Autor: Peter Houston
Category: Persönliches Zeugnis, Urbane Mission, Kinder & Jugend
The Parish of St John the Evangelist (St John’s, for short) in Cape Town has an interesting history and is an evangelical anomaly in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA). Christ Church in Kenilworth is one of the six churches within this parish. Their continual engagement with the mission-outreach of being church holds some useful lessons for us all.
In 1658 Wynberg village received its name and subsequently was chosen as a British army outpost between Cape Town and Simons Town. At that time members of the Church of England had to travel to Cape Town to worship in the Groote Kerk. Consequently the first services held in Wynberg were in people’s homes and officiated by Army chaplains and visiting ministers from England, who tended to be evangelical in their churchmanship. This form of Anglicanism took root in what became the Parish of St John the Evangelist, Wynberg.
From the mid-nineteenth century the Church of England, at home in England and abroad in South Africa, was significantly affected by the Oxford Movement which wanted to move closer to the Roman Catholic church both liturgically and theologically. Those who were more comfortable remaining within the tradition established by Thomas Cranmer found themselves increasingly at odds with the Anglican Church in Southern Africa.
In 1870 when the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA), later renamed in 2007 the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA), was established as an autonomous province within the Anglican Communion, St John’s Parish refused to join. Instead the parish sought to remain within the ambit of English Reformation legislation and the Church of England in England (Jacob, W. M., 1997, The Making of the Anglican Church Worldwide). In the following two decades the province sought to bring the legal position of St John’s Parish in line with the new constitutional development. St John’s Parish applied for a separate Act of Parliament to guard their evangelical form of Anglican heritage and was granted one: Act 9 of 1891 – “The St John’s Act 1891”.
In the 1930s many evangelical churches found themselves in an untenable situation within the Anglican province and after protracted legal battles, eventually formed the Church of England in South Africa (CESA). However, St John’s parish declined to join CESA and negotiated an agreement with the province in 1938 to better define their unique relationship. In 1956 a formal Declaration of Association between St John’s Parish and the Diocese of Cape Town was signed. The unique evangelical identity of the six churches that make up the parish – beliefs, practices and governance – has been further strengthened by a Descriptive Document, which was granted legal status in May 1997.
Christ Church and its Re-kindled Outward-Looking Ethos
Christ Church in Kenilworth is one of the six churches in St John’s Parish (and where I was employed as the youth pastor from 2003 to 2007). It started as an outreach to children on the Cape Flats. The church building was completed and consecrated in 1907. It originally conformed to the Reformed ideal of a single room with the focus on the Word and the Communion Table being close to the people. Despite their evangelical heritage, this was an accident of finance and when the money had been raised a chancel was added so that the clergy and choir now separated the Communion Table (placed against the far wall) from the people. Thus, in essence, Christ Church was built to reflect the prevailing style of church for that era, although to an observer almost a hundred years on this would be hard to imagine.
Towards the end of the last century a process was embarked on to reorder the church building to again reflect a contemporary feel and create opportunities for more modern worship expressions, fresh vision and renewed mission outreach. But it would take many years before being realized. The Minister-in-Charge, Revd Duncan McLea, commented in 1997 on the renewed outward-looking ethos:
“I have been personally challenged to review my own priorities and… to be less focused on the ‘holy place’ and to join you in the ‘market place.’ What this means in practice I would value your help in discovering” (Minutes - Annual Vestry Report 1997).
The following year he put forth the challenge that “we want to make Christ Church a more welcoming, caring environment.” “To be more welcoming” became the philosophy behind changes to the church building. Consequently in his address to the Church Meeting in August 1999, McLea motivated that
“we are looking at how we can make this property and its facilities more welcoming to strangers, easier to manage and more adaptable and flexible to the variety of uses to which it is put.”
The tangible implications of this process began to be felt when it was realized that removing the pews would create a much more user-friendly space. McLea addressed this issue in a letter to the church in 2000: “This would involve replacing the pews with chairs to give us greater flexibility so that this, our largest venue, could be more effectively used in worship and outreach.” Three years later, having pastorally navigated the politics of replacing the pews, the pews were removed in October 2003. McLea reflected on the process and argued for Christ Church to always be seeking to adapt to the changing world:
“When the church was built in 1907, life and customs were very different….It was an age of formality… Today, informality and networking are the hallmarks of our society. The chairs and carpet give a warm, homely feel and blend in with the ambience of stone and stained glass. More importantly, they give us flexibility in the way we use the church building… We live in a rapidly changing world and unless we adapt, we will become a relic of the past and a museum piece for students of history.”
In 2006 the church was fitted with multi-media screens and data-projectors and so the process continued, driven by the vision of being a welcoming, contemporary church. Within the last decade this reordering of the church worked its way out in the pattern of the worship services.
The nineteenth century practice of a formal choir in the chancel has gradually been replaced by various music bands at the 10am and 7pm services. The choir now only participates in the 8am service. Formal vestments worn by the ordained ministers and lay-ministers have been dropped from both the 10am and 7pm services. The 1662 liturgy has now been replaced by the 1989 Anglican Prayer Book at all three services, with its use at the 8am service only phased out in 2007. It is still in use at the Wednesday 10am Eucharist service. The preacher now speaks from behind a lectern and does not enter into the formal wooden pulpit. And the preacher typically makes use of multimedia, mixing verbal and visual presentations. The communion table is movable and is only placed in a central space on the raised chancel on Communion Sundays. The music band occupies centre stage at other times.
