Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Often a Westerner's first question in South Africa is: "But where's the bathroom?" The photo shows a bowl with a quarter inch of steaming water in my bedroom one morning, in the pre-dawn light -- delivered by the mother of the house. That was my "bathroom" -- although I can't fully say that it was "my" bathroom, as people wandered in and out -- there was no door. Temperatures were below freezing outside. You may click on the image to enlarge to VGA.

Pentecostalism Rubs Off

It has often been said that we have a lot to thank Pentecostalism for. In many ways, Pentecostalism has rubbed off on the traditional Churches. But not merely in those areas one might imagine: speaking in tongues, say, or loud worship. Rather, the movement is characterised by a whole raft of features. It is interesting that my own "traditional" Churches (mostly my urban Church) shared many of the broader features of Pentecostalism: beliefs regarding justification, sanctification, and the last days; policy regarding the autonomy of the local Church, the priority of the Body, and the priesthood of believers; and praxis regarding the Divine presence, an emphasis on lived experience, a flexible liturgy, maximum participation, and indigenous principles. Yet we contrasted with Pentecostalism in that we de-emphasised tongues, healing, and the dramatic. OBSERVATION: Most "Pentecostal" features were in fact Congregational Church features before Pentecostalism came along, but some were lost along the way. (Ecclesiology was one of my emphases as a postgraduate student).

I Will Look Above ...

With a demanding morning behind me this morning, I shall simply put up a Bible passage, in the rare version "God is For Real Man" -- a 1967 translation for gangsters. It is Psalm 121, "I lift up my eyes to the hills" -- here translated "I will look above the high risers". This version seems so homely and warm to me -- an encouragement by virtue of its freshness. You may click on it to enlarge.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Church Fête Ideas

Here are the new ideas I mentioned in my previous post, which lifted a Church Fête result by one-third. We came up with a raft of new ideas: koeksusters, popcorn, donuts, ice lollies, pap en vleis, a chicken braai, children's toys, children's books, fairground games, face painting, a hamper draw, a tea garden, different hours for some stalls, and gospel music at the entrance. Not all of these were implemented, but enough of them were to make a big difference. The old ideas are included on the image. You may click on it to enlarge.

Multiplication of Ideas

Our Church fêtes (bazaars), year after year, always did about the same, in spite of all effort and care. And year after year, we kept feeling that they could do better. But how? In 2010, we decided to call it "The Year of New Ideas". There would be a multiplication of ideas, rather than effort. After the fête, many people waited eagerly to hear what difference it had made -- if any. All in all, the result was one-third better than the previous year, which is no small difference. I still have a list of those ideas. Perhaps in a future post ...

Salvation Army

This was Cape Town's Salvation Army band in 2010. They are here tuning up on arrival at our Church. This was a more raucous service than usual. A crowd of urban youngsters turned up, and they were "something else". The Salvation Army asked me if they should invite them to sing a hymn with them at the front. I said that was a great idea -- if the youngsters knew any hymns. One of the youngsters immediately grabbed the microphone at the front, and said: "One, two!" From there it all went downhill -- but they received enthusiastic applause.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dips In Attendance

Our Church, one year, was experiencing curious dips in attendance. "Curious", because many services continued to be up to full strength. Harvest Festival was up to full strength, so was Good Friday, and Mother's Day, too. Yet in between, we had some uncharacteristically low attend­ances. I checked with neighbouring Churches. They said they had experienced the same -- with dips as low as a very low 20% of full strength -- very much lower than our own. OBSERVATION: I have found that it pays to check with other Churches. What you think has "gone wrong" may be a much wider trend.

Action (Maybe)

At the home of a local NGO yesterday, there were a few copies of the South African Constitution lying around. I browsed through the Constitution. What struck me (this time) was the frequent use of the word "may". For example, the President "may" be removed for "a serious violation of the Constitution or the law". Or, the National Executive "may" intervene when a Province "does not fulfill an executive obligation". While this at least permits such action, it would seem to me to potentially invalidate the Constitution. Those "may" clauses, too, seem to me to be too vulnerable to the majority.

Bulbs Coming Up

We're deep into Spring, in the Southern Hemisphere. On our plot in Tesselaarsdal -- some 130km east of Cape Town -- there are all kinds of bulbs coming up now, which have lain dormant for the winter. This is one of them.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

What Came Of It

As I look back on decades of ministry, it seems to me to reflect the Parable of the Sower. While in many cases one simply happened to be someone's minister, in other cases one had a deep involvement in someone's life -- through conversion, counselling, intervention -- and other things besides. In those cases of deep involvement one finds, looking back, that some people have disappointed, some leave one guessing today as to where they stand, while some have truly stayed the course -- and this brings joy. OBSERVATION: And one could not in every case have predicted it.

Student Unrest

We spent the afternoon today with a grass-roots (NGO) para-legal. I asked her what the student unrest was about in South Africa. Of course, it is about fees. Yet deeper than that, she said, while we live in a constitutional democracy, it is run as if by African custom. This means a fundamental ideological conflict, which manifests itself on our university campuses. OBSERVATION: At the moment, the unrest directly affects several people I know.

Flower Market

I took this photo in 2010 of Cape Town's famed Flower Market on Adderley Street. Not only does one find flowers here, but indigenous flowers which one is unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. Flowers have been sold here for more than 150 years. A tourist brochure of 1940 states that “perhaps no single display gives such a good idea of the wealth of the Cape flora as the famous market in Adderley Street”.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Trading A Degree

I have been missing the company of my wife this week, although I have seen her every night. It is not long before I start to miss her. She is an au pair for a wealthy family, and entered an agreement with them that she would do limitless baby-sitting in exchange for a Bachelor of Theology degree, majoring in children's ministry. She is now in her third year out of three. So it can mean long days of work, sometimes, but there is a generous reward.

Fishermen's Wares

I took this photo of fishermen in Lambert's Bay, selling their wares. Lambert's Bay is one of a series of small fishing towns up Africa's southwest coast. I think those are Red Roman on the left. Those on the right may be Elf -- often dried for a fish jerkey called bokkoms. You may click on the photo to enlarge to 230k.

All That It Takes

Several years ago, I was standing in a Church doorway when a Church member came up to me, pressed me to the wall, looked me in the eye, and said: "I will do all that it takes, as long as it takes, to destroy your ministry." I reported it immediately to the Church elders, in a meeting I called in the vestry. One of them responded: "That's what you say, Thomas." Last month, the same man who threatened me was arrested by Interpol, and faces extradition (though not for that). OBSERVATION: The threat was a significant event. But what should one think of the response? It was a cautious response -- at worst a distrustful response.