The 19th of July has often seemed to be a significant day in my life — or at least it seemed like that 40 years ago. On this day 40 years ago, I was ordained as an Anglican priest at St George’s Cathedral in Windhoek, by Colin Winter, the Anglican Bishop of Damaraland. Exactly a year before, on 19 July 1969, I had travelled to Namibia for the first time, to decide whether I should work there. And a year before that, 19 July 1968, I returned to South Africa from the UK, after being away for two-and-a-half years, most of it spent studying at St Chad’s College in Durham.
When I first went to Namibia, it was as a worker deacon — Bishop Colin Winter said he would like to have me there (having just been sacked by the Anglican bishop of Natal, Vernon Inman, for my part in arranging a psychedelic service at a Durban church) but he had no money to pay me. So I applied for a job as a lorry driver with the Roads Department, but they said sorry, no Anglicans, because the Anglican Church was known to be against apartheid. I then applied to the Department of Water Affairs, which had just been taken over by Pretoria, so I was given the job, and serviced water meters for a month before they decided that Anglicans weren’t welcome there either, so they fired me too. I then got a job at the local paper, the Windhoek Advertiser, and managed to last there nearly two years before they fired me. And a couple of months later, I was deported, along with the bishop who had ordained me. We lived in interesting times.
At some point in between I went to visit the Anglicans in Gobabis, whom no one else was interested in, and after making contact with them I began travelling there regularly once a month, leaving Windhoek on a Saturday afternoon, and camping in the veld by the side of the road, and then having services on Sunday. As a deacon I couldn’t give them communion, and it was that that made me think I should be ordained as a priest, though I had some doubts about it, and thought it was more important in some ways to be a deacon, and when I became Orthodox 15 years later, I got a second chance. But I was ordained along with Rick Houghton, an American who was teaching at St Mary’s Seminary in Odibo, 500 miles from Windhoek on the Angolan border.
Anyway, the 19th of July tends to bring back memories of some significant turning points in my life. It was also my father’s birthday, though I never saw him after I was 12 years old, and only learnt of his death 14 years later. He would have been 103 today.