My rating: 2 of 5 stars
J.J. Kitching (known as “Kitchen Boy”) is a war hero, and a famous Springbok rugby player, so when he dies at the age of 81, his funeral is a significant occasion. The action of the story takes place in the lead-up to his death and the funeral itself, and the memories of him that are prompted in the minds of his family, friends, and others who knew him.
In his final illness he shares some of his war-time memories with his grandson, Sam. Different people come to his funeral, and even his close family are sometimes surprised at the range of his contacts and acquaintances, from the homeless philosopher who lived in a culvert, to the teetotaller manager of a hotel chain who was a customer of the brewery where he worked until he retired.
I’d read a couple of other books by Jenny Hobbs before, and bought this one becazuse I was impressed by them, and their authenticity to place and time. Thoughts in a makeshift mortuary had in some ways a similar theme to this one, the parents of a freedom-fighter who has been killed by the police, as they keep vigil over the body of a child they hardly knew, thoughts prompted by death.
When I began reading this one, I was very impressed at the apparent authenticity. Most of the novels we read in South Africa are published overseas, and are set in far-away places, so one often doesn’t know whether the descriotions are authentic or not.
But this one is set in Durban and Zululand, places where I have lived. The description of World War II soldiers and returning POWs wandering round Durban on arriving home sets the scene amazingly well. The description of Twiggie’s Pie Cart in Market Square in Pietermaritzburg revived memories of 50 years ago.
I recalled my uncle returning from the War. I was four years old and we stood on Salisbury Island and watched the flying boat come in dropping over the harbour entrance, landing on the bay. Many of my friends had fathers who had fought in the war. And we also had several uncles who had fought in the war. It was part of growing up. So the memories of J.J. Kitching, and his friends’ memories of him, were part of my growing up, and also part of the family history we have explored more recently.
My wife Val’s father would never spoeak about his wartime experiences, until one day we pleaded with him to tell us the story of “Shit in Italy”. He was captured at Tobruk and kept in a prison camp in Italy, from which he escaped. I wish we had had a tape recorder to record it, because we have now forgotten many of the details, but like the grandson Sam in the book, we were fascinated by the story.
Most of the memories are stirred and described during the funeral service, but that is where the story falls apart. The rugby players, young and old, are authentic. The ex-servicement, the MOTHs (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) are authentic. The homeless philososopher in the culvert may be stretching things a bit, but is plausible. But then the author has to go and spoil it all by introducing an altogether phony caricature of an Anglican bishop. The bishop is not an incidental character, because the funeral service is the setting for much of the book.
The funeral takes place in our time, no more than five years ago, but just about every detail rings false. I’m not familiar with the current Anglican funeral service, and haven’t been able to find out much since I started reading the book, but if I were writing a book that revolved around a funeral service, I’d do a lot more research than Jenny Hobbs appears to have done. The words of the service swing from Elizabethan to modern English. I once knew an Anglican bishop of Natal who might have entertained ambitious thoughts like the fictional bishop in the book, but he retired forty (40) years ago, and what we are presented with is a caricature from the 1950s, or even the 1920s, in a story set in about 2010. It’s OK to have a fictitious cathedral in a real city for the sake of the story. But it’s a pity that when there seems to have been so much research into some of the historical details (like the diets of prisoners in German POW camps), there has been so little into the hub that the story revolves around. Anglican bishops in South Africa are never referred to as “His Grace”, for one thing, and and there are numeous other bogus details.
Forty years ago I was present at quite a number of Anglican funerals in Durban, and even back then they were none of them like this. Sometimes they were pathetic — five MOTHs bidding farewell to a dead comrade, asking to play the Last Post, and one of them pulling out a tinny little portable tape recorder to play it. But nothing as phony as the one in this book. More recently, in about the same time frame as that of the book, I attended the civic funeral in Pretoria of Nico Smith, which had all sorts of military and civic dignitaries present and speaking. It wasn’t Anglican, but it gives and idea of how such things are done.
When I began reading the book, I thought I’d give it four or five stars, but the more I read, the more the rating dropped.
Yesterday we went to the monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit for a farewell party for Father Pantelejmon (Jovanovic), who was leaving South Africa after serving for 11 years as the Rector of the Church of St Thomas the Apostle in Sunninghill Park in northern Johannesburg.
I first met Fr Pantelejmon when I went to Vespers at St Thomas’s on 15 March 2003, soon after he had arrived in the parish. We occasionally went there for Vespers as it was for a long time the closest parish to where we live that has Saturday-evening Vespers, but it was usually poorly attended, often only by the priest and his wife. This time there were 10 people present, and Fr Pantelejmon, a young priest, was encouraging the people to sing.
