Friday, February 27, 2009

Playing Tag

Steve Hayes tagged me with this one. First time I've ever been tagged! Thanks Steve. It was quite amusing to do and see. Although, compared to Steve's results, I think mine are quite negative. People are quite 'catty' in what they write about other people. Is it women about women or is that a sexist question to ask?

Here are the rules:

Google your full first name (not your nickname) and the word “needs” like this: “Alan needs” and then post the first 10 things that Google finds. You may have to go to the website and do a little reading. Then tag 5 friends (not including the person who tagged you) and pass it on.

So what do I need according to google?

Jennifer needs her True Self (this from someone playing this tag in 2005!)
Jennifer needs ** omitted due to the family nature of this blog. Next one too!
Jennifer needs to give birth this week.
Jennifer needs a cold shower
Jennifer needs a shave
Jennifer needs to play by the rules
Jennifer needs your help
Jennifer needs a mortician
Jennifer needs to accept that she has gained a few pounds.

Now I know why I don't follow horoscopes and such. A mortician? Cool, idea.

I'm not going to tag, I'm not in the right space for it now - if you want to play, leave a comment and people can follow!

Organisation Structure

I am quite confused about the way the leadership of the Methodist Organisations is structured. I can only speak for the Wesley Guild in the Grahamstown Circuit, but I presume that they are all similar. The Minister is automatically the president of the organisation and, I think, of all its committees. I am sort of a deputy minister in the church here and I have the role of 'co-ordinator', which means - well, I'm not actually sure. But in practice I stand in for the 'chief' minister.

Each society (individual Methodist Church) elects a committee consisting of a vice president, general secretary, treasurer, recording secretary, and four programme convenors. The 'vice' is a very important person, as usually the minister is not able to attend all organisation meetings and functions. Now, each circuit (group of Methodist Societies) also elects a committee. However, there is no overlap. I would see sense in a representative of each society being on the circuit committee. But no, the circuit committee consists of people not on any of the society committees. I'm not sure which is elected first. Then we have regions (group of Methodist Circuits - not always found in the MCSA). The region elects a committee on the same basis. Presumably the District does the same.

I'm trying to get a handle on how this works. The Ciruit Executive cannot speak for the societies as they have no intentional representation. They cannot feed information down easily on the same basis. The Circuits and Regions almost compete with the societies in planning events and doing fund raising - this was noted by the Wesley Guild meeting last night of its own accord. Representative hierarchical committees do mean more meetings for the unlucky chosen few, but it seems to me that there would be more value in that sort of structure. I guess I still have something to discover.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Culture Bites

Every preacher that goes to the Local Preachers Convention in our District has to contribute a cow. Or it may be that each circuit must contribute three cows. Something like that. On top of that every preacher - whether going to the convention or not - must contribute x hundred rand. I don't have the exact details. (This refers to the Methodist Organisation of Preachers and not to the Methodist 'office' of Local Preachers. Most preachers belong to the organisation but not all.) All of this goes into providing catering for the weekend. You can be sure that this will be a feast of feasts and a party of parties. Now the Local Preachers Association (which is the name of the organisation) is almost completely made up of Black South Africans. White people and non-indigenous Black people don't tend to join the organisations.

For Black people this feast concept is normal and a cultural necessity. For those of us of another culture, it feels very wrong. Because we are expecting people who cannot afford a cow or x hundred rand to pay up regardless. Otherwise they will be rejected by the community - either officially, or just by being made to feel bad and to be told that they have no 'ubuntu'. But for us on the outside we wonder how we can expect a person to deprive their children of what might be necessities in order that a small group of people can indulge in something that we see as both celebration (good) and greed (bad). For us, we say - your priority is your family and children. The Black culture says your priority is the community. At the worst extreme, this is why starving people will contribute to Robert Mugabe's lavish birthday party. They exist for the community - which in this case is represented by Robert Mugabe.

At phase 1 college we agreed that we would contribute R10 each for everyone's birthday so that we could buy them a gift voucher. This works out at R100 altogether. I thought that was kind of cool. But now, apparently, R10 each is not enough. We need to buy something nice for the birthday person. We need R50 each. This was brought to the group for discussion. A certain group of vocal people made their plea. Most of us were quiet and just listened. For me, this is just the cow story on a lesser scale. There are people in our group who may not be receiving their stipends. There are those supporting families. We do not get paid an enormous amount every month, as you may imagine.