One wonders what critique will be given of these changes towards a more informal, welcoming use of space in another hundred years time, given the judgment of J.F White (2006, The Spatial Setting), that space “reveals what has happened in worship at any given time.” There is a continual interaction of ecclesiology, missiology and practice in the church over time. Now in the twenty-first century, Christ Church is not averse to having a good party in the church building! At least once a semester a banquet is held for the Alpha Course, complete with wine, food, live music, and sometimes dancing. The pendulum has swung towards a more informal, open use of space, rather than a formal, reverencing of sacred space, in the hope that this makes the church buildings more inviting and accessible to the person on the street.
Holy Communion as a Snap-shot on Opportunities and Constraints
The celebration of Holy Communion (or the Eucharist / Lord’s Supper) is something central to Anglicanism and so is important too, to Christ Church. Asking the question, “How can we make our church buildings more welcoming?” led to architectural and cosmetic changes. But this question of being more welcoming has been a useful one in engaging with the form and content of worship services.
Children are not barred from partaking in Holy Communion. Families are actively encouraged to celebrate it together. Once a quarter during term-time they have an All Age Service of Holy Communion. Every 10am Sunday morning service during the school holidays is an All Age Service and where that falls on a Communion Sunday, children have an opportunity to take part in Holy Communion. The mission statement of the Christ Church All Age Service is:
We believe in the importance of ages worshipping together regularly. We believe that God uses our different experiences as children, teenagers and adults to draw us closer to Himself and that in worshipping together we are enriched, challenged and blessed. We do this to affirm that God has called us to be one.
Within this service Holy Communion is seen as a symbol of unity across people of different ages. It is meant to be a service in which even the very young feel relaxed, but the expectation is that they move around quietly or else play outside in the garden. As the moving around quietly is unlikely to be sustainable, the latter option of the garden is more likely to happen! So in principle, children are meant to feel welcome but in practice there are barriers to their full participation.
The Anglican Church limits who can preside at Holy Communion to an ordained minister. However, recognized lay ministers are permitted to distribute the “consecrated” elements in visits to those who are sick at home or in hospitals. It may be possible, while respecting the Anglican traditions, to broaden the role of lay ministers to include visits to home-groups that meet during the week. Thus in the context of a smaller body of believers, with children in their midst, the experience of a gathered relational-community will come again to the fore. Joyful celebration, curiosity, playfulness and questioning could be rediscovered, while not undermining the significance of what is being entered into; although that would be the responsibility of the adults.
The welcoming nature of Christ Church is not limited to children but is extended to all believers. The insert in their ‘pew’ leaflet says:
We welcome all who know and love the Lord, including children, to share in Holy Communion. We have chalices of wine, and grape juice for children as well as for adults who choose this option.
Holy Communion is open to members of all denominations and independent churches so long as they are in right standing in their own church community. Thus doctrinal unity does not present a barrier, so long as each person acknowledges Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. With the inclusion of both wine and grape juice it also prevents the cup from being a barrier to participation, for those who hold to being teetotalers and for those who suffer from alcoholism. Another interesting dynamic is that Sign interpreters are provided at services so that deafness need not be a barrier to participation in worship.
Unfortunately, a very real barrier remains to the unchurched in the form of some of the sayings in the Anglican Eucharistic liturgy, which Christ Church uses as it walks a fine line between being faithfully Anglican and faithfully missional in nature. An example of what outsiders may struggle with is the Prayer of Humble Access in the Anglican Prayer Book (1989), which includes the phrase:
“Grant us therefore, gracious Lord so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ and to drink his blood that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us.”
To someone unchurched, there are no cues that this is meant to be interpreted “spiritually”, when, to a rational outsider, this is a form of Christian cannibalism! The solemnity of the service of Holy Communion is another barrier. When I was youth pastor at Christ Church I encountered a young woman, new to Christianity, who felt so intimidated by the service that she did not go up for Holy Communion. This is pause for thought. What other things undermine an admirable and very Christ-like intent to be outward-looking?
Constraints of Denominational Culture and Western Culture
I think it is at this juncture that two significant issues are revealed. Firstly, the independence of churches in St John’s from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa is a delicate matter. It would not be politic to officially set aside the Eucharist of the 1989 Anglican Prayer Book. The Prayer Book – its history and different versions – carries a weight of symbolism with it. Given that the architecture and style of worship has been radically reordered to be more contemporary, the 1989 Anglican Prayer Book provides one of the most tangible signs that Christ Church is in association with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Secondly, the reordering of the worship space has been driven by a desire to make individuals more welcome. Our society at this point in history is characterized by informality and individualism thanks to Western influence. Consequently the focus of our services is on the participation of individuals and not on the gathered community.
Being rooted in the idea of being a worshipping community has been lower down the agenda and subsequently has lacked the force to bring about significant changes to the manner in which Christ Church worships. An early attempt to rearrange the chairs – once the pews were gone - to create a more intimate, communal environment met with little success. The idea of expressing architecