YMG or 'Amadodana'. The women's groups are the Women's Manyano and Young Women's Manyano, for married and unmarried women respectively. The Young People belong to the Wesley Guild - although there is no age limit and people do not leave the guild to join the 'grown up' organisations. There are also the 'Preachers', the Choir and sometimes others. These all wear uniforms and are the cause of the distinctive red, white and black that we see walking to church on Sunday mornings.
More later!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rhodes Library

R50, proof of residence and an id photo and I may now use the Rhodes University library. They no longer have a Divinity School, so they haven't added to their theology library, but the old books are still there. Exactly what I need for the next stage of my Master's thesis. God has been SO SO good to me. They have the Letters of John Wesley, the Journals of John Wesley and EVEN the Works of John Wesley. The first two sets were in my college library in Randburg, but I haven't been able to find the Works. I will go back and add to the John Wesley section of my thesis. They also have his Notes on the New Testament.
But tomorrow it's back to Phase 1 college, so I can't do any work until Thursday, most probably.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inkonzo Yomnqophiso

So many impressions I cannot record them all. A man in a wheel chair, thin, twisted hands. Few teeth. Singing and smiling and participating in the church service wholeheartedly. A blind man - enormous smile. Some people complain that they do not have enough and make it everyone else's problem. Others are really in a bad way and they can know God in their lives. Those are the people who inspire me.
We did our second Covenant Service today (that's what the post title means). It was hot and tiring and I did not cope as well as I did last week.
But the people were great and it was good to see the other side of our circuit - the outlying societies (60km from Grahamstown). Proud people - perhaps having more pride than the people in town? Just an impression. The church building seemed better cared for. Pride is good when it makes one responsible!
Got back, got home (about 4pm) got a phone call to say, 'that meeting scheduled for 5pm - actually it's now' and went back to church. A Sunday School teachers' meeting. More impressions. More Xhosa that I couldn't follow - but if I don't learn from all of this I never will. So much that could be done in this place. So much potential. But we are still looking and waiting and understanding our context. It is better that way.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Annular Solar Eclipse

Isn't this an awesome picture of an annular solar eclipse? Taken by Dennis Mammana and I found it on a Nasa webpage. It's a real photo taken in 1992 in the Pacific somewhere. There is another annular eclipse on Monday 26 January. We don't see the ring in South Africa, just a partial eclipse. The times of maximum eclipse are 6:12 am in Cape Town and 6:19 in Joburg. The further south the bigger the eclipse. I'm not sure where Grahamstown fits in, I will have to see on Monday!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fishcakes and Lemon Creams

One of the joys of living by oneself is that one is not totally bound by convention. My family have had fond hopes that I would eat properly while away from them. My staple evening meal has been Fritos and yoghurt for the last little while. Last night was yoghurt and fishcakes. Today the yoghurt ran out so it was fishcakes and Lemon Creams. But if anyone is seriously concerned for my health, I eat away from home 3 or 4 days out of 7 and get 'proper' meals then.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Settling In

While I drove to PE on Tuesday morning I realised how much more in control of my life I am than I was a week ago. Last week I pushed off to college with unironed clothes - because I just gave up trying to find the time to iron (and I didn't have an ironing board - it's not fun ironing on the floor). I also forgot to check the actual address of the place I was going - although I had a reasonably good idea. But I had just given up being as prepared and organised as I like to be. I was so overwhelmed by life that I was living minute by minute.

This Tuesday I was stressing because I managed to overcommit myself and was angry with myself for offering to be back in Grahamstown on Tuesday evening. So I wasn't that happy, but it was my own fault and a sign that actually I am managing to take control of my life.

It was also a reminder that I need to be looking out for myself. My supervising minister shouldn't have pushed me to do circuit work on a college day. My college supervisor shouldn't have given me 'dispensation'. So if I don't draw the boundaries nobody else will! However it was my first opportunity to preach in Grahamstown - at a Wesley Guild/Youth event and I was glad to get that 'first' out of the way and maybe to be a bit useful!
The picture is of the Wesley Guild burning prayer requests. I'm not too sure what the symbolism was intended to be!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Covenant Service