I asked for time to think, explaining that this was not how my culture worked and I wanted to try to understand. But the pressure is there to follow the community (ie the vocal leaders). Those who cannot afford it won't speak up. Maybe everyone can. I don't know. For me, R10 or R50 is neither here nor there. My husband is also working. I would like to be generous. But I feel coerced and I am afraid that others do too.

Some cultural differences bite deep and it is very hard to decide what is 'right' or 'better'. Should I defend the 'underdog'? Or should I give with grace that transcends the sense of being coerced?

At the end of the day - again my culture speaks, and I think wrongly. I will say that the underdog must speak up before I support him and I will follow the community pressure. iRight or iWrong, as they say?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chewing and Spitting

I hope that I am making this observation too early and that I am wrong. I have heard it said that a church will take every pound of flesh that they can from a minister without blinking. I didn't really believe it, but I am starting to see that it is true. If I'm not careful these people will take me, chew me and spit me out at the end. And it is not unkindness - it is simply an unawareness. Of the fact that the minister is human. That he or she has other needs and interests. That he or she has gifts or skills in certain areas but not in others.
I've never wanted to be someone that insists rigidly on my time off. My experience of ministers like that is that they tend to overuse the excuse. And maybe I was also chewing and spitting - we'll see. But the way things are going I may have to be strict and refuse to ever go the extra mile - although I would prefer to be generous with my time. And then I know, people become disgruntled.
But I think I am too early in this observation. I think I will deal with it. It's part of getting into the rhythm of a new life.

Monday, February 23, 2009

For Thomas - who cares about cows

These cows seem to be shopping for cars! This is on one of the main streets in the centre of Grahamstown. The photo appeared in the local newspaper, Grocott's Mail, Friday 20 Feb, taken by Andrew Slaughter.
It's for Thomas because he asked about the cows in a comment on a previous post! Hope you like them.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Well, Cope and Dandala! I have to say that Cope have come across as extremely astute, politically. They will be appealing increasingly to the white voter. Increasingly to a certain section of black voters. Will they make any inroads on the rural vote? That is the question.
But, while Mvume Dandala is a highly respected man amongst both black and white, I wonder how much patience the general public has with theology degrees!
Whatever - these guys are clever!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thought for the Day

Heard at a leaders' meeting last night. The task of the Sunday School is to teach children the Laws and Disciplines of the Methodist Church. From a member of the meeting - not a teaching from the front. This was at a tangent to the discussion so there was no comment, but it would have been very interesting to pursue. In my own context, the task of the Sunday School would be to teach children the Bible and to equip them to make life decisions based on Christian principles. Apart from the different source books, the goal is probably pretty much the same.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Things that happen

As a new minister I had two things last week that showed how unprepared I am in many ways for what I am doing! The first was someone coming in who had to apply to the liquor board for a license to operate her tavern. This is in a town 50km from Grahamstown where there is a small Methodist Church. The steward who looks after the church had signed the form but it needed a stamp. Now Methodists, after the example of John Wesley, are not keen on promoting the sale of liquor. I personally have a big issue with the damage that alcohol does amongst our poorer populations. But the form didn't ask about whether or not the MCSA approved of taverns, but whether the operating hours would not pose a disturbance to the church. My supervising minister was in hospital and I couldn't get hold of my superintendent, so I had to make a decision and I stamped it (no idea whether it was the right stamp). I still don't know whether I did the right thing - and I suppose I should ask someone some time. Ideally, the church would embark on a mission to promote an awareness of the dangers of alcohol, in that area - that would be meaningful. My refusing to stamp the form would just be obstructionist. I have no idea whatsoever if there is an official Methodist view as to what I should have done! The lady got a good lecture on the dangers of drunkenness and her moral responsibility, but I doubt if she took much of it in.

The other thing was a church leader coming in and very tentatively saying that there was a women's group in town. They were looking for a minister to open their meeting on Saturday. Some of the ladies were members of the church. Could Rev Mathiti or I help? Oh, by the way this is the ANC Women's League. That one at least I knew the church's position - but not because I've been taught it. So I told him 'No' with a clear conscience on that one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Micah and the Ephod

I'm reading through Judges at the moment. It is always a challenging book. It does not go out of its way to be politically correct. The story of Samson, in its entirety, is absolutely bizarre. I read about Micah and his ephod yesterday. Now, there's a story for which I can see no reason for it being in the Bible. A wandering tribe of Israelites come across this little shrine where an ephod (sort of like a priest's shirt/collar/breastplate) and an idol were kept and worshipped or used as aids to worship. The tribe appropriates these things, and their priest, and wander off to attack an unsuspecting and presumably undefended people. They take their land and live happily ever after. Nothing in this story seems to be consistent with the behaviour that God expects of his people. It doesn't talk about God himself. Perhaps it is just an example of the godlessness of the time.
But stories like this make a nice counter balance to stories such as Daniel's which seem almost too good to be true! It leaves us with the sense that the Bible is not God's spin-doctor, but that he is willing that things be told as they are.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Changing Focus

