Centenary of St Alphege’s Church, Pietermaritzburg
Today is the centenary of St Alphege’s Anglican Church in Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg. On 19 April, 1914, a little wood and iron church was dedicated to St Alphege, a former Archbishop of Canterbury.
I wasn’t around 100 years ago, but I was at St Alphege’s 50 years ago, when the parish was celebrating its 50th anniversary. I was a student at what was then the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN) and the university campus was in the parish, so St Alphege’s was the church attended by most Anglican students.
When I went to the university in 1963 the vicar was the Revd Mervyn Sweet, and there were two assistant priests, Graham Povall and Richard Kraft (who later became Bishop of Pretoria). St Alphege’s was a very lively and active parish in those days. At a parish mission held in 1963 John Davies, the Anglican chaplain at Wits University, taught about the ideas of the oparish meeting and house churches, which were adopted by the parish, helped to build the sense of community in the parish.
At the end of 1963 Richard Kraft left to go to St Chad’s in the Ladysmith distict.
The old wood-and-iron church was still used as a hall, and the new brick church had been completed 9 years previously in 1955, but the parish was growing rapidly, and more housing was being built in the area, so there was much discussion about finding a new piece of land and building a new church. The parish councilo produced a map showing where parishioners lived, and they were negotiating to buy a more central site. The main one of interest is now occupied by the Ridge School (one parish councillor declared a conflict of interest — he worked for the education department and said they also had an eye on the site). In the end nothing came of the plans, and eventually a new church was built on the old site.
In 1964 the main Sunday Eucharist was at 7:00 am, and was Sung. There was another one at 8:30, said, though with hymns, attended by people who liked to sleep late. There was Evensong in Zulu at 3:00 pm, and in English at 7:00 pm
There was some dissatisfaction in the parish when the 1964 diocesan synod of the Anglican Diocese of Natal decided to change the title of the incumbents of parishes from “vicar” to “rector”, and at the same time decided to hive off the Zulu-speaking members and make them an “outstation” of St Mark’s Church in downtown Pietermaritzburg. This, in the view of St Alphege’s parish council, was creating an ecclesiastical Bantustan.
One of the things that St Alphege’s was known for in 1964 was its parish policy on baptism. There were no private baptisms arranged secretly with the priest. Most baptisms took place at the Sunday Eucharist, where everyone could see who was being received into the church and welcome them.
On this day 50 years ago, I was admitted as a parish councillor — the parish had decided at the annual vestry meeting, that there should be a student representative on tnhey parish council, and for that year, I was it.
Several of the other parish councillors were associated with the university as lecturers, and Roger Raab and Tony Eagle of the Physics Department were particularly active in the parish.
I don’t know if St Alphege’s parish are doing anything to celebrate their centenary this year, but if they are, my greetings to them on St Alphege’s day.
The 1960s were troubled times in South Africa, as apartheid was being applied more rigidly, and civil liberties were in decline.
St Alphege also lived in troubled times. England was being raided by Danish freebooters, and St Alphege was captured by them, and mocked, and eventually beaten to death with the bones of the cattle stolen from his flock. Some martyrs were stoned to death, St Alphege was boned to death.
I have seen his tomb in Canterbury cathedral in England, and it has the inscription, “He who dies for truth and justice dies for Christ.” A good thing to remember in South Africa of the 1960s.