Urban ministry live and plugged in
“I love it when a plan comes together” said Hannibal in the 1980s skiet en donder TV series The A-Team. But today’s story isn’t about a plan, or at least it’s not a human plan, though I’m sure it’s God’s plan. And apologies to my blogging friend Thomas for taking the name of his blog in vain (his blog is Urban Ministry Live And Unplugged).
This morning we went, as we usually do on alternate Sundays, to Christina Mothapo’s house in Mamelodi East for the Hours and Reader’s Service. It didn’t look promising when we arrived. The gate was locked, and there was a drunk bloke staggering around outside. But we were greeted by Christina’s great grandson, Vincent, aged 23, an unemployed school dropout. But he told us he at last had a temporary job, for about 3 weeks, and so we went in to the sitting room where we usually have the service.
Vincent led most of it, and suddenly he was reading fluently. He has occasionally read bits before, but often haltingly. Now he was reading with new confidence. And today the singing sounded much better than usual. It was more tuneful, and people wewre singing together.
Then at the end the grannies, Christina Mothapo and Mary Nthite, wanted to give a report on their visit to Atteridgeville ten days ago.
I had taken them to Atteridgeville where we had a similar service. The children’s home had more or less closed, when Fr Frumentius moved to Tembisa. Angelos Mokau had told us that he saw his future ministry as helping the poor, and especially the old people and children, and so we installed him as the new warden of the children’s home, with a mandate to work with the local leaders and try to rebuild the parish as well. The local leaders, Artemius Mangena and Demetrius Mahwayi, are also unemployed. This is not a high-powered, high-profile project. It is the poor helping the poor.
But the grannies were impressed.
What they proposed was that we in Mamelodi should give our Sunday collections to help the Atteridgeville project. They said they would try to collect clothes that their grandchildren and great grandchildren had grown out of, and give them to the children’s home.
It was my turn to be impressed.
But I remembered when, a few years ago, we sometimes took street children to Mamelodi, and the people saw that some of them had no shoes, so they found them shoes. These are families where many members are unemployed. And, perhaps inverting the usual expectations of social order in South Africa, this black congregation in a black township found a pair of shoes for one of the street kids who happened to be white.
So, plan or not, something is coming together, the vision of the church as a community, and this is not the attitude I have found in many parishes, where they say things like “Charity begins at home” and resent any suggestion that they help other parishes. Or, in the case of one congregation I know, go to the bishop and complain about lack of “service delivery”. But here are the people coming together and saying how can we support the parish in Atteridgeville who are doing something.
People sometimes like to have conferences and write learned articles about “the church and the poor” as if the church is one thing and the poor are another. But the church is the poor, and to talk about “the poor” as if they are not part of the church is horribly demeaning.
Vincent and his young cousin, Anna, then say, when will there be another youth conference? They really hope there will be one. The last one we had was at the end of 2006.
Vincent says he is learning all kinds of things in his temporary job — plumbing and installation of stuff in houses. Perhaps the experience and skills make it easier for him to get another job. I hope that, in the times when he is unemployed, I can arrange for him to stay with a couple of priests, tag along with them, and see what they do.
And then they tell me that Maria, Christina’s daughter, who had been ill for a long time, and for whom we have been praying, has been taken to hospital. She has Aids, and has suddently taken a turn for the worse. Lord have mercy! Please pray for them and for us all.