I find that the challenges I face as a student minister are not all the ones that I anticipated. For example, I quite enjoy the two days a week of college. My fellow students are intelligent and engaging. There is some 'been there and done that' on my part, but it is not anywhere near where it could have been. I do find circuit work (actual church work) unfulfilling at the moment, but I am sure that this will improve with time.

Over the weekend I thought about blogging and considered slowing down for two reasons. The one is that I am finding it difficult to blog what I really feel because of the diversity of my audience. It has always been diverse, but at the moment I am adapting to having readers from my 'old' congregation and from my 'new'. It is difficult to reflect without saying things that may imply a criticism of my old context or of my new context. And I don't want to have to caveat everything and explain in depth 'what I really mean'!

The other reason is related to this. I am finding that I need to spend time thinking through stuff that happens - processing it, if you like. I'm always like that, but with my new life I find I need more time. The problem is that I tend to reflect with my blog in mind and some of the more difficult issues I can't blog and so I don't work through them. And I wondered about slowing the blog down and forcing myself to reflect more fully, just to myself.

However, I think that having become aware of the issues, I can deal with them. But I am conscious of the fact that my life looks different. I need to focus on different things in different ways. Different things are going to stress me. And so my life changes and the blog changes. At least in my mind - might not actually look very different from the outside!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Making Space

Our office isn't exactly a pig sty, but it is a bit of a mess. There are random papers from any time in the last 10 years in random places. Filing cabinets have all sorts of arbitrary stuff in them (kettles and old telephone handsets). And stuff in plastic bags.
There are two rooms. A reception room and an inner room. The inner room has two desks, one of which has a nice computer on it. The other desk is obviously the boss's desk. I've found myself sitting at the desk with the computer, because I am more at home with it than is Rev Mathiti. I cleaned it out a bit, so that I had space to work. But I am only there two mornings of the week. While I am gone things get dumped on the desk and things that I am working with get moved. So I don't leave anything there anymore and if I'm working with church papers I bring them home to keep them 'safe'.
But I realised that the working environment was getting to me. It's partly that I don't really have very much to do, but it's also difficult for me not having my 'own space'. So this morning I allocated myself an hour and tidied up the reception room. I threw out the old papers that were meaningless. Put others in a filing cabinet. Moved the old pc into a corner and took a wet cloth for a walk. So, now I have declared that MY office. If anybody dumps something there, I feel I can move it, because I have rescued space that wasn't being used. I can set up my own laptop and work on it. It looks much better and I was much happier this morning.
Now, I hope that everything stays as I left it until tomorrow morning.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Shellfishy Thoughts

This picture is hard to make out. It is one of those shellfish that you find on the edge of the surf on the beach. It is eating a moth.
But the point of the picture is that I was on the beach today. I have been down to the beach every Monday since I have been in Grahamstown and it is one of my biggest points of discipline. It might seem odd that going to the beach should be a discipline - but I find that I need that timeout so badly. And the thing is that I only realise after I 've been at the beach a while how much I needed it. I tend to get myself wound up with so much stuff that I need to do (usually my own deadlines and my own pressure) that I lose perspective. And I am fairly sure that I do not realise how much stress I am under because I am in such a completely new environment. Perhaps I will read this post in six months time and agree!
The beach forces me to unwind. After I've made myself get in the car and go. And then I must make myself stay - the inclination is to look at the sea and then head straight back to whatever needs doing. But after I've got out of the car and walked a bit - well, today I didn't want to leave. I am very grateful to God for giving me this way of dealing with stress! It's not the same in Joburg.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Cows and donkeys on the pavements are standard for Grahamstown. Goats and dogs in the townships. Sheep on the way to Alicedale. And today going to Riebeeck East we drove through a game farm - on the public road, no gates, only a cattle grid. And I saw bushbuck, impala, bontebok, kudu, wildebeest and lots of warthogs. And probably others I've forgotten. That was such an unexpected surprise.
I wasn't looking forward to today - Rev Mathiti and I have been going out together because that was how it was planned by last year's ministers. It has been good to see how things work, and although I feel like I tag along Rev Mathiti always involves me extensively in the services, but I am starting to get frustrated. It's not just about Sundays -circuit work in general is slow. I don't want to complain - it is still early days. I just feel the frustration leading to cynicism and need to deal with it.
So - if I just go with the flow, I may get bored, will probably be mildly productive and will stay out of trouble. If I start trying to make something happen - some small thing - I could be interested, more productive, but also in line for pain and tears.
I'll wait a little longer before making that call. No doubt God will give me a push when the time is right. (And maybe I'm a bit scared).
Trust God - easier said than done.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Office Alone

