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St Paul’s Theological College 1968 (Part 1)

28 November 2018

In October and November 1968 I spent a term at St Paul’s Theological College in Grahamstown, South Africa. Since it was 50 years ago, some of those who were students at the college back then are holding a reunion with the then warden of the college, Canon John Suggit, who is also celebrating the 70th anniversary of his ordination. They have also established a web site for reminiscences of the college.

Duncan Buchanan and John Suggit, respectively the sub-warden and warden of St Paul’s College in 1968

Though I was only at St Paul’s for one term, it was a memorable time, and I thought it might be worth writing something more about it. The year 1968 was a significant year, for the world in general and for me personally, and I’ve written more about it in another blog post 1968 In Retrospect. But it was an interesting time to attend a theological college, and an interesting time for Christianity in southern Africa and in the world.

I had spent the previous two years studying for a postgraduate Diploma in Theology at St Chad’s College, Durham, which was (and is) a constituent college of Durham University, which, like Oxford and Cambridge, was run on the collegiate system. At that time St Chad’s was also a recognised theological college for training clergy for the Church of England. All the students were male and most of the postgraduate students were studying theology, though there was a wider variety among the undergraduates. Actually at that time I think all the colleges at Durham were single-sex.

St Chad’s had a September term lasting two weeks, and the Anglican bishop of Natal, Vernon Inman, who had sent me to St Chad’s, and was over in the UK for the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, asked if I wanted to hang around for two months waiting for it, or if I would prefer to go home when the acamdeic year ended in June. I said I’d prefer to go home. I’d been in the UK for two years and was missing home and family. Bishop Inman also said he could possibly arrange for me to spend a term at St Paul’s, instead of the September term at St Chad’s, and I jumped at the opportunity, which sounded attractive, as it might also be more relevant to South Africa culture and society.

On returning to South Africa, I wrote to the warden of St Paul’s, and he wrote back to me, saying that he had heard that I had a beard, and that the college did not allow students to have beards. I replied to the effect that if the Collage was a Christian community, and I wanted to be part of that community, then I would be happy to fit in with whatever the college did, even if I thought it was a somewhat odd rule.

On 3 October the Security Police arrived at my mother’s flat in Johannesburg where I was staying. I was afraid that they were bringing me a banning order, which would prevent me from going to St Paul’s, but they had only come to confiscate my passport. The following morning I read in the newspaper that a former fellow-student at St Chad’s, Alastair Wyse, had planted a bomb in Westminster Abbey and had been arrested and charged with arson. And that afternoon I boarded the train to Grahamstown.

The last leg of the journey, from Alicedale to Grahamstown, 5 October 1968

On the train was Barry Wood, also going to St Paul’s. I had known him from a few years before when we had been members of the executive committee of the Anglican Students Federation (ASF). We sat in the old-fashioned dining saloon of the train, with ceiling fans, drinking beers and chatting.

Barry Wood

We went back and had supper there later on, when the train reached Kroonstad, and they changed the electric locos for a steam one, a big 15F, which puffed its way up the hill out of Kroonstad as it was getting dark. Then the conductor came up to us and said that he had an empty coupé, and as we were together, we could move into that if we liked, which we rather eagerly did..

We woke up the next morning with the train being pulled by a rather smelly diesel locomotive, and at Alicedale the Grahamstown coaches were shunted off for the last leg of the journey,.  We stood on the platform while the rest of the train went on to Port Elizabeth. Then we met another bloke from St Paul’s, Ted Goodyer, from Joburg diocese, and stood around on the platform while they shunted our coaches around and put a lot of goods wagons on, and then eventually set off, hauled by a 4-8-2, which struggled mightily to get up the hill, which seemed to last most of the way to Grahamstown. The countryside around was quite beautiful and I stuck my head out of the window and watched it going past at about 20 miles an hour. Barry Wood, whose father worked at a brewery, then hauled out a lot of bottles of Whitbread Keg ale (which only lasted a very short time in South Africa).

Grahamstown from the station, October 1968

The train eventually arrived at Grahamstown at 1:20, nearly 24 hours after leaving Johannesburg. We got a taxi to take us up to St Paul’s.

