Joint Conference on Religion and Theology (part 2)
Some more comments and observations on the Joint Conference of academic societies in the field of Religion and Theology (continued from Part 1).
One of the useful things about conferences like this one is networking — meeting other people who are working in similar fields of research, and reconnecting with old friends and meeting new people.
I was also hoping to meet some people who might be able to help me with our research project on the charismatic renewal movement in southern Africa.
On the first evening of the conference I met Roger and Anne Tucker of the Presbyterian Church, who had been involved in the charismatic renewal from the early days, when a group of Presbyterian ministers used to meet at Camp Jonathan in Eston, and were able to give me an outline history up to the present. Many of those I had known who were involved in it were either dead or overseas, and had been away from South Africa for so long that they were no longer in touch with more recent developments.
Roger and Anne has served in Vanderbijl Park, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town before going to Bloemfontein, so they had experience in various parts of the country.
One of the things that became apparent from our discussions also linked with some of the papers at the conference. Irvin Chetty read a paper on the New Apostolic Reformation movement, one branch of which was New Covenant Ministries, led by Dudley and Ann Daniel. Some charismatic Presbyterians, most notably the Durban North Presbyterian Church, led by its minister Charles Gordon, broke away from the Presbyterian Church and affiliated with New Covenant Ministries. This caused a backlash against the charismatic renewal movement in the Presbyterian Church.
Another person who was involved in the early charismatic renewal was Errol (Pepsi) Narain, who had come from the USA to be at the conference. and read a paper on fundamentalism. In the audience for his paper was Ross Cuthbertson, who had been the priest in his parish when the charismatic renewal was at its height there, and later became a suffragan bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Natal. Ross is now retired, but I was able to visit him after the conference, and interview him about the charismatic renewal. Both he and Pepsi have become interested in a more generalised Western Christian mysticism, being especially interested in the works of Meister Eckhardt.
It was 30 years since I had last seen either of them, at a conference in Zululand on the charismatic renewal and the political crisis in South Africa. Ross Cuthbertson even remembered my exposition of Psalm 81/82 from that conference, and remarked that it was probably just as relevant today.
Another old friend I met at the conference was Jonathan Draper, now Professor of New Testament at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I had known him 35 years ago in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, when I was responsible for post-ordination training, and he attended the training meetings. Now he is cutting down on his doctoral students in preparation for retirement. It’s getting on for two years since I had a doctoral student, and I’m beginning to feel that it would be nice to have that kind of contact with the academic world again.
The post-ordination training in Zululand was something special, though, and contributed quite a bit to the paper I read at the conference. There was one participant who had had no academic training. He had served as a lay minister for years, and had eventually been ordained. He was a big man, Posselt Mngomezulu. And at the beginning of almost every training he would start off by saying “I have a problem”, and he would go on to tell of some pastoral or mission problem, and in the subsequent discussion everyone tried to think it through theologically. If you can have pure maths and applied maths, this was applied theology, and it got people thinking theologically.
A new and yet old acquaintance I met at the conference was S.R. Mudau, from the Lutheran Seminary across the road from the university. He told me that he was interested in liturgy, and was writing a dissertation on Lent. I was able to recommend a book that he did not know of, Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann.We discussed the differences between Western and Eastern observances of Lent.
But he knew me from when I had visited Venda in the 1980s, and stayed with Esrom Mulaudzi, and I learned that he had died last year. So we discovered that we had friends in common.
On Thursday night the Southern African Missiological Society (SAMS) had its dinner. We were one of the smaller societies represented at the conference, so there were only about 15 of us there, but it was a very pleasant and convivial occasion, held at the university staff club.
Among those present at the dinner was Professor Thias Kgatla of the University of Pretoria. He has been been at most of the SAMS conferences I have been at over the last 20 years, though we haven’t met much on other occasions.
He read a paper on mission and forced migration. While most Christian churches opposed the forced removals of the apartheid regime, the white Afrikaans churches were generally silent at best, and for the most part supported the forced removals. Yet this was at the very time that the Dutch Reformed Church had a revival of mission interest, and a tremendous expansion of missionary work.
It was good to meet old friends and make new ones, but there were also some people at the conference that I hoped to have a chance to talk to, but somehow the opportunity never arose. Perhaps there’ll be another chance some time.
Links to other blog posts on JCRT 2012