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Where we go to church

16 August 2010

Yesterday was the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and as we do on alternate Sundays, we went to worship at Zakhele School in Mamelodi East. Mamelodi is in the eastern part of the city of Tshwane, and we travel about 15 kilometres to the east. The school is in one of the older parts of Mamelodi, but the township is expanding and on the eastern edge there are shanty towns where people build houses of whatever materials they can get.

Mamelodi East

There are churches of several differnet denominations that meet at Zakhele School. The classroom next to ours has a preacher who preaches very loudly in Zulu, but they weren’t there yesterday. They usually start before us, and finish when we are halfway through. Several other Orthodox congregations worship like this in classrooms — in Tembisa, Soshanguve, Vosloorus and elsewhere.

Our School

The school is quite old, and the classroom we use has broken windows, and the linoleum is worn off most of the floor. The little that is left looks like a map of continents, surrounded by a bare concrete oocean. If I ever write a book set in an imaginary world, I’ll use them as the basis for maps of the continents in my world. There are also some quite deep holes in the concrete. If we ever win the Lotto or something, we’d like to renovate the classroom we use.

But the school also has a media centre, which was provided, in part, by overseas donors.

Zakhele School media centre block

When we arrive Sannikie Mutshinya, aged 11, brings the ikons, wrapped in a cloth, and sets them up on one of the school desks at the east end of the classroom. They are below the notice board, which has the rules for the classroom, posters about the environment, and HIV/Aids and similar things.

Our ikonostasis in the classroom

We read the Third Hour and the Sixth Hour, mostly in North Sotho. People take it in turns to read the Psalms, but most of the rest of it we sing or chant together. Then we have the Readers Service (Typika, Obednitsa), also mostly in North Sotho, and we sing most of it. It is like the Divine Liturgy, but with the priest’s parts left out. It was originally developed for use in monasteries on days when the Divine Liturgy was not to be celebrated, and in parishes it is mostly only used on Good Friday. But it is also used in mission parishes where there is no priest, and has been used quite widely in Alaska and other places.

Helen Malahlela, Martha (Melita) Ramohlale, Grace Malahlela, Sannikie Mutshinya

The old people are not here today, so we sing the Beatitudes and the Symbol of Faith (Creed) in English. Many of the old people don’t understand English very well, but the young people prefer English. People take it in turns to read the prayers. Sannikie reads one, haltingly, in North Sotho. That’s OK, she’ll improve with practice, but she is learning to speak the words of faith aloud. When we first started, everyone read haltingly, children and adults alike. Now most read fluently.

Afterwards we chat for a bit, and count the collection (most of which goes towards the R60.00 a month we have to pay for the use of the classroom). We give Grace Malahlela and the babies a lift home, while the young people walk and chat one the way.

As we drive home we listen to the radio broadcast service from St Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Woodstock, Cape Town. I think our singing was every bit as good as theirs. We stop at the Casbah Roadhouse and buy eggburgers and such for lunch to break the fast. There seem to have been a lot of fast days this year, because Easter was early. And i suppose there were even more for those on the Old Calendar, who are still in the Dormition Fast.

And after lunch I read a few blog posts, and, hat tip to Andii Bowsher at Nouslife, I came across this:

Future Church Scenarios

The goal of scenarios is to inspire creative action in the present through anticipation of possible futures. These scenarios are stories developed to challenge assumptions and stimulate new ways of thinking about the present and the future. No one knows what lies just beyond the horizon but these possibilities can inform leaders of potential challenges and opportunities they may want to prepare for now rather than react to later.”


Megachurches give way to the Multichurch, which is youthful, fast growing, predominantly ethnic-led, and places high value on public activism.

read full scenario

Faith, business, and community development merge through female-led vocational networks that thrive as extensions of local congregations.

read full scenario

The digital generation fosters a high degree of authenticity and interactivity in worship as they meet in both virtual and face-to-face gatherings.

Highly adaptive and transformative structures fuel the rebirth of dying congregations while creating an environment for individual transformations.

read full scenario

I think of Mamelodi, and I think those who dream up such scenarios are living in another world.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 August 2010 1:30 pm

    I agree with the last comment. And from where I am, I don’t see much female leadership. Not to say there aren’t females in some visible positions but who are they; how did they get to their position; and what do they say and do. The who on many occasions means male connections (husband, father) which helped them to get their position. I find few single women getting there on their own. And then what do they say and do? In my view, very few are original thinkers and doers. So many say things that merely please the men-folk and don’t frighten the horses. Rarely do they have things to say which give me pause for thought or speak to my condition. And I am speaking of experience across a great breadth of denominations and traditions.

    I am most concerned where the church is to-day.

    I see circumstances as you point out in South Africa and I could take you to some not-too-good circumstances in Australia. We are destroying our God-created planet and other species at a great rate of knots. Yet we fill up the theological colleges with men and women of all ages and teach them things which are barely relevant and omit skills which could be of great value.

    And when all these men and women of all ages come out of theological schools they want God-jobs and, if the church can’t place them or fund them, they dream up stuff. In Australia we have government funded school chaplains in state schools as a result of lobbying by evangelical and pentecostal churches and ‘para-church’ organisations and the concession to that lobbying by our last conservative PM, John Howard. Kevin Rudd, until recently the Labor PM, conceded. When Julia Gillard, an atheist of Baptist & Salvation Army background, became PM the lobbying was stepped up because she appeared reluctant. Labor has now conceded.

    There is a lot of social justice stuff going on in evangelical churches that was never there before – but most of it is around the Millenium Development Goals and Make Poverty History. I don’t come across the MPH people as many of us work actively against The Intervention in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. In fact, at a recent meeting on MPH in my electorate, I was the only one to reference Aboriginal people either in the speeches from the pollies or Tim Costello of World Vision or in the questions asked of them.

    The church is in a mess as we have seen sexual abuse of women and children. I don’t believe the church has recovered from this and I believe that the outfall has smothered the whole church even where denominations may have little to be accused of. The church as an institution has become as much a part of the problem as any other bureaucracy corporate or government that you care to name.

    It is dominated by male power and those who that male power supports. Too little is done for creation care; human justice; and getting deeply behind the issues confronting societies across the world. The church is asleep at the wheel. There are prophets, of course, but they are treated badly as they always have been -until after their death, when they are lauded and canonised.

    After 66 years of Christian life, I go to church and wonder why I am still doing this. I go for the sacramental life and to forsake not the gathering together and to hear the gospel preached (even when I have to switch off because the preaching touches on nothing relevant). But for how much longer can I do this because of the spirit in which I drag myself along? If I chose my radio programs well across the week, I can often get more spiritual input – even from non-spiritual programs – than I can from the Sunday sermon. More to challenge, inspire, provide food for thought, reflection and further action.

    I don’t know how I help the photographed situation in far-away SA – especially when there is so much to be done here – but please tell us what you think would help, even in small ways.

    • 16 August 2010 10:30 pm

      Thanks for a very comprehensive comment.

      I’m interested to see that you also have doubts about the “future church” scenarios, as I imagine they have the Australian scene more in mind than the African, so it is interesting to see your doubts expressed from an Australian viewpoint.

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