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St Paul’s Theological College 1968 (Part 5)

18 December 2018

Continued from Part 4.

For those who may have jumped into this in the middle of things, this is a kind of “1968 in retrospect” series of posts, when I was spending a term at St Paul’s Theological College in Grahamstown, South Africa,  towards the end of the year. Some students from that year recently held a reunion with the college warden, Canon John Suggit, and you can see more about that on the web page here. If you’d like to start this series from the beginning, Part 1 is here.

Wednesday 30th October was a college holiday at St Paul’s, perhaps because it was halfway through the term  At Mattins in the college chapel the only ones present were the Warden, John Suggit; the sub-warden, Duncan Buchanan; Brian Angus and me. Brian and I were the “extra” students, who had just come in for one term after studying overseas.

Elizabeth Suggit, aged 11.

People just messed around most of the day. Chris Holmes came to my room to have a beer, and then we went and played the “Chopsticks” duet on the common-room piano. The warden’s daughter, Elizabeth Suggit, aged 11, came in and we tried to teach her to play it too. Chris Holmes was giving her driving lessons in his Mini bakkie, and she said she was going to get her driving licence on her 18th birthday. Howard Lancaster recently reminded me that on one of their lessons Chris was giving her parallel parking lessons by pulling up alongside a Rolls! The owner stuck his head out of his lounge window and told them to clear off!

Another memorable thing about the college holiday was when Mike Bands was standing with a glass of water on his forehead. He lay down on the floor on his back and then stood up again without spilling any.

A day or two later Elizabeth Suggit was ill in bed with tonsillitis, and I gave her a copy of The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber to amuse her. On a gardening day a group of us sawed up some trees that had been cut down in the driveway, and Chris Holmes came to take them away in his Mini bakkie. It had front-wheel drive and was so loaded down with the logs that I had to sit on the bonnet to keep traction on the front wheels.

Chris & Sue Holmes, November 1968

Chris Holmes once took me to see his mother, who lived in a caravan park. Lots of people in St Paul’s had taken photos of his sister, who was reputed to be a beautiful model. I didn’t meet her on that occasion, but did later, and thought she hid her beauty behind too much make up. In the late sixties women either wore too much make up, or none at all. I’m not sure whether that preference coincided with ideological differences, but I generally found the company of those who didn’t wear make up more congenial.

Some of the St Paul’s students continued to frequent the Rhodes University Anglican Club at lunch time on Fridays, where the profits from the simple lunch were given to the Grahamstown and District Relief Association (GADRA), It was a different way of dealing with the problem of high unemployment, which was the cause of the number of beggars on the streets mentioned in the previous post.

GADRA: feeding children of the unemployed

The Anglican chaplain at Rhodes University was Roy Snyman, and the Anglican Club met in a room on the Rhodes campus. Roy Snyman was a rather old-fashioned 1950s-style Anglo-Catholic, and seemed to run the Anglican Club at the university a bit like a teenage youth club. He was a nice bloke, but the set-up seemed a bit paternalistic to me. There were posters on the walls extolling religion along with a few more contemporary ones urging people to make love, not war.

Roy Snyman at the Rhodes University Anglican Club

I was struck by the contrasting ideologies that seemed to be dividing the Christian world at that time. A few years earlier John Davies, who was later the Anglican chaplain at Wits University, had read a paper on Religion versus God to the Anglican Students Federation. In it he spoke of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s idea of “religionless Christianity”. The Rhodes Anglican Club appeared to be extolling religion. And the leaders of the UCM appeared to want the opposite of religionless Christianity. With their “God is dead” theology they wanted religion without God rather than Bonhoeffer’s notion of God without religion.

For anyone who might be interested, I’ve discussed some of the contrasting leadership styles and ideas on student and youth ministry, and in the ASF and UCM, in an article on Youth Ministry, so will not take up more space with it here.

