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Centenary of St Alphege’s Church, Pietermaritzburg

19 April 2014

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.

Revd Mervyn Sweet, Vicar of St Alphege's in 1964.

Revd Mervyn Sweet, Vicar of St Alphege’s in 1964.

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.

St Alphege's Church, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburtg, 1964. The original wood-and-iron church, then used as a hall, can be seen on the left.

St Alphege’s Church, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburtg, 1964. The original wood-and-iron church, then used as a hall, can be seen on the left.

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.

St Alphege's Church, October 1964 (the jacarandas were blooming)

St Alphege’s Church, October 1964 (the jacarandas were blooming)

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.

St Alphege's Church, Pietermaritzburg, 1964. The congregation were leaving after a confirmation service, and some of the candidates are in the front row.

St Alphege’s Church, Pietermaritzburg, 1964. The congregation were leaving after a confirmation service, and some of the candidates are in the front row.

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.

Interior of St Alphege's Church in the 1960s

Interior of St Alphege’s Church in the 1960s

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 19 April 2014 9:29 am

    The church has a facebook page:

    • 19 April 2014 1:26 pm

      It also has a web page, but that doesn’t seem to be maintasined — I left a message there a few months ago asking what they would be doing about their centenary and got no reply.

  2. Adrian Futnham permalink
    8 June 2014 9:45 am

    Wonderful memories of a church I worshiped in for 10 years…1965-1975
    Adrian Furnham

  3. Graham Alston permalink
    11 October 2014 8:03 pm

    I was initiated into the Christian and Anglican ritual as a choirboy under the tutelage of Ted Hogan, organist and Choirmaster in the late 50’s. As I grew up I saw many students who were then singers in the men’s part, people like Ron Nicholson, Owen Franklin and others. I remained in the choir until my voice broke and then joined the server’s guild where is served until 1973 when I left to go to St Paul’s Theological College (now College of the Transfiguration)
    As a teen we had many a dance session in the old wood-and-iron hall and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. This was also a time of spiritual and political awakening as the new ideas regarding liturgy and political dispensations were explored. I have very fond memories of the Sweet family, father Graham Povall and Father Richard Kraft

  4. garthws permalink
    17 May 2015 11:13 am

    Now that I have found this site am over the moon. I wondered for years what happened to the candle sticks that are in the photo of the altar. Sadly no one knows what happened to them since the church was re built.
    My father, Norman Smith, turned them on a lathe using Imbuia which as far as I can remember were finished using bees wax. A short time later they were painted gold.
    I, like Graham Alston, was a choirboy at the same time as he was and remember all the people he mentioned.
    I became Head chorister with Roderick “Roddy” Holness and left some months later after my voice broke and then had a stint as a server.
    I have to included Rev. Sweet, his son Paul and daughter Theresa.

  5. 15 June 2015 8:55 am

    I have warm memories of St Alphege’s providing me with a spirtual home during my university years in the 1970s – have never quite replicated that anywhere else!

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