In August 2016, I spent almost two weeks at a UPCSA Post Academic Training conference near Stellenbosch; a week on placement at Mowbray Presbyterian church in Cape Town and finally a weekend with Clarence Tungunu in Johanesburg. Below are some thoughts from this time:
Part 1: Conference, Simonsberg Christian Centre near Stellenbosch (8 - 19 August)
- Eddie's first session of the conference set the tone. We were pushed to go beyond the superficial in discussion about scripture.
- Shingi, who I enjoyed sitting beside all conference, volunteered me to the role of conference timekeeper. This meant getting all of us to sessions on time and ensuring that speakers kept to their allotted time. I think this is a good idea to consider for conferences in Scotland.
- Singing would start without warning. It was usually the Zimbabwean contingent who would begin. I can picture George singing and dancing to "Get ready for Jerusalem." How nice it was.
- Dave Smit did a great job providing a wide range of visits throughout the Cape Town area. Trips to the townships were especially memorable. Sometimes, however, I would have preferred the speaker speaking for a shorter time allowing us more time to look as well as listen.
- In the evening, most people either sat round the fire, in the lounge or preparing their contribution for the next day. One evening I was preparing for leading worship the next morning. I told Sam that I wanted to use a South American song - Somos del Senor. Within a minute or two, the whole room was practising the song. A fond memory.
- I realised something important about my ministry. I previously envisaged working in a church building that is busy with activities throughout the week (like JL Zwani church in Guguletu township). However, after listening to various speakers including Robert Steiner, I realise that I am probably more suited to a ministry that is mainly out in the parish during the week instead of based at a church. A "street-based" rather than "place-based" ministry, as Robert put it.
- I think we would have benefited from slightly more free time. More time to spend together or indeed time just to absorb what we were experiencing. One day, a session finished early, and Peter, Garikai and I climbed up a nearby hill during a break. It was a bonding experience.
- There were many excellent speakers of which Dave Hunter was one. I took many notes during his session...ask yourself when reading the passage before a sermon what the good news is for you in the passage, for how can you tell others the good news if you have not worked it out yet for yourself...make a discipline of getting up early and reading the Bible...it is in our immediate family that we live the good news first, otherwise it is rendered incredible everywhere else...laughter is internal jogging...
- What a great trip towards the Cape of Good Hope on the Saturday. Southern Right Whales spotted by Francois...penguins up close...the curious looking rock rabbit...and even Christine having to fight off a snake!
- If Saturday was nature day, then Sunday was township day. First the two-hour long church service then being driven around various townships by a joyful man called Vireme.
- Franklyn gave an unsettling talk about his time in prison - especially his experiences of sharing a cell. I later recalled this when we visited Robben Island and stood in a dormitory cell.
- I sensed a desire amongst many people to bring down barriers between cultures despite the challenges of history, prejudice and economic disparity.
- I felt sad at the end of the conference because I felt like I was only getting to know people. I remember this feeling acutely when bidding Alfred farewell at the bus station as he set off on the long journey back to Carltonville. I hope to stay in contact with this great group.
- I am glad that Peter Sutton from Scotland was at the conference with me because when we meet up we can share great memories...Father Nicholas and his Greek Orthodox enthusiasm...wildlife spotting from the minibus...late evening biltong with Cecil and Kokkie...trying to get to the nearby wine tasting in the lunch break...how welcome we were made...and watching the sun set over distant Table Mountain.
Part 2: Placement, Mowbray Presbyterian, Cape Town (19 - 27 August)
It took me a while to re-adjust to the pace of this placement in the suburbs of Cape Town after being surrounded by many people at the conference out in the vineyards near Stellenbosch. However, it turned out that there would be many highlights from this week and here are some of them:
- The retired couple I lived with were brilliant. Dick was wise and his wife Charlie was hilarious.
- I went with assistant minister, Nigel, to a youth event that first night. What stays in my mind was dropping young people off at their homes in the townships after dark. I felt both shocked at where these young people were living and a little scared.
- The next day Dick took me to his lovely tennis club to play. The people we played with were friendly and the atmosphere was so relaxed. I couldn't help but contrast with the night before.
- Talking with the kids at the Sunday morning service was a fond memory.
- Percy later told me how, during apartheid, he would get the same train home from work as his dad. However, because his dad was white and he was coloured, they could not sit together.
- I preached at the evening service. The communion service led by Dave Smit was powerful. All of us round the communion table.
- I visited the waterfront by myself and, in one tourist shop, thought about buying my son a cuddly penguin toy for 160 rand. Later I walked walked back to the bus station with a man who had just finished his shift as a security guard. He lived in the township of Phillipi and it would take him about an hour to get home by train. It would be much quicker by a minibus taxi but he could not afford it. His monthly train ticket was 160 rand - the same as that cuddly toy.
- By coincidence, Mowbray's annual Scottish dance evening was due to take place the Friday evening of my visit. However, due to the dance leader falling ill it was going to be cancelled at short notice. However, I was able to lead the dancing and so on my final night I had the pleasure of teaching Scottish dances. I especially remember watching the same young people I had met at the beginning of my time at Mowbray, now dancing the Pride of Erin Waltz with such elegance.
Part 3: Clarence Tungunu, Johannesburg (27 - 29 August)
- I knew Clarence from his visit to Scotland earlier in the year, and I was really pleased that we could spend the weekend together. It was good to build on our friendship.
- I had brought with me a sewing machine and associated equipment for the women's group in Clarence's church. This had been organised by Clarence's many friends in Belhaven.
- We visited a nature reserve outside the city; ate Zimbabwean food; went shopping for a football for his church team and all the while talked about our lives and respective ministries.
- He gave me much news about himself and the church in Eiffel Flats to share in Scotland where I was about to return to after almost three and half weeks away.
Part 4: Final Words
I would Iike to thank the Church of Scotland for giving me this opportunity. I hope it is obvious from this report that I consider it a great experience and would happily recommend it to others. Thank you also to the UPCSA for allowing me to join in with your conference. Thank you to Christine for being so on top of things. Thank you to Eddie for being inspiring. Thank you to Dave and Nigel at Mowbray for filling our time together with generosity and wisdom.