Rod Smith, known at St Paul’s as George

When we arrived Rod Smith came charging out to greet me. He had been a fellow-student at the University of Natal three years before, and told me that his name at St Paul’s was George, because there were already too many Rods there. There was Rod van Zuylen, the original, and Rod Whibley, who was known as Fred.

There was also Brian Angus, whom I had known from before. He too had studied in the UK, and was only spending one term at St Paul’s. Unlike the rest of the students, we had finished our final exams and would have a much more flexible programme for the term

Having got my things into my room I went off to see the warden, Canon Suggit, to lay plans for what we were to be doing this term. It mostly seemed to be ethics seminars and pastoral counselling with Duncan Buchanan  He went on some more about beards, not that he objected to me, but what might the townspeople think, and then he asked would I shave it off as I said I would, and I said yes, as soon as I got the apparatus.

Steve Hayes, 7 Oct 1968.

Having got the apparatus I experimented a bit, to see the different effects of taking it off a bit at a time.

Rod Smith then took me on a conducted tour of the place — the
common room, where is kept the log book, in which are recorded some of the happenings in the life of the college, and seems to be equivalent to the junior common room minutes at St Chad’s. Then we went for a walk down town, first calling in to see Penny McCoy, whom I had first met at an ASF conference at Modderpoort three years previously.

We went to a cafe, where I had some lunch, and then went to see James Moulder, and chatted to him for a while.He was a Methodist minister who had studied at Oxford and returned to South Africa about the same time as I had. We talked about the Message to the People of South Africa, which had been released by the South African Council of Churches and Christian Institute about six weeks earlier, and condemned apartheid as not merely a heresy but a false gospel. He said nothing very much had happened yet about the Message, and said that he didn’t think that much could be done now, while students were busy with exams, but they would have to wait for the autumn, when the new academic year begins, and anyway a second push might not be a bad idea.

Cathedral of St Michael & St George, Grahamstown

The next day was a Sunday, 7th October, and we went to Mass at Grahamstown Cathedral, where St Paul’s students were supposed to sing in the choir, and in the evening had Evensong in the college chapel, and then went to a “worship happening” organised by the University Christian Movement (UCM). That was a bit of a disaster. It seemed that the UCM, in Grahamstown at least, had been taken over by a bunch of theothanatologists. It was run by three Methodist ministers, Basil Moore, Randy Falkenberg and Don Morton.

Everyone was having a discussion on the nature of worship, and what worship meant, as they saw it through the things they have been doing this
past year, so I didn’t really know what was going on, not having been there for the rest of the year. Basil Moore then said let’s be more creative about this, and dished out Koki chalks, and asked everyone to write a hymn on what they thought it was all about, and everyone seemed to be trying to create a hymn out of the abstract nouns or whatevers that they had been using to describe worship — learning and living, creating and giving — all
form, but no content, it seemed to me.

UCM Campus Worship, 13 October 1968

There followed a discussion of “God is dead” theology. It was entirely intellectual, and they thought the important thing about God was his existence. Don Morton said to me, when I said I didn’t care about God’s existence, or the existence of anything else, “how do you know this pen exists”, and I said I don’t and the significant thing about the pen for me is not whether it exists, but whether it writes. It was like the Rationalist Society at Wits University of ten years previously, as if they had suddenly decided to call themselves Christians, and that was what these three seem to be doing. They seemed to think that their beautiful intellectual ideas are more important than people. Over the previous two months I had been to UCM worship happenings at Wits University on Sunday evenings, which had been far better than this. It was all words, words, words..A bit earlier Duncan Buchanan had told me that “beards are not necessary”, which struck me as fatuous — is that the criterion that applies to everything then? A kind of nihilistic utilitarianism? Are beards necessary? Is God necessary?

St Paul’s College Chapel

A week later there was a UCM campus worship happening in the Rhodes great hall, but it seemed very tame and rather dull.

On Monday 7th October the term really got started, with Meditation, Mattins and Mass in the college chapel at 6:45 am. They used A Liturgy for Africa, which Duncan Buchanan celebrating, facing the people. I thought it was rather good.

