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Emerging worship and postmodern sermons

3 February 2009

Last Sunday night I went to the youth service at the NG Kerk at Kameeldrift, where fellow-blogger Cobus van Wyngaard was preaching.

I calculated that it was 20 years since I’d last been to a Sunday service at an NG Kerk, when the husband of a colleague at work had been inducted as a youth minister, and since we are having a discussion about emerging church and worship next Sunday, I maybe had some catching up to do, and also thought it would be good to see where Cobus is coming from.

Kameeldrift NG Kerk is a 13 km drive from where I live, which takes about 15 minutes on a Sunday evening (though probably three times that on a weekday rush hour).

The first thing I noticed that was unusual was that they started with coffee — we usually have coffee afterwards. The service was in the hall, not in the church, and there were seats arranged in a semi-circle around a low platform. There were about 60-70 people present, most seemed to be in their late teens or early 20s, so I was probably the oldest person there.

Cobus gave an introduction. Over to the left was a table with candles which people could light (in my Orthodox habit, I had lighted one already. At the back were tables with paper people could write on, and another with the Bible texts for the evening – the parable of the man who found treasure in a field and sold everything he had to buy the field, and the one about the mustard seed growing into a bush that birds can nest in.

Cobus said that some music would be played, and while it was playing people could write whatever they liked on the paper, or write or paint anything that came to mind about the Bible texts.

I found it most interesting to listen to the music. They were meditative songs in folk-song style, one about crucified hands. I had not heard any of them before, and found them quite good.

Then Cobus preached, very well, I thought, on the two parables that had been written on the table. He did a kind of postmodern deconstruction job on them, which is best explained in his own words on his own blog in his post on Jesus and his stories.

I talked to Cobus afterwards, and he said one of the aims of the service was to try to introduce the youth in a more contemplative spirituality.

I looked in my diary to see what had changed in twenty years, and thought that the more historically-minded might find it interesting too, so I reproduce it here, not just the service at the NG Kerk at Villeria, but some of the other events of the day, so it shows the changes not only in the church, but in South African society as well.

Our daughter Bridget, who made theological comments, was then 11 years old. Now she is studying for her doctorate in theology at Athens University. I think many of the people at the service last Sunday weren’t even born then, and so it is a world they had never known. Martie Gerber was a c olleague of mine in the Editorial Department at the University of South Africa, as was Andre Goetz.

18-Sep-1988, SundayIn the morning we went to the Dutch Reformed Church in Villeria, where Martie Gerber’s husband Kobus was being installed as the new minister. The church was full, so we sat upstairs in the gallery, almost behind the pulpit. I was quite surprised to see Andre‚ Goetz sitting among the elders. Though he had spoken of his dominee before (quoting him as saying that people who don’t have software don’t have friends) I did not realise that he was so involved in the life of the church.

The service lasted a Protestant hour and Kobus preached on Revelation 13, very well, I thought. He spoke of the unholy trinity of the dragon, the beast
from the land and the beast from the sea, and said that they represented the devil’s plan to scatter the church and smash it. I became aware of how the division between the Nats and the Conservative Party must be putting strains on churches like this.

When we got outside Bridget said, “That wasn’t worship. Where was the worship.” And she was dead right. There was no worship, it was all instruction. It is less than a year since we joined the Orthodox Church, and Bridget rather reluctantly, but already she knows what worship is. We greeted Martie as we left, and I spent the rest of the morning working on the Iviyo report project.

In the afternoon Val and I went to Mamelodi, where David Bosch was speaking to the Koinonia Movement, which had been started by Nico Smith to encourage blacks and whites to have meals together.

Robin Briggs was there, and we spoke to him briefly. David Bosch spoke on justice and reconciliation, but did not say much that was new. There were questions and comments, and in some ways it was rather depressing. I have often felt helpless in the face of the political situation, and here it was obvious that others felt helpless too. They were whistling in the dark, and there we were, futilely trying to encourage each other. There was nothing wrong with anything that was said; it was just that I’d heard it all before, about people being followed by the SB, and telling how they had been harassed and intimidated.

We went home and I did more work on the Iviyo project, and had a look at Beltel, where the political discussions had zoomed off into the realms of fantasy, like one of Simon’s “he-man” stories, when Adrian Maritz suggested that elections should be held by getting all the politicians to have swords with electronic locks on the sheaths, so that they could show that they were intelligent enough to get the sword out first to butcher their opponents, and the other people were discussing it quite seriously, saying what would happen if someone didn’t try to open the lock, but hit the others over the head with the sheathed sword. Maritz said that such a procedure would ensure that leaders were both intelligent and strong. It throws an interesting light on the mentality of the Right — that they long for barbarian ages, and are barbarians at heart.

Another explanatory note: A few months later Adrian Maritz and his friend Henry Martin, both members of the far Right, were arrested, staged a hunger strike in jail, and skipped the country. They planted a bomb in a computer that killed some poor innocent techie in Durban who had been instructed to repair it.

Back to the future: Next Saturday Cobus has promised to come to Vespers at St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Chuch in Brixton, Johannesburg, so it will be interesting to see what he says in his blog about that.

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