About 10 days later I visited the church again. I was taking an overseas visitor to the bishop’s office in Johannesburg, and took him past some of the other churches to show him the variety of parishes in our diocese — the Greek parish of the Annunciation in Pretoria, the Russian parish of St Sergius in Midrand, and the Serbian parish of St Thomas in Sunninghill. We arrived at St Thomas’s as they were about to start a Requiem Service for those who had been killed in the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia four years previously, and Fr Pantelejmon invited us to stay for it. There were only three other people there, all members of an immigrant family recently arrived from Serbia, who told us afterwards that Fr Pantelejmon had been in a monastery since he was 22, close to God, and was having a rather difficult time with the very secularised Serbian community in Johannesburg. Fr Pantelejmon asked me to write some articles on mission for his parish magazine, which I later did.
Father Pantelejmon produced the best parish magazine in the diocese, in Serbian and English, lavishly illustrated, with news of the church, and teaching, and it was in itself an instrument of mission and evangelism. Through this and other means he built up a core of spiritual people in the parish, who took their Christian faith seriousdly. He encouraged them to take an interest in mission too. Unlike some clergy, who simply stick to their parishes, he always tried to attend diocesan clergy meetings, and tried to visit other parishes.
When, in 2004, as a result of the funeral of Fr Simon Thamaga, a group of people in Tembisa expressed an interest in Orthodoxy, and with the blessing of the then Archbishop Seraphim we began holding services there and in nearby Klipfontein View, Fr Pantelejmon, as the priest of the nearest parish church to Tembisa, was very supportive, and the first group of people from there were baptised at St Thomas’s, with parishioners of St Thomas’s as their godparents.
Sometimes Fr Pantelejmon was joined by other monks from Serbia, which almost turned St Thomas’s Rectory into a skete, and when there were two priests it was easier for one of them to become involved in mission outreach, and so they helped, especially in Tembisa and Mamelodi.
Fr Pantelejmon and Fr Spiridon spoke at a gathering on youth day in 2006, telling the young people how they had had a monastic vocation after growing up in an atheistic communist society. And in December 2006 Fr Naum, another monk, spoke at a diocesan youth conference, with Fr Pantelejmon translating. I rather hoped that this might encourage some of the young people to consider monastic vocations themselves, but that hasn’t happened yet. There have been several attempts to start monasteries in South Africa, but as soon as one monk comes, and is joined by another, the first one leaves, or dies, or is ordained and sent to be a parish priest somewhere, and the whole thing fizzles out.
Over the years we got to know Fr Pantelejmon quite well, and St Thomas’s became a kind of second home for us. Because it was between Johannesburg and Pretoria, it was a good central meeting place to plan activities such as the youth conference, or mission out reach in various places.
Exery year in October, at their patronal festival, a visting bishop came from Serbia, and all clergy and parishes in the diocese were invited to join in. The local Archbishop was usually present, and there was often some special teaching from the visiting bishop.
Our family had adopted the Serbian custom of Slava, which we thought especially suitable for Africa, and Fr Pantelejmon sometimes came to our Slava, and helped us to make sure we did it the right way. One especially memorable one was in 2009, when it fell at a weekend, and we had it at St Nicholas Church, Brixton, after Vespers. You can read about it (and see pictures) here: Vespers and Slava.
Ather Pantelejmon also arranged for a mission society in Serbia to undertake the printing of Reader’s Service books in Zulu and English, an enormously useful resource for our mission congregations.
Now Father Pantelejmon has been recalled by the Patriarch of Serbia, and yesterday quite a large crowd from his old parish of St Thomas’sm turned out for a farewell party for him after the Divine Liturgy at the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Gerardville, west of Pretoria. It was quite impressive, because these are some of the people whose lives he has touched in his 11 years in South Africa, and who have become more spiritual as a result, so his 11 years have certainly not been wasted.
He does not know what will happen to him next, and will have to wait till he hears from the Patriarch of Belgrade about that. Perhaps he will return to his home monastery at Black River and spend some time there, and perhaps that is good for a monk who has spent a long time as a parish priest. But I have a niggling hope that he will get a blessing to return to South Africa, not as a parish priest, but as a monk, and that he will get a blessing from our bishop to bring four or five other monks with him, in the hope that they can reach critical mass, and that Orthodox monasticism will take off and grow in Southern Africa. In 11 years Father Pantelejmon has learnt quite a bit about South African life and culture, and that could make it easier for other monks from elsewhere to settle in.