Rod Smith and Molly Wood at Rhodes University Anglican Club

For the ideological side, Western Christianity at that time seemed to be divided  into those who wanted Christianity to be more “spiritual” and those who wanted it to be more secular. In my undergraduate days we had called them pietists and social activists. I found myself in agreement with someone who once remarked that in that particular battle, “both sides are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny”. The social activists were right in affirming that the Christian faith had social and political consequences in the life of the world, but wrong in denying that sound doctrine and a spiritual life were important or necessary. And the pietists were right in affirming that spiritual life and sound doctrine were important, but wrong in thinking that denying the social consequences of what they professed to believe, a denial that undermined the very doctrines they claimed to be upholding.

Liz Pringle and Mary Hofmeyr at Rhodes University Anglican Club

My term at St Pauls, free from the pressure of exams, and with access to a good theological library enabled me to discover the work of Fr Alexander Schmemann, the Dean of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, whose book The World as Sacrament, later enlarged and reissued as For the Life of the World, resolved the problem for me quite neatly. For more details on that, and where it eventually led me, see here.

Visiting the Rhodes Anglican Club also worked the other way round. Sometimes Rhodes students came to services at St Paul’s. On All Saints Day Claire Isted came to Evensong, and Tony Gregorowski and I walked back home with her afterwards for sherry. I had met her back in 1965, when a group of us drove 500 miles from Pietermaritzburg to Grahamstown to listen to an academic freedom lecture, and camped out in her flat. I likened such things to Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, which described angel-headed hipsters “who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity”. Actually the trip had only taken 11 hours in Maimie Corrigall’s brand-new six-cylinder Ford Zephyr, which could cruise along at 100 miles (not kilometres) hour. It was more sobering when four years later a priest, David Poynton, was killed driving that same road, after hitting a stray animal in the dark.

As Tony and I were walking back to St Paul’s a sportscar stopped alongside, and the passenger was Jane Lurie, who had been an undergrad with me in Maritzburg four years earlier. I’ve sometimes wondered what happened to her and Clair Isted, and others we knew back then.

Rhodes University main building, 1968

At St Paul’s we also had Bible study, something we had never had at St Chad’s in Durham. Not formal lectures in Old Testament and New Testament, but actually sitting around and looking at the text rather than reading scholarly commentaries. We were going through I Thessalonians, and it was interesting to see how people waffled off the point, but also how much one could get out of the text if you really looked at it. Of course it helped that John Suggit was no mean New Testament scholar in his own right, but he also let the text speak.

One Sunday at the Joy-Joy Sunday School it was very hot, so a lot of the children were wearing no clothes at all. Afterwards a woman came in great distress and wanted us to pray for a child who was sick. We said we would go to see the child on the way home, and she said Oh no, she could not possibly have white men in her house, it was too dirty, and she said she would bring the child. We said if the child is sick he couldn’t come out, and we would go to him, but that idea upset her still more and she disappeared up the road and we could not find her again.

There was one hymn in the Xhosa hymn book that we sang where the rhythm of the words fitted the rhythm of the music, and I liked it. Lizalis’ idinga lakho. I later discovered that it was Nelson Mandela’s favourite hymn, and it was sung at his funeral. It was composed in Xhosa, rather than translated from English, and that may have been why it sounded better. It always struck me as odd, though, that the Zulu Anglican hymn book did not seem to have the same problem of clashing metres. Zulu and Xhosa are fairly similar linguistically and share a lot of common vocabulary.

I was not sure that I liked the idea of Sunday School. Teaching children in a classroom situation did not appeal to me, and when I did it a couple of years later, at St Paulus School in Windhoek, I hated it (see the link to Youth Ministry up the page). But Joy-Joy was different. It was more like street preaching than Sunday School, and the kids were there because they wanted to be there, not because their parents sent them. They came in response to Hamish Holman playing riffs on his saxophone.

Thelma Suggit

We had Evensong in college and then again when John Suggit took Rod Whibley and me down to Christ Church, the one founded by the lady of Evangelical Principles, where Rod (known as Fred) sang the office and I preached. The congregation sang rather mournfully, I thought. John Suggit said afterwards that he liked my sermon, but my delivery was rather mournful. It must have been the atmosphere of the place.

We went back to his house and played bridge and scrabble. Playing bridge was one of the useful skills I had learnt at St Chad’s College in Durham, where we spent many Sunday afternoons and evenings playing it, especially in winter,. John Suggit’s wife Thelma was quite a keen bridge player, and often had students around to play.

To be continued.






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