We had our Covenant Service in the Shaw Section of the Grahamstown Methodist Circuit this morning. Do you know what was so awesome? Standing up in this high pulpit. reading the words and having the congregation sing the response so that you would hear it the other side of Grahamstown. It was majestic!
Also gives you this feeling of P O W E R. You speak and the people respond with one voice. But there is a deep sense of the awareness of the glory of God. I'm not one for formal worship and I am afraid that we can hide behind forms and liturgies, but there can also be the real sense of awe at God's presence and amazement that he accepts glory from us. That touched me pretty deeply.
On the other hand was the sense of the impersonal. The preacher, liturguists, congregation don't seem to make heart to heart contact. It is all in the form and the liturgy. Even the sermon which Rev Mathiti gave with great feeling - somehow it wasn't like I'm used to. I need to get my thoughts straight on that one. I like to be part of the congregation, but with a different calling. It's like the minister is not really part of the people. Not necessarily right or wrong - but different. My calling is not to separated from the people. I hope that's not an important aspect that I've got wrong!
It was the first time that I have assisted at Communion in my dog collar. The stewards in the African traditional church are not allowed to help with distribution??!? So Rev Mathiti and I gave communion to all 500 or more people present. Even rushing through it, it gave me such a sense of God's love for the individual. The body of Christ broken for YOU. Each one is worth the time and effort.
It was a long service, but I learnt so much and felt so much.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Little Churches

I blogged last month about small missional communities in Grahamstown townships (follow the missional tag). Now that I am in Grahamstown I am starting to get a better idea of how these communities work, although I have not yet visited any of them.
The unexpected strength that I found in the system is that they are involved in the old 'building society' system, but for building churches. Each one of the 19 societies contributes to a building fund and when there is enough money they build a new church - either to replace a shack building or make a new place of worship. I don't know the history in detail, but they did build a church five years ago and are making progress towards having funds for the next.
The unexpected downside of the system is that administratively the thing is chaotic. I suppose there is a school of thought that says we don't need systems of 'control', let the churches do what they are led to do. But co operation needs communication and communication tends to need some sort of sytem. For instance, the circuit stewards were concerned that some of the outlying societies were not able to participate in a Covenant Service (a service important to Methodists). They arranged that 'us ministers' would go out there next Sunday. But now, how to let the people know? The contact numbers were all out of date. I suppose one could say that maybe they wouldn't even want us to come - although that is unlikely.
It is also difficult to handle the finances in such a disparate situation. A missional church leader may need to be a teacher - for many good reasons, but also a leader and someone must be an administrator.
This is the tip of the iceberg of a thought - it goes deeper. Need to think some more!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Phase 1 Programme

Today was our introduction to the Phase 1 programme of the Methodist ministers training system. I got photos last year showing a venue surrounded by green lawns, looking so chill. This year we are in a venue surrounded by blocks of flats and I'm not sure what else. Our bedroom window overlooks somebody's refuse pile! But then, it isn't intended to be a holiday resort, so I won't complain too loud.
The people are great. Everything seems to be organised and happening. Although there has been a bit of a panic about getting the new venue ready for us - one shower for eleven of us and that is not yet functional. But friendly people go a long way in helping to accept a less than perfect situation.
There are things I struggle with - I don't do uniforms well (clerical clothes are like a uniform) and my introvertness battles with people on top of me.
Yikes supper time!

Day Off

It was my day off yesterday, which I took with enthusiasm. I spent some time at the beach and in a book shop, which are pretty good ways for me to unwind. I felt a lot better after that! Unfortunately I had to attend a three hour meeting, mostly in Xhosa, in the evening, but we have agreed that in future we won't have meetings on a Monday.
Off to Port Elizabeth to start the Phase 1 training programme today.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Induction Service

Attempt to know yourself and in so-doing you will probably find God. That was part of Bishop Musi Losaba's message to Rev Mathiti and myself at our induction today. He preached on John 1:19-26 - the people came to John the Baptist and asked him who he was - a prophet, Elijah, the Christ? The bishop then suggested that people ask the same question of their new ministers. Who are you? A very interesting thought. The sermon was, however, in Xhosa, which I do not understand well enough to follow. I picked up the odd point and he gave the odd emphasis in English, but most of it I had to guess at! It was a good service, although long - as is to be expected in African services.
Today has been an odd day. Feeling great, feeling discouraged, great, discouraged. I never knew I could have such a rollercoaster of feelings. I am normally pretty much in control of myself. BUT so much is new and I am so far away from home. Friday night I dreamt about being abandoned by those closest to me - it showed me a lot of the reality of what I am feeling. My head knows that this my own choice and no one is abandoning me, but my psyche - something beyond my will -is feeling this sort of pain. Now is certainly a time when I say to myself, 'Don't rely on your feelings'. They are totally unreliable.
One of the odd things is that I feel almost more culture shock in my 'white/English-speaking context' than in the African context. The African is just like at home. But the set up at Commem is very different to North Rand. I also get depressed because now they are talking about six years of probation and three years at college. I will be so old when I am finished that, it doesn't seem worth it. I hope that they will give some sort of recognition of prior learning. The trouble is that I don't know everything and so I can never say that I don't need to learn more. I do. Lord - it is in your hands.
A good thing for me personally - I have found somewhere to play tennis and they tell me that there is plenty of social hockey organised by Rhodes University - even a Summer League. So in spite of having meetings and commitments at odd times, there is a good chance that I can get some sport. God is good!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Not All Easy