The ANC have kicked off their election campaign by saying that they have a good story to tell. And in many ways they do. When I compare South Africa today with South Africa 30 years ago, I would far rather live in the South Africa of today than be back under the rule of P.W. Botha’s securocrats. That is a good story, and it is a story worth telling.
But when we come to voting for the people who will represent us in parliament and provincial councils, we are not thinking about what happened 30 years ago, but rather what will be happening in the next five years.
Yes, much that was broken has been fixed, but there is also much that was broken that is still broken, and on this Human Rights Day, when we recall the Sharpeville Massacre, and recall the Marikana Massacre of a couple of years ago, we can see that there is also a bad story, a story of broken promises, of failures in transformation.
There are things that still nneed to be fixed, as this article makes clear: Fish rot from the head | openDemocracy:
Torture is routine practice in South Africa’s police stations and prisons. A lineage of impunity, traced from apartheid, has meant de facto immunity for perpetrators. With South Africa celebrating its ‘Human Rights Day’ this weekend, the shocking reality behind its prison walls must be a central focus.
Much the “good story” took place in the first few years after the advent of our democracy in 1994, but there hasn’t been much since 2004. Most of the people who made the good story happen are retired or dead.
Twenty-five years ago I was working at the University of South Africa (Unisa), and the university was a microcosm of South Africa. The things that were most wrong with the country were also the things that were most wrong with the university. The three departments in the country that were worst were policing, health and education. And the worst courses in the university were Police Science, Nursing Science and those produced by the Education Faculty. But even after 1994, there was little effort to transform them.
At that point what was needed was a massive effort to train new teachers in new ways, and to retrain old ones. New policemen needed to be trained with different models of policing, to fit the vision of a new South Africa. But this did not happen. The old culture was perpetuated, with the results that we see today.
Is it just that I’m getting more cynical in my old age, or are the news media really a lot worse than they used to be?
There has recently been a lot of unrest in Ukraine, but trying to understand what has been happening there from media reports has been very difficult, because of the flagrant bias in reporting. I’ve been mainly relying on Al Jazeera for news from there, on the basis that since they don’t appear to have a dog in that fight, their reporting is likely to be less biased and more objective. The Russian and Ukrainian news media are full of mutual recriminations on this score. The Western media seem to give most prominence to the pronouncements of Western politicians on what is happening in Ukraine, and most of what they are saying is uttering threats against Russia. The Russian media speak rather simplistically of a putch by ultra-nationalist groups in Kiev.
You want to know what is happening in Ukraine, and all you see on the Western TV news is John Kerry or William Hague uttering threats against Russia. You watch Russian TV, and they are saying that what is happening in Ukraine is a fascist putsch, which is simplistic, but at least they are talking about Ukraine.
In addition, Al Jazeera has reported on similar protests in Thailand and Venezuela, which the Western media have largely ignored.
In most of the media there seem to be more factoids than facts. I found a link to this article
The Russian media tend to take the line that protests in Kiev were orchestrated by ultra-nationalists and fascists. The Western media contrive to give the impression that protests in eastern Ukrainian cities and Crimea are orchestrated by Stalinist revanchists.
If one believes the Western media, the principle that demonstrators in the streets of one city decide the government of a country seems to be established as “democracy”, but why, then, are demonstrators in the streets of another city who dissent from that decision descibed as “separatists”?
All this seems to demonstrate yet again that Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis is right.
According to the “clash of civilizations” thesis, the fuure of Ukraine will be decided in Washington, Brussels or Moscow.The demonstrators on the streets of Kiev are puppets whose strings are puklled in Washington. The demonstrators on the streets of Sevastopol are puppets whose strings are pulled in Moscow, and much of the media reporting I have seen seems to bear this out.
Back home in South Africa we have the media circus surrounding the trial of Oscar Pistorius. Many have pointed out the similarities with the O.J. Simpson trial in the USA a few years ago, involving a prominent sporting personality. It is the first South African trial to be televised. But then one has to ask why? Why did this trial, more than any others, have to be seen live on television? And the only answer seems to be the the media-created celebrity of killer and victim.
There are good arguments for televising court cases: it is important that justice not only be done, but that it be seen to be done. But choosing this case, rather, than say, the Marikana miners, as the pioneer example, seems to send a different message — that justice will only be seen to be done for the rich and famous, and not for the poor.
And, as in Ukraine, so in the Pistorius case, the media are seen to be not just reporting the news, but making and shaping the news.
On whether Crimea remains part of Ukraine, or joins Russia, or becomes independent, I have no strong opinions. But when the media tell me (as the Western media have) that the break-up of Yugoslavia was good, but the break-up of Ukraine is bad, because politicians on an entirely different continent have decreed it, then I think I’m being lied to.
