Index Page   The Lord Took Me


In Action

If I close my eyes and think about it, the years fall away and I can see the scene – so typical of those days – with indelible clarity.

‘There is a little matter,’ starts Samuel, the one with the grey beard – and writes with his stick on the sand. He and the others remain seated while talking, for the missionary is invested with the dignity of the chief. One may never speak to the chief standing. ‘A very little matter,’ he repeats after quite a long pause and gives his neighbour Hezekia a quick glance. Hezekia takes up the report. ‘Ephraim got engaged to Maria Buthelezi,’ he explains. After another pause the white bearded one speaks again: ‘He must be put under the ban; he may not partake with the congregation at the Lord’s Supper.’ I wait. Then the third elder, Naphthali, elucidates. ‘Maria belongs to the Reformed Church.’ That settles this matter. Ephraim must come under church discipline. Not only will he be forbidden to partake of the Holy Communion, but he may not stand sponsor to a child (in a christening service) and he may not have a Christian burial until he is loosed from the ban.

Now the fourth man, proud Benjamin, speaks: ‘Judah wants to have his child christened.’ I drew a pencil and note book from my pocket to jot down the name of the god parents when the grey headed one says quietly, ‘There is a little matter.’ I look up attentively and wait. The church members are already assembling at the chapel. But here everything must first be put into order.

‘Judah has not paid his church fees. The child cannot be christened.’ After a long silence one of the men turns round and calls ‘Judah!’ A young man, meticulously dressed, comes up and sits apart at a little distance. He then greets us politely and waits. The grey bearded one says curtly, ‘Khuluma!’ (Speak!) Judah, keenly aware of the concerted gaze of all the church dignitaries, speaks: ‘There is a little calf in my kraal.’ After some further discussion, punctuated by repeated silences, the matter is satisfactorily settled. The ‘little calf’ will be sold, the proceeds paid into the church account and the child christened today.

The missionary’s eye turns to the robe hanging on the nail. The ‘evangelist,’ or assistant preacher who is responsible for this branch church, sees the look and say, ‘There are candidates for confirmation. They must be examined.’ He rises and waves to the girls in black dresses who are waiting behind the house, and some boys in navy blue suits. They file in, sit down in a row and wait. Their answers prove satisfactory – they know their catechism well, they are conversant with scripture and they know of what sects and churches one must be careful. Then they pay their church fees for the first time. The way is now open for their next step. They may come to confession after which they will be confirmed and will be allowed to partake of Holy Communion. A verse of Scripture must be chosen for each one and written on a slip of paper with the minimum of delay. Next, the names of a young couple must be noted down. Their banns are to be called for the first time today. They both assure us that they are worthy of a ‘white’ wedding ceremony.

‘There is still one who has to do penance,’ says the evangelist. A man is called in. He confesses to having transgressed the commandment of God and of the Church in having gone as an unmarried man to a wedding which was not ‘white,’ (that is, one where the bride had not been allowed to wear wreath and veil). He is sorry and asks to be pardoned. His name is noted and read out later on in the service.

At long last, after the details of some burials have been noted down for record purposes, I can put on my robe (which is long enough to hide the leggings). I take the liturgy, hymn book and Chalice into my hands and follow the assistant preacher who carries the font. Confession can begin. Strange; now I, myself, say, ‘I, as an ordained servant of God,…..absolve you from all your sins…’

During the service the congregation sits on wooden benches, the women to the left and the men to the right. Well to the front the boys and girls are stretching themselves and fidgeting restlessly. Right at the back, sitting on the floor, are those ‘in ban’, those who are under church discipline. The ceremony proceeds, in every detail, according to the German ritual. This the way that the fathers brought over with them when they settled. The anthems are sung in parts without an accompanying instrument. The revival songs sound joyous and beautiful. They appeal to the African much more than do the solemn Lutheran anthems. During prayers all stand, according to the German custom – although it goes against the grain with the Zulu. But it, too, has now become part of the service.