We went to see the warden again to arrange the ethics seminars. I was asked to prepare a paper on “The Ethics of Punishment”, and like Tom Lehrer I felt “this I know from nothing, what I’m going to do?” I think of the great Lobachevsky and inspiration doesn’t come. Fortunately someone mentioned that there was a new book in the library, The ethics of punishment by Walter Moberley. I read the book, and concluded that punishment was a kind of anti-sacrament. The Anglican catechism said that a sacrament was an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; punishment was an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace.

In the evening there is sermon crit, discussing the sermon preached by Pete Silva last Sunday. And that in turn is followed by a talk from Father Gill, the Roman priest, on the relations between the various Orthodox Churches this century. I found it fascinating, and I think most of the others found it quite interesting too. But he is completely oriented in the northern hemisphere, and I don’t think he realised how little knowledge there was of this kind of thing here, where scholarship is neither as profound nor as obscure as in England. He spoke of summer and winter, meaning the northern summer and winter, and was telling of the restrictions on the churches behind the Iron Curtain, in that they could not say or publish what they liked. And when I said the UCM magazine had been banned here, he said “Who did that?”, plainly incredulous. “The government censors,” I said. And then he said, “Oh, of course, I forgot. I was thinking of England.” But nevertheless it was quite fascinating, and he himself seemed quite an interesting bloke.

St Paul’s College Dining Room

During my time in the UK I had become very aware of the kind of thing I had noticed with Father Gill — that compared with the English South Africans were much more cosmopolitan and aware of what was going on in the rest of the world, In the field of theology South Africans knew of what was going on in other countries, whereas the English, at least in Durham, were far more parochial and insular. South Africans had a broad but shallow knowledge of a lot of things. The English has a deep but narrow knowledge of a few things. And there was also a kind of wider northern hemisphere imperialism with assumptions about spring and autumn and similar things.

South Africans knew about the main trends in British theology. But few in Britain were aware of the Message to the People of South Africa, which was probably the most significant South African theological event of the decade.

I had become quite interested in the Orthodox theology Father Gill spoke of, partly as a result of attending a seminar on Orthodox theology for non-Orthodox theological students. It had been held the previous April in Bossey, Switzerland, ending up at St Sergius Institute in Paris just as the student power rebellion was breaking out. For anyone interested, there is more on that here. Part 2.










6 Comments leave one →
  1. Hugh Pawsey permalink
    28 November 2018 5:36 pm

    Just for the record, Alistair Wyse gathered a few papers in a side aisle in Westminster Abbey and set fire to them. As you say above, too many words words words; that was his protest too. He was charged with attempting to burn down the building; but that charge was dropped when he argued that a few papers on a stone floor were unlikely to set fire to anything. He was always fighting for lost causes: arguing with the examiners about an alternative historical setting for the Daniel narratives during a three hour finals paper. He was probably right on that too. Later he had an argument with the River Medway, trying to keep his house-boat afloat with gas-filled caissons. But there was never a bomb: that fiction may have come from your jumpy Apartheid-era police. For the Abbey protest, a suspended sentence.

    • 29 November 2018 10:44 am

      I got the impression that it was a petrol bomb — a Molotov cocktail type of thing. I wonder what happened to him.

  2. Michael Rossouw permalink
    29 November 2018 3:43 am

    Great reading, Stephen. I spent my degree studies at Rhodes between 1983-85.
    Duncan Buchanan who was Dean of St Paul’s became Bishop of Johannesburg and gave me a hard time as a potential ordinand. Barry Wood was my rector in the 1970s at All Saints Robertsham. He was a very compassionate priest and a breath of fresh air after the resignation of Fr Peter Charles Knight Brookes, who resigned from the ministry in the Anglican church over the issue of the Ordination of women as well as the late Professor Chris Barnard’s marriage to Barbara Zollner (a Roman Catholic) in the Anglican church. Prof Barnard was a divorcee and the church had now re-admitted divorcees to the church allowing them to receive Holy Communion. Brookes and others who shared his views left and became members of other churches. Others who shared similar views about the issues of the day were men like George Daniel, an Anglican priest, who was received into the Roman Catholic church and became the Archbishop of Pretoria. Peter Brookes became a homeopath in Cape Town. Barry Wood, who died a few months ago in Cape Town, established a community focussing on spirituality, I believe.
    South African students of Theology at the time about which you are writing, were, as you have rightly said, more aware of what was going on in churches in other countries, whereas, in other western countries, churches were very “parochial.”