And when the media demand that the Oscar Pistorius trial be televised, but show no such interest in the Marikana Inquiry, then I think we are being lied to even more.
I was in the middle of writing this post on 4 March when my phone line died, and much of what I was going to write then has been overtaken by events. I’ve posted a somewhat truncated version, because I still suspect that the lies we are being told by the media are getting worse, and journalistic standards are dropping.
One of the main differences between Christianity and, say, Buddhism, is that Christianity is essentially personal, while Buddhism is impersonal. And this captures some some of the significance of the person.
Originally posted on lessons from a monastery:
(Excerpt from Paul Evdokimov’s The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, pp. 208-209).
“Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15). Now even the first defenders of the icon separated, rather simplistically, the two natures and put the visible with Christ’s humanity and the invisible with his divinity. But the image cannot be divided along the lines of the natures, for it refers back to the person of Christ in his unity. A person in two natures means an image in two modes, visible and invisible. The divine is invisible, but it is reflected in the visible human aspect. The icon of Christ is possible, true, and real because his image in the human mode is identical to the invisible image according to the divine mode; the two images constitute the two aspects of the one person-image of the Word…
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Yesterday I went with Fr Elias (Palmos) to visit St Benedict’s House in Rosettenville, Johannesburg.
St Benedict’s is an Anglican retreat house, and I was reminded of it by meeting Kathy Barrable last month, on a radio programme in which we both participated. She is the director of both St Benedict’s House and St Peter’s Lodge, a conference centre across the road. Fr Elias was involved in the development of the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in Gerardville, and I wanted to show him St Benedict’s House, partly as an architectural model for a retreat house, and partly to assess its suitability for retreats, conferences and training courses until we have such a centre of our own.
Kathy Barrable agreed to show us around, and it was a journey to the past for both of us, as it turned out that Kathy had been Fr Elias’s English teacher in high school. And Fr Michael Lapsley, who had just held a Healing of Memories Workshop at St Benedict’s, was also there, and we met Fr Joseph of the Camboni Fathers, which made an interesting tea-time gathering.
My memories of St Benedict’s, however, go back more than fifty years.
I went to a retreat there with my mother in February 1959, at the urging of a friend of my mother’s, who said that a retreat was a marvellous spiritual experience.
In those days many of the Anglican parishes and organisations in and around Johannesburg had an annual retreat at St Benedict’s, and they all followed the same pattern. The conductor of the retreat was usually a priest. People would arrive at tea time on a Friday afternoon. St Benedict’s was run by the sisters of the Order of the Holy Paraclete (OHP), who had their mother house at Whitby in England, and they lived above the kitchen and dining room. St Benedict’s was, in effect, also their monastery, so going on retreat was like entering the monastic life for a weekend.
Tea was followed by Evensong, and an introduction by the retreat conductor, after which everyone went into silence. People would be asked to book time for a meeting with the retreat conductor by filling in time slots with a C (for confession) or an I (for interview). Apart from the services, these were the only times that one spoke. At supper one of the sisters would read from a book, usually a devotional work, but on one occasion I remember one of them reading from Winnie the Pooh. Supper was followed by a devotional address, and then Compline and bed. The bedrooms were comfortable, but sparsely furnished, like monastic cells.
There was Mass in the morning, followed by breakfast, also in silence, with one of the sisters reading. At 9:00 am there would be a devotional address by the retreat conductor, and followed by tea, and then free time for reading or prayer or meditation, while the conductor would hear confessions or have interviews as requested. There would then be another address followed by intercessions, before lunch. The afternoon followed the pattern of the previous day, and it was repeated for the Sunday, with silence ending at afternoon tea. On the first retreat I went on, I found I was reluctant to break silence, and had little to say at afternoon tea. We had latched on to a retreat organised by another parish, where we didn’t know anyone anyway.
Six months later I went on another retreat, this time organised by the Anglican Society at Wits University, so they were all people that I knew. St Benedict’s, with its enclosed courtyard (not a proper cloister, as there was no walkway round the inside) and walled garden, was a haven of peace in a busy suburb, and its architecture impressed me as the ideal place for such a retreat. I have been to retreats at other places since, but after St Benedict’s, they didn’t feel quite authentic.
Another activity that took place at St Benedict’s was Shoe Parties. These took place once a month on Wednesday evenings. Someone would speak on a particular topic, and people would come from all over Johannesburg and beyond. It would be followed by tea. These were so popular that there was hardly room for all the people, and someone remarked that they were reminded of the nursery rhyme of the old woman who lived in a shoe, and had so many children she didn’t know what to do, and after that they became known as Shoe Parties.
Among those who usually attended were the students from St Peter’s Theological College across the road.