Today was the first day that I was in church office all morning without my 'boss'. It was actually good. I found that people quite happily accepted me as the minister in his absence (even though I'm white, female and still studying). And for once I got a feel for what happens in the life of this church.
I also got to do my first hospital visit. They had hoped that someone would take Communion to the patient, but I am not yet allowed to do that and Rev Mathiti was away. So I offered to just go and pray and that was accepted.
I found Settlers Hospital quite easily, surprisingly enough, as my instructions were vague and I had no idea where it was. It is being revamped so there is construction activity everywhere. Fortunately people are helpful and I found a door in and also someone to take me to the patient although he was not in the ward that I'd been told. Actually he was in a sort of enclosed veranda area - which would have been quite pleasant had he been not so obviously ill. Settlers hospital is a combined private/ public hospital (and the only hospital in Grahamstown). It seems like a good idea. But the lady helping me was momentarily taken aback to realise that I was visiting a black man in the public section of the hospital. This cross cultural posting thing is a good idea for changing people's attitudes.
The odd thing for me was that I tried to speak Xhosa to the patient. I normally stumble over greetings, but when I realised this man was conscious but unable to communicate I found myself attempting Xhosa. Amazing. I managed to tell him that I was a minister from his church and that I had come to pray for him. About a third of the prayer was in Xhosa too. I guess if anyone wants to be understood badly enough, they will make an effort.
So, I was glad to actually feel like a minister just for the morning!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


When I talk about Methodist Organisations I want to focus on the Wesley Guild - because I am now gaining first hand knowledge through my involvement with them. However, I think what I have seen applies to other organisations too.
They like to have meetings. Meetings which consist of devotions (which can vary in length) and business. Most of the business seems to be about future meetings or gatherings and to some extent about fund raising. The thing is that they are conducted with great formality, with the chairperson, secretary and other important people sitting at a table in front. The members of the meeting sit in rows. Protocol is very important. Each speaker greets the whole meeting, starting with the ministers, going on to executive members, members of other organisations who may be present and all the way down to the Sunday School, if children are present.
Meetings can be very long and people are given every opportunity to speak.
The Methodist Church is divided in to Districts, Circuits and Societies (individual churches). In Grahamstown they have grouped the Circuits into Regions. Each of these levels has an executive committee of each organisation. Each executive has a regular meeting. There are also circuit council meetings, district conventions and others, which involve a larger group of people.
As a minister, one can end up going to a lot of meetings!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Millburn Farm

This is the church where I preached and led worship this morning. It reminds me of Rhenosterspruit church back in Joburg. This church is much more rundown though. It is known as Millburn farm and is 35km from Grahamstown. People walk a long way to get there!

Those Funny Uniforms

This is going to be an epic or a saga or something. Organisations in the Methodist Church. But I am taking it seriously - because this is a system that by and large works, however much those with more post modern tendencies are uncomfortable with it.

In the church a child starts by being baptised. He/she then joins the Sunday School. Parents are expected to send their kids to Sunday School, much as they are expected to send them to day school. Whether they like it or not, doesn't come into it. At about 16 they may join the Wesley Guild. These young (and not so young) people wear blue blazers and blue skirts or grey long pants, white shirts and blue ties. Blazers and ties have the Wesley Guild logo. (They also wear WG tracksuits, golf shirts, whatever other stuff the particular group has). As they get older the men may join the Young Mens Guild (Amadodana). They wear red waistcoats with - I think grey pants and a dark jacket, shirt and tie. The women join the Young Women's Manyano and when married the Women's Manyano. Black skirts, white jackets and red collar for the young women and red jackets with a white collar for the married women. Berets. The Local Preachers wear black and white - black jackets and skirt/long pants and a black tie. I'm not sure if the women are required to wear hats. If so, black. The new requirement is that preachers wear a manel - a long tailed coat like John Wesley wore.The church choir also wear black and white, but not so formally and wear gowns to sing. So church services are very colourful occasions as most of the congregation are wearing one uniform or another. It is quite common for someone to belong to more than one organisation.