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St Paul’s Theological College 1968 (Part 3)

1 December 2018

Continued from Part 2

After 10 days at St Paul’s I was beginning to get the hang of the place, and to make comparisons with St Chad’s College in Durham, where I had spent two years. I was also relishing the freedom to study whatever interested me without the pressure of having to prepare for examinations, which most of the other students had to do. By way of comparison, I wrote in my diary on 15 October 1968:

Mattins and Mass in Afrikaans. I suppose I have now been here long enough to make some sort of judgement on the place, and make some comparisons with St Chad’s. In obvious things, the discipline here is far stricter, but that doesn’t matter, because it is at least a genuine expression of some sort of Christian community. At St Chad’s the rules were ignored because there was no cohesion, the confusion and loss of identity which was the dominant feature of St Chad’s may be yet to come here. St Paul’s may not yet have experienced the winds of change, and doubts and confusion that have hit the Church of England. There is some measure of concord between principles and practice, between politics and theology and liturgy. The Warden, Fronnie Suggit, is also a very good bloke. One cannot say of him, as we did of John Fenton, “White man speak with forked tongue.” Fronnie is a man of no guile. His practice reflects his principles. He is gentle, loving and concerned. He takes an interest in people, and tries to understand them. Fenton was remote, insulated by his risqué jokes, and making of outrageous statements without being able to show what they mean in practice.

John Suggit and Gerald Francis working at building repairs.

That was my contemporary reaction, but after 50 years it perhaps needs some qualification and explanation. John Suggit, the warden of St Paul’s, was nicknamed by the students Fronimos, or Fronnie for short. I got the impression that for most of the students it meant something like the opposite of the way I described him above — they spoke as though it meant subtle and full of guile. But I thought that John Suggit spoke with authority, and not as the scribes. And in Orthodox theology at least a Christian fronima means something like what the late Harry Blamires referred to as The Christian Mind.

John Fenton was the principal of St Chad’s College, and known as “The Prin”. I liked him, and thought he was a nice bloke, but had huge theological disagreements with him, described more fully here Of babies and bathwater: English theological and ecclesiastical reformers | Notes from underground and here 1968 in retrospect | Khanya.

High Street, Grahamstown, with the Cathedral

As a result of those disagreements, mainly about liturgical theology,  he had written to John Suggit to say that he could not understand me, and could not recommend me for ordination because he didn’t know how my mind worked, and perhaps John Suggit could understand me better. But he did say that I didn’t like services, for reasons explained in the links above. He had written to the Anglican Bishop of Natal to the same effect, since that was the bishop who had sponsored my studies. And it was apparently for that reason that the Bishop of Natal wanted to send me to the Missions to Seamen — “You won’t have so many services there”, he said.

Chris Ross, elected head student for St Pauls for 1969

But they got it wrong. I did like services, and I was interested in liturgical theology, but back in the 1960s we talked a lot about existentialism and authenticity, and the services at St Chad’s lacked authenticity because the principal said he didn’t believe in the Kingdom of God. And when we asked him why, if he didn’t believe in the Kingdom of God, did we have to go to Mattins and Evensong in the college chapel, his reply was, “Because you’ve got to do it when you get into a parish”, and that didn’t strike us as existentially authentic. So at St Paul’s I found a copy of Alexander Schmemann’s Introduction to Liturgical Theology and read that. It wasn’t his best book, but it was a start. And I found that the services at St Paul’s did not lack authenticity; they fitted the ethos of the college.

And so I went on to write,

Fenton gives unconvincing reasons for doing things, because you feel that he himself has not been convinced. Fronnie seems to do things only when he himself is convinced about them, and though I think in some things he is wrong, at least his conviction is genuine. That at least makes it possible to bargain, to compromise, to agree to differ. And coming here has also exposed, once and for all, the myth that “overseas” things are better. Certainly St Paul’s is better than any theological college I have seen elsewhere. The system may be open to criticism on many grounds, but whatever its faults, it works. More than ever I am convinced that it would be desirable for some English ordinands to come here — not only because it might broaden their outlook to go to another country (which is the only advantage I can see in sending South Africans to England), but also because they would get a better theological training.

Also concerning worship, a letter appeared in the Port Elizabeth Evening Post, from the Afrikaanse Skakelkomitee in Uitenhage, which expressed great shock at the UCM services: the inappropriateness of the sensual racket of jazz, and that worship should be an occasion for tears of guilt. They went on to say that anyway they thought that the whole thing was just a front for the introduction of “multiracial co-worship” and that it would mislead the Bantu who do not have the length of Christian tradition behind them that the whites have.