I'm not sure if I should blog about my feelings. But I want to record reality. So much of life is wearing a mask and pretending. That doesn't help other people - especially when it is a leader who is pretending. I feel ok now, but yesterday evening I was pretty flat. I didn't believe I could miss my kids so much. It is partly having been on top of each other for a week - I was really forced to get to know them better.
I was also struggling to see how Jesus fits into my ministry here. It is part of the cross-cultural thing, I know, but many African churches seem to exist for the sake of the church not for the sake of Jesus or of the 'lost' -interpret lost as you will!
I feel more optimistic this morning. I can see the good. I'm glad to be working with Rev Mathiti who understands the African way. I'm glad to be working in an environment that seems to be less formal than I feared it would be. And if I am just a mossie wiping its beak on Table Mountain then I will at least make my little scratches diligently - God will bring about any change that is needed in his time.
I'm going to try to follow Tim Chester's Bible reading plan for the next three years. I got it through John Scheepers' blog. It starts with reading through Joshua - which is just so appropriate for where I am now. Joshua was a new leader, going into a new place. He took over from another leader who was well-respected. But God went to great lengths to assure him that he was with him. And the people's promise to follow him is really cool (Joshua chapter 1). I just read through the induction service for Sunday and I can see the similarities to Joshua's induction. Very cool and very encouraging.
So part of me feels that I am crazy to be here - when I could be with my family and be comfortable, but I hope that I can make a contribution to growing God's kingdom in this place.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Trying to Be Patient!!

Today my family heads back to the big and busy city of Johannesburg. They have enjoyed and like Grahamstown. If it wasn't so complicated with jobs and schools they would stay here with me with no second thoughts! I am really extremely blessed to be in such a good post. My new home is comfortable - if a little small for the five of us that are here at the moment! I will miss my family, but I'm also glad that they are going back as my second daughter has been on camp for the last week and things don't feel right with her missing. At least they will be all together in Joburg.
I met with my superintendent, Rev James Headbush, yesterday. Everything was cool. I like him. I like Rev Mathiti with whom I will be working. But now I am impatient! I want things to get going. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Next week the Phase 1 training programme begins - I suspect that when I know how much work that entails I will wish to be back in these days of not much to do. Also the circuit work is going to start slowly as Rev Mathiti needs to get a handle on how things work in the Shaw Section of this circuit. I need to get inspired about my Masters, but that has got to come at lower priority than my actual work! So I am afraid to get too much into it at this stage.
However, for good and for bad, time passes. Tuesday will come. Things will happen. If nothing else this whole process is going to teach me to trust God and to truly follow him (not charge ahead and see if he is coming with me)!

Things look very good for 2009!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Old Technology!

We went to Commemoration Methodist Church this morning. In the photo you can see the pipe organ at the front of the church. After the service we had a guided tour of the back of the organ. What an unexpected treat! There are 1500 pipes. Mark showed us how to pull the pipes out and blow them to hear the pitch. Awesome. The photos below show some of the back of the organ.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Well, I am now in Grahamstown. The weather isn't great, but I'm staying in a cool flatlet, with cool hosts and all seems well. The circuit stewards came yesterday to greet me and give me some money to buy groceries. They were friendly - and know how to laugh. I'm ok with people if we can laugh together!
I'm going to the church service at Commem tomorrow - probably the first and only time I will get there. From the 11th, my Sundays will be dedicated to the Shaw Section of the Circuit.
We walked through the cathedral this morning - which we all enjoyed. We also went up to the 1820 Settlers Monument (I think). As quiet as can be, but a good view. Not that we knew where we were going - we were just driving around exploring. A cold, wet and misty view, but it was good.
The family is struggling a bit with adjustment, but I'm happier now that I can begin to see my world for this year!