Tuesday, 8 December 2015


When I launched this blog in April I had no idea what it would entail, emotionally or the effort it would take to feed it regularly. I don't have a retentive memory so digging into my past hasn't always been easy.

As an extrovert and ENTJ I am not naturally inclined to contemplate my navel, tending always to be planning forward. Besides, for the past year I've been writing a novel, editing and marketing a book on theology as well as earning a living as a journalist and as a PR professional.

Dolls there just hasn't been enough time in my days!

Bored with myself
Thirty-one posts later I decided to review what I have done and emerged thoroughly bored with myself. I am also aware of the temptation to linger in my Soweto period, because it was such a wonderful entry to priesthood.

As always in ministry, the season had to end.

I'd originally been designated to St James in Diepkloof for six months but managed to stretch that to two years. My ministry was focused on HIV/AIDS, my parish was vibrant, I was running a PR agency and serving as Archbishop Jongo's media liaison person. Eventually I would come to understand the gospel references to ‘the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak’.

Burnout was on the horizon.

A course for the horse

Brian Germond, My incredibly understanding bishop, sent me to St Michaels and All Angels in Weltevreden Park. Although the parish was quite a distance from my home its new rector, the Revd Dr Tim Long, had also recently emerged from a township.

He and his wife Kirstie had lived and served at St Bernard Mizeki in Atteridgeville in the Diocese of Pretoria. It wasn’t easy. For example when their geyser burst the wardens took a year to fix it – and this only after a threat to leave.

But, they like me, had fallen in love with their community.

So I had a boss who understood my need to dance in church. As importantly, he led me through my never ending journey of theological doubt and inquisitiveness.

Tim, a former teacher, had a doctorate in biblical studies and didn't bat an eyelid when I needed to question whether Jesus is God. He was erudite, non-judgmental and great at people development.

Back to school

Enrolling for an Honours degree in Systematic Theology was a natural progression and the Revd Dr Peter Wyngaard agreed to be my mentor. 

My Prof at UNISA was gregarious and eccentric and encouraged my journalistic approach while others bothered about me not toeing the academic line. (Being in my mid-50s I was more concerned about enjoying the process than passing cum laude although I hated missing that by a few percentages.)

Tim was assisted by a retired priest who lived on the property, three self- supporting women priests – known as ‘Tim’s harem’ – and a self- supporting man.

There would be two key aspects to the next two years. I was involved in one of the fastest growing parishes in the diocese and I was having to cope with my lost “only white woman” status. That dreadful self centered only child syndrome that I carry inside me.

Not easy 

Fortunately our ‘self-supporting’ team had all gone through the ordination process together so we were good friends. But it couldn’t have been easy for Tim. 

Self supporters tend to decided when they can take leave and just how much time to allocate to the parish. The rector isn’t treated like God’s second cousin and we also usually have a fair amount of control over where we work. 

(I sometimes envied the married women who could blame their husbands if they didn’t want to do something or move somewhere.)

In short, we are a mixed blessing and the result of an era in which the Church was battling with budgets and we were cheap labour. Most were women and many suffered under chauvinist rectors. Notably, we were not as subservient as young curates.

Go forth
Brian Germond often commented that Christianity is not a spectator sport. The study of Liberation Theology had convinced me that theology without praxis is just hot air. Tim Long who’d emerged from an Assembly of God background lived mission. With all this I was convinced that parishes that just tread water are little more than weekly side shows.

It is a gospel imperative that we draw community in and consistently expand our offerings.

Second class priests?
Looking back I think self-supporting ministry is incredibly difficult, largely because Church doesn’t know how to capitalise on this important human resource. Too often a self-supporting priest with invaluable business experience is under-used. 

Equally sad is how many self-supporters feel like second class clergy or, at best, volunteers. Part of the problem is that deep down inside few feel like ‘real priests’ unless they are given a parish to run. They are not programmed to view their paying job as an important element of their ministry.

Seldom are they reminded that ordination doesn’t hang its hat up at the office door. We are priests 24/7 even if it isn’t all sacramental. I, for example, often found myself acting as unofficial chaplain to a newspaper group I worked for. 

Through someone in that office I served a motor cycle club where the parties were wild and hearts were enormous.

One of the most difficult things about being a self-supporting are the weeks on end in which there is no break from the parish/work cycle. This has a terrible impact on families and relationships.

An interesting aspect of my move to the leafy suburbs was watching the slow integration of black families into traditionally white parishes.

St Mikes was a middle class traditionally white parish with a handful of mostly professional black parishioners. It helped that our rector had worked in a township and Tim was good at drawing black parishioners into leadership roles.

The dog thing

But they, like me, missed the traditional choruses. I also had one couple share how irritating it was at tea time when we whiteys discussed our dogs as if they were children. Another noted that we seemed to think Africa started north of the Limpopo, and excluded South Africa. I may not be guilty on the second point but mea culpa on the canine issue. I am always touched when black friends not only asked after my pets’ health but remember their names!

An easy mistake
Speaking of names. I really felt for that ANC Woman’s League representative who mixed up Oscar Pistorius’ surname with Reeva Steenkamp’s when expressing the league’s delight that he had been found guilty of murder.

Oh the high indignation and the social media tsunami among those whose grandparents used to call all male gardeners ‘John’ because black names were too difficult to learn! Besides it must have been pretty hectic outside the court as the media competed for comment.

Saved by the President
If only we South Africans could honour our Madiba legacy by giving each other a little leeway. Speaking of which, as we mark the second year since his death, I am reminded of an incident that epitomised his attitude to others.

I’d had a hectic shopping spree in Sandton City and was in danger of being late for a meeting. My car was parked in the hotel garage (Those good old Merc days when the concierge would park it for me). 

The passage to the Convention Centre, which was en-route, had been taped off for security reasons. 

Naturally I did what any woman in hurry would. I ducked under the tape and kept going. Around the next corner I bumped into President Nelson Mandela and his entourage heading for an event. 

As bodyguards  bristled the old man with twinkly eyes knew exactly what I’d done and came to my rescue by shaking my hand and asking “And how are you today?” The guards backed off and we all carried on. 

 Thank you Tata.

What would he think?

It is two years since our national hero died and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said at a memorial service in St George’s Cathedral this week: "As someone who prayed with Madiba, I cannot help but ask myself: If he were alive today, what would he think of South Africa?”

I’m thinking that it’s up to ordinary South Africans to sustain that legacy.

Just as it’s up to Christians, not Starbucks or the local supermarket, to put Christ into Christmas.

You may enjoy this video of the Nelson Mandela Commemoration service in St George's Cathedral https://youtu.be/Pg5DHxqTpFE

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