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St Paul’s Theological College 1968 (Part 4)

13 December 2018

Continued from Part 3.

I had another letter from my friend Alastair Wyse who had tried to set fire to Westminster Abbey in protest against the church being so obsessed with buildings, reinforced by one from another fellow-student from St Chad’s College, Graham Mitchell, who had recently been ordained and had just attended his first ruri-decanal meeting, at which one old bok had appealed for £67000 to prop up his pinnacles.

The answer, for me, seemed to come from Colin Morris, whose book Include me out: confessions of an ecclesiastical coward seemed to provide the answer:

Obscenity is our zealous begging of money off people and organizations who are more amenable to our blackmail than our message in order to restore our crumbling edifices or to build new ones which are materialized lies — for the reality of our spiritual life would fit neatly into a telephone booth.

Fifty years ago, of course, people knew what a telephone booth was, but I doubt that anyone under 40 could even picture one today.

Four months earlier, at St Chad’s College, on the afternoon before the final doctrine exam, I faced the choice: read Colin Morris, or read the magic book, Quicke’s Doctrines of the Creed. Reasoning that Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, I prayed that the Spirit would protect me from writing heresy during the exam, and read Morris instead. I passed.

Meanwhile, back at St Paul’s, I posted Alastair Wyse’s letter on the college noticeboard. It was more coherent than his first hasty one posted on his way to set his fire, and he had had plenty of time to reflect on it in his cell in Brixton prison. Most of the people at St Paul’s thought he was nuts and that a psychiatrist should be called to defend him. I suppose that is how most people would have looked at St Francis as well, they don’t think he was “achieving” anything. He wasn’t, in the words of one of the St Chad’s tutors, “helping his cause”. Michael Keep said, “why burn tombs when they will just spend money on restoring them?”

But it was, as his letter made quite clear, a symbolic prophetic protest; those who have eyes to see, they will see. Those who have ears to hear, they will hear. But whether they hear, or whether they forebear to hear, you shall speak my words to them, for they are a rebellious house. And if anyone needed a psychiatrist, it was surely Ezekiel. So there were differing views in 1968, that year of student protest. And a couple of days later I learned that Alastair Wise was being seen by a psychotherapist, for whom his parents were paying £25 a week.

I showed the letter to Basil Moore. He said he could see why he had done it, but didn’t believe in kicking corpses, and the church in England was dead anyway. He said there was more point in attacking the church here, because the church counts for something in South African society, while in England it counted for nothing. I disagreed with him there. In South Africa the church was being attacked by the government, among other things because in things like the Message to the People of South Africa the church was undermining the government. It went beyond previous protests from church leaders, because it attacked not merely the practice but the ideology of apartheid. It was not merely saying that the government was going about things in the wrong way, it was saying that the government was doing the wrong things.

James Moulder

James Moulder, another Methodist minister, came to the college and gave an address at Evensong, which seemed much more positive than the kind of things Basil Moore was saying. He spoke about the place of dogma. He took the Anglican Revised Catechism and the Message to the People of South Africa, and compared the two statements. He said something was needed which combined each of these two statements of faith. The Message needed to be stated in such a way that it could be used for preparation for church membership.

And that seemed to embody for me another of the differences between the church in England and the church in South Africa, between St Chad;s College and St Paul’s College. The Church of England was seeking to be “relevant” (intransitively so), and so was trying to change its theology to fit the world. In the Message to the People of South Africa the church was telling the world it must change to fit the theology.

As G.K. Chesterton had put it in his book Orthodoxy sixty years before, “The modern young man will never change the world, for he will always change his mind.”

Ted Goodyer

There was another seminar on punishment. this time on capital punishment, led by Ted Goodyer. As South Africa had more executions than any other country, this would seem to have been a relevant issue. But nobody seemed concerned about it and we kept drifting on to the subject of just and unjust laws. Nobody seemed to be concerned about capital punishment, which was probably why the rate of executions was so high. I wrote in my diary:

There are other problems which beset us, and there does seem to be a connection between a demand for capital punishment and imperialism. And South Africa has now entered into the imperialist expansionist stage of her history and is trying to reach out and build an empire, to draw Malawi and Zambia and even Tanzania into her orbit. South Africa is thus not psychologically and sociologically ripe for the abolition of capital punishment, or for putting the national flag on shopping bags and toilet seats as they do in Britain, now that the British Empire has been dissolved. But if one had suggested the abolition of capital punishment or putting the Union Jack on lavatory seats at the time of the Relief of Mafeking, it would have been ignored, or considered unthinkable, outrageous. So our debate did not really stay on the subject.

Bob Commin

The seminar was followed by a 24-hour vigil of prayer for racial harmony, so Dozy (Bob Commin) woke me at 4:00 the next morning, and after my turn I called Cliff Horsman and Mike Keep. It was concerned, in particular, with the Transkei elections then taking place.