Here are a few of the Shoe Party topics that I recorded in my diary:
- 23 Sep 1959 — Fr Francis, SSF, spoke on “The Franciscan Revival in the Anglican Church”. At tea afterwards I chatted to Desmond Tutu and some of the other students from St Peter’s (the seminary across the road)
- 9 Dec 1959 — The Archbishop of Cape Town (Joost de Blank) was supposed to have spoken on “The Church in Africa”, but he was ill, so the local bishop of Johannesburg, Ambrose Reeves, filled in for him and spoke on “Nuclear fission”
- 21 Mar 1960 — Fr Hugh Bishop, of the Community of the Resurrection (CR), spoke on enclosed religious communities, and especially the newly-founded Society of the Precious Blood at Masite in Lesotho. Rosemary Barron, one of the members of the parish we belonged to then (St Augustine’s, Orange Grove), later went to join the Society of the Precious Blood. It was also the day of the Sharpeville massacre, and at the tea afterwards there was some discussion, as some had heard stories of the shooting, but there was no definite news. One of the students at St Peter’s College, Benjamin Photolo, was from Sharpeville.
- 6 Sep 1960 — the new Bishop of Pretoria, Edward Knapp-Fisher, who before being elected bishop had been principal of Cuddeston Theological College, spoke about ordination training and ministry in industrialised society. I talked to some of the students from St Peter’s afterwards, including Benjamin Photolo.
- 17 Nov 1960 — Someone spoke on Indians in South Africa — it was the centenary of the arrival of the 1860 settlers in Natal.
- 16 Dec 1960 — Bishop De Mel, of Ceylon, spoke on the Church in Ceylon. He was a very impressive bishop.
- 31 Jan 1961 — Fr Leo Rakale CR spoke on his trip to Tanganyika to attend the consecration of Fr Trevor Huddleston, CR, as Bishop of Masasi.
- 27 Feb 1961 — Canon Milford spoke on freedom.
- 4 Dec 1961 — Fr Brabant spoke on Creation
- 1 Oct 1962 — Brother Roger, CR, spoke on Beat Generation literature, and St Francis of Assisi as an early dropout. How Beat was St Francis, and how Franciscan are the Beats.
- 9 Dec 1963 — Fr Clement Sergel spoke on Confession.
I am not sure when the Shoe Parties stopped happening, and when we were discussing them with Kathy Barrable, and wondering if they could be revived, she said that people in Johannesburg don’t like going out at night. I can think of three factors that might be responsible for that:
- The steep rise in the petrol price after 1973
- The introduction of television in 1975
- The increase in car hijacking in the 1980s
I can understand that when television was a novelty — but restaurants seem to have recovered from that since then, and seem to do good business, so why could shoe parties not be revived?
I suppose that another factor is that back in the early 1960s the core of the Rosettenville Anglican community in Rosettenville was the two monasteries, male and female — the Priory of the Community of the Resurrection (CR, male), and the Order of the Holy Paraclete (OHP, female). The CR fathers ran St Peter’s College, but in 1963 it was forced to move to Alice in the Eastern Cape because of the Group Areas Act, and half the CR members moved with it. They had originally run St Peter’s School as well, but that had been forced to close some years earlier as a result of the Bantu Education Act. It was reopened as St Martin’s, a white school, but under secular management, and still continues on the same premises, but is now, of course, non-racial.
All this meant that the CR scaled down their presence at Rosettenville, and later moved away to Turffontein, and eventually left South Africa altogether. The OHP sisters built a new convent next-door to St Benedict’s, which moved their activity away from the retreat house, and later they withdrew from South Africa altogether. They were replaced by sisters of the Community of the Holy Name (CHN) from Zululand, who had no tradition of involvement in St Benedict’s, and whose ministry outside the monastery seems to be mainly among local people in the neighbourhood.
Kathy Barrable is battling to get people to make full use of the facilities at the centre, and I suspect that one of the reasons for this is the loss of the monastic core. The CR brethren, in particular, visited many Johannesburg parishes as guest preachers, and their ministry became fairly widely known.
Fr Elias has a vision for an Orthodox monastery in South Africa, which I think in some ways might be similar to the Anglican setup in Rosettenville in its heyday, with male and female monasteries, a seminary, a retreat and conference centre and so on. I too would like to see such a centre, and have a similar vision for it. Without monasteries Orthodoxy is weak and there are no Orthodox monasteries in southern Africa. It would not work in exactly the same way as the Rosettenville setup, but I think there are valuable lessons we can learn from it. And I would like to see an Orthodox version of St Benedict’s House, and it would be good to see more Anglicans using the one they already have.