Memoir of St Martin’s Anglican Church, Durban North
For three years I served as an assistant priest at St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church, Durban North — from 1973-1976. I posted a few photos from that time on Facebook, and the parish archivist, Theunis Eloff, asked if I would make some of them available to the parish archives.
I thought about it, and thought I could perhaps go one better, and offered to give him some annotated extracts from my diary for that period. In a sense it was easy, because a few years ago I had transcribed most of my hard copy diaries into a computer database, so I wouldn’t have to type the text, just get the computer to spit out the relevant entries and type a few bits of connecting text.
But annotations and indexing proved to be a bit more complex. After all, it was forty years ago. While I was there, the then Anglican bishop- of Natal, Vernon Inman, retired. He loomed very large in my life, and I think in the lives of many other Anglicans in Natal. After all, he had been Bishop of Natal forever. If, at his retirement service, I had tried to think back forty years, I couldn’t. I wasn’t even born then. Now no one under 50 will have even a vague memory of Vernon Inman. And so, I thought, with many of the other people mentioned. No matter how well known they were at the time, few people will remember them now, so their appearance has to be explained.
There were several significant developments in the parish during the three years I was there. Here are the ones that stand out for me.
1. Integration of English and Zulu-speaking congregations
When I went to St Martin’s it was divided. There were two parishes using the same building. The English-speaking congregations belonged to St Martin’s, the Zulu-speaking congregation were an “outstation” of St Faith’s in central Durban. This arrangement had been decreed by the diocesan synod in 1964. After tossing it back and forth between the official “challenge groups” (set up to “challenge instances of racism in the church”) with to no avail, the parish challenge group took it up as a lay initiative, and the Zulu-speaking members individually resigned from St Faith’s and joined St Martin’s, short-circuiting the inertia of the ecclesiastical bureaucracy.
2. Vacation Bible School
The first Vacation Bible School at St Martins was held in 1974 and was very good, and in my view was a much better thing than Sunday School. The next one, in 1975, where we got an outside group to run it, was not quite as successful, though the younger children probably enjoyed it, and the teenagers probably had a good experience of learning to argue theology with the people running it, who had a very different theology.
3. The Centre of Concern
There was a woman called Sue Gordon who travelled South Africa urging churches in white middle-class suburbs to show some concern for domestic servants living in those areas. This was made possible at St Martin’s by the new hall, and made it possible for black domestic servants living in Durban North to learn new skills, and in some cases to look forward to new careers. It also provided a social centre, and developed a good sense of fellowship.
4. Pre-Primary School
Again, like VBS for older children, I thought the pre-primary school was a better alternative to Sunday School, and early childhood education was an important part of school readiness. St Martin’s Pre-Primary went on to become a training ground for people in the parish to teach in pre-primary schools elsewhere.
5. The Anglican Young People’s Association (AYPA).
We started a branch of the Anglican Young People’s Association at St Martins, mainly for teenagers. After a couple of years the 8-11 year olds wanted one too. Though the AYPA branches at St Martin’s do not seem to have lasted very long after we left, I believe that the result showed that young people do not have to be constantly under adult supervision because they are irresponsible. The AYPA showed that if they are given responsiblity, they take responsibility, and behave as responsibly as most adults, if not more so. The AYPA showed that the youth are not the “church of tomorrow”, as people liked to say. They are the church of today, even though the “today” in question is now 40 years ago, and for them “youth ministry” meant ministry of the youth, not ministry to the youth.
It was a long time ago. A few years ago I met one of the members of the St Martin’s AYPA at an academic conference where we were both reading papers, and she told me she was not merely a mother, but a grandmother.
So having done all that work, I thought it might be of interest to a few other members or former members of St Martin’s, and that they might enjor to read it, instead of having it hidden away in a dusty archive file. So if you are interested in a trip down memory lane, you can download it from my Dropbox folder here. Be warned, though. It is extracts from a personal diary. When I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking of publication, so sometimes it says things more bluntly than a text prepared for publication would.