One afternoon I went down town with Rod Smith to take some photos of the place, and we were accosted by several strangers. One was a girl with long hair and too much glue on her false
eyelashes. She asked in a windy far-away voice who we were and where we were going. She seemed to think whatever we said was very romantic. We referred to her as the unknown goddess, but not as beautiful as the statues of Greek goddesses. If Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships, this one would have been likely to have launched about ten.

Those we met on the way back were younger, and male. Because of the high unemployment in Grahamstown at that time (I don’t know if it is any better today) there were a lot of child beggars in the streets. These kids were peculiar. They were aged about 10-12 and when they saw people coming, they might run 300 yards to meet them, and then stand about 10 yards off and whine and mumble something inaudible.

Somerset Street, Grahamstown, November 1968

I once asked one what he wanted and it turned out to be a long “Pleeeze” repeated several times and then “huuungry, two cents, bread” after every ten “pleese”. But their voice changed from whining dog to normal human when shouting to their friends in the next block. The whining was completely off-putting, and hardened my heart against giving them anything. They stopped behaving like human beings.

But then there was an old woman who came to the college to ask for money. She had no papers and so could get work and didn’t have the right to live anywhere. Everyone gave her money when she came, because she was one of God’s poor and is completely human and did not whine like a dog. Begging did not diminish her, it did not take away her human dignity. She still stood as one human being before another. She greeted us in the street, said hello in a normal voice. But the kids didn’t. They neither behaved as human beings, nor did they treat anyone else as human. They could say nothing except this whining “pleez” long-drawn-out, so soft as to be inaudible from a distance.

Michael Bowen, Alan Schmidt and Nicky Suggit, 26 November 1968

But on one occasion Alan Schmidt, son of Theo Schmidt, one of the students, came running, afraid of the old woman who had come to the door, He thought she was a witch, He feared that she would lift her hand and fire would come out, or that she would say a word and turn him into a frog. He kept creeping out on to the tennis court to see if she was still there, and really did seem to be terrified of her.

We had a visit from Fr Gerard Beaumont, of the Community of the Resurrection, who played songs for us on the piano. He played mostly hymn tunes, many of them of his own composition, and we sang them standing around the piano in the common room.

Back: John Cooper, Bob Commin, Andy Oram, Hamish Holman, Cliff Horsman.
Front: Liz Suggit & Alan Radcliffe.
At piano: Fr Gerard Beaumont

He belonged to a “Twentieth-century Light Church Music Group”, which did not merely aim to produce pop church music, but as the 20th century is now almost 70 years old, he had music of all periods. Much of it was the sort of music that would appeal to middle-aged British housewives, the sort of “Knees-up mother Brown” that could be sung by the Bingo crowd. But some of them would be good anywhere, especially the tunes to For all the saints and At the name of Jesus.

There were more pastoralia sessions, with Duncan Buchanan, and this entailed reading a book called Basic types of Pastoral Counselling by Howard Clinebell. I found it exceedingly bourgeois, and the situations it described were mainly those of middle-class white suburban Americans. In my time at St Chad’s I had developed an aversion to northern-hemisphere bourgeois theology, and I questioned the relevance of it in the classes. It seemed to me that none of it would be of any help in counselling people like Alan Schmidt’s “witch” woman, who might be more numerous in South Africa than the kind of people Clinebell dealt with.

And now, fifty years later, I see that there is a new edition of Clinebell’s book, which, the blurb claims, “will help readers be sensitive to cultural diversity, ethical issues, and power dynamics as they practice holistic, growth-oriented pastoral care and counseling in the parish.

And it still seems as bourgeois as ever. Being “sensitive” to problems is not at all the same thing as helping people to solve them.

Continued in Part 5.




5 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 December 2018 5:02 am

    It’s interesting that your fellow student thought that the old woman was a witch. Apparently (according to “Religion and the Decline of Magic” by Keith Thomas), before the Reformation, the poor were fed by monasteries and nunneries. After the Reformation they turned to begging. When they were turned away, hungry and muttering imprecations against hard-hearted people, the people who had refused them alms thought they were witches cursing them. Because the refuser of alms felt guilty, they then felt ill, and blamed it on the “witch” / beggar.

    • 17 December 2018 5:46 am

      Not a fellow student, but the son of a fellow student — he was about 6-7 at the time (see photo).

      Yes, I believe Henry VIII’s land expropriation without compensation gave rise to the rhyme “Hark, hark, the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town”. And that led to the Poor Laws, workhouses, and the Speenhamland system, which some are advocating today.

      • 18 December 2018 2:06 am

        I’m pretty sure the UK Conservative Party would like to go back to the system of workhouses and poor laws.

  2. Irulan permalink
    17 December 2018 10:42 am

    regrettably, my prayers at exam time were not as efficacious


  1. St Paul’s Theological College 1968 (Part 3) | Khanya

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