    I too remember well the train journey to Grahamstown and the 3 hours or so stop at Alicedale. That journey with Spoornet, who became the benefactors of what was then the good old South African Railways, no longer exists. Grahamstown railway station (I think) is some sort of museum.

    I studied towards a Social Science degree at Rhodes but I took some Theological courses in my degree. Professor John Suggit was quite old by the 1980s but the Faculty which he headed at Rhodes was one of the finest in the country. Since then with our new educational dispensation in South Africa, and the revision and amalgamation of universities and colleges with other institutions, Theology, and Classics, I believe are no longer taught at Rhodes.
    When I was at Rhodes UCM still existed, but any “happenings” on the campus were usually spurred on by a group called the Rhodes Christian Centre (RCC). These “brought many to the Lord” but for those of us who had been brought up in a different tradition of worship and Theology, it was, as the Chinese say “living in interesting times.”

    The Episcopal Church in the Philippines where I work as a teacher and priest has a very different history, and, as far as mission and ministry go, there are 78 church buildings of various denominations in my city of Tacloban alone, each jealously guarding their respective boundaries in the barangays (suburbs of the city.) These are apart from the small “house churches” and groups of various traditions scattered throughout the countryside. Churches such as the Iglesia ni Christo, the Morman church, are abundant. “The Iglesia Filipino Independente” or Aglipayan Church, a product of the struggle for national and religious independence from Spain, is also prominent in regions around Manila. Most churches and chapels are Roman Catholic. However, there are many “Christians” who belong to churches with a “Baptist” form of worship, prayer and Bible studies, and which emphasize a personal relationship with God accompanied by an appropriate Christian lifestyle. I work as a teacher in such a school. I struggle at times to fit in, but my students are really hard working an respectful and really wanting to learn.

    The Episcopal Church here in the Philippines was the product of the missionary efforts of Bishop Charles Henry Brent, and has many adherents amongst the people of the Mountain provinces as well as the capital, and is growing in other parts of the country. My nearest “Episcopal” church parish is 4 hours away in Ormoc on roads which curve through mountains downhill and down vale, making the journey to a service quite an endurance test. Resurrection parish in Ormoc was the product of a response to a need for housing by people displaced from Typhoon Yolanda 5 years ago.
    The Episcopal church developed a housing project for these folk, and with that came the building of the parish of the Resurrection in Ormoc. People built and now own these homes themselves with the help of the Episcopal church. The houses all conform to a basic design and have electricity and running water.

    I served as a priest in a prairie parish in Canada for two years. The church in Canada is very different in that the emphasis today is on reconciliation between descendants of settlers and the local “First Nations” people. First nations communities rely much on “lay ministry” as well as some clergy who live in the Great White North. One comment made in my community was that the church was “wrinkling and shrinking.” Local Anglicans in some rural parts of Canada are aging and the young folks, after completing school, leave to go to college and usually settle in other communities. Many become members of other churches.

    Closer to my new adopted home, (I am a South African who was ordained in the Philippines) Filipinos working in Canada as foreign workers have become involved in Anglican parishes in parts of Canada that were on the brink of closure, have given a new life to these communities. Filipino priests working as OFW’s have been licensed by local bishops to lead these churches which were on the verge of closing. These churches are now thriving.

    The times about which you are writing about St Paul’s (now affectionately known as ‘St Figs, since the amalgamation of Anglican Theological colleges into the College of the Transfiguration) were very interesting, to say the least, but these were, I believe, times in which the churches generally were being challenged to find new ways of bringing the Gospel to people and to re-examine the role of faith in a changing society.

    Thank you for sharing your insights, Stephen. As always I find these interesting and enlightning.

  3. 29 November 2018 1:23 pm

    Fascinating, thank you! I always enjoy reading these reminiscences, and it makes me wish I had kept a diary.


  1. St Paul’s Theological College 1968 (Part 2) | Khanya

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