On Saturdays the students at St Paul’s did gardening. After tea we were digging up weeds, and Cliff Horsman, the senior gardener, wanted me to get rid of morning glory which was covering a tree, yet they are sold as seeds for flowers; nasturtiums also he regarded as weeds. I wondered if, in the case of the morning glories, it had anything to do with the rumours that the seeds could give a psychedelic high like LSD.

I found it interesting that at the third Anglican theological college in South Africa, St Bede’s in Umtata (now spelt, more accurately, Mthatha) the students also did gardening, but unlike those at St Paul’s, they grew vegetables rather than flowers, which they ate in the college dining room. At St Chad’s, the students were gentlemen, and did not do gardening.

When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?

Rod Whibley, Ewart Collett and Cliff Horsman (the chief gardener) — all dressed in jackets and ties for the official college photo..

At tea we had been chatting about punishment executions and Mike Bands, a student who had lived in Zambia, told us of the massacre of the members of the Lumpa Church in Zambia a few years ago. They were non-political, like the Jehovah’s witnesses, and would not join the United National Independence Party. Some party activists tried to intimidate them in an effort to persuade them to join, and this led to a few skirmishes, and some policemen were called in to tell them to cool it. One policeman, who was a friend of Mike’s, went into a village with a few others, and they were speared, and after that the army was called in to wipe them out.

Some St Paul’s students, dressed in jackets and ties for the official college photo.
Back Row: Bob Commin, John Cooper, Mike Bands, Chris Holmes, Steve Hayes, Mike Keep
Kneeling: Tony Gregorowski & Rod Smith

Saturday afternoons were usually spent relaxing. The more energetic played tennis, while the others watched, or read books. We were usually joined by the children of the married students and staff.

Tony Gregorwski and Elizabeth Suggit (then aged 11) reading a comic.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon I had tea with David Bell, one of the married students who lived in a
house over the road from the college. He had spent four years in England about 12 years ago, and was going to the Diocese of Pretoria when he was ordained. He had three children: Catherine, who was ten, Michael, and a baby, Claire.

David Bell

We talked about the church, and compared theological colleges, and the Church of England with the church here, and then Canon Hinchliff came in — Peter Hinchliff’s father (Peter Hinchliff was Professor of Church History at Rhodes University, and had written the definitive history of the Anglican Church in South Africa). David asked Canon Hinchliff where he was trained, and it turned out that he was an old Chadsman as well. He had done his degree at Hatfield College in Durham, and then gone to St Chad’s at Hooton Pagnell, because at that time it was still divided, with undergraduates in Durham itself, and the graduate students at Hooton Pagnell.

He talked about it for hours: how he had been ordained deacon in St Mary-the-Less by the Bishop of Jarrow, because he turned 23 on the day of the ordination, and Bishop Moule said the oath would not be valid if taken on a Sunday, so he had to be done all on his own with only two or three other people present. And then he told of his curacy in West Hartlepool, with plague and naval bombardments by the Germans, and after that he had come to South Africa. But he still speaks with a north England accent. Quite a fascinating old man. When he left it was too late for supper at college, so Jill Bell said I could stay and have some with them, and while it was cooking Catherine took me out and showed me her garden, with a vine and two air plants, which flower without roots.

Children of St Paul’s staff and students in Chris Holmes’s bakkie.

In writing this, I feel that I’ve stepped out of, or into, the pages of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Time seems strangely telescoped or distorted. Here I am writing about things that happened 50 years ago, and it feels close, like last week or last year. And I’m writing about hearing an old man talk about things that happened fifty years before to him, and that seems impossibly remote. Is that just an imaginary effect, that when we are old things that happened when we were young seem close, but things that happened before we were born seem remote? But it’s not just that. Cars in 1968 were not all that different from cars today, and you can still see the odd 1968 model Volkswagen Beetle driving around, but in 1968 seeing a 1918 car was a noteworthy event. In 1968 the first Boeing 747 Jumbo Jets were beginning to enter service, and you still see them today. But in 1968 you did not see a Vickers Vimy or a Sopwith Camel swanning around the sky.

To be continued.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 December 2018 4:24 pm

    When you describe the world of that time, it seems very remote to me. I was a child in the early 1970s, and even much of that seems weird now. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it was different. I should think the differences between 1968 and 1918 were pretty huge, too, actually.

    • 2 December 2018 7:51 am

      In South Africa the biggest difference between then and now is apartheid. Back then we used to sing, to the tune of an ancient forgotten song The wayward wind:

      When I’m walking down the street I must remember not to greet
      People of a different pigmentation
      Lest the government suspect
      or the Special Branch detect
      A dark affiliation
      to a communist organiation.

      • 2 December 2018 5:01 pm

        Yes that is a huge difference! That’s a great little ditty of resistance – what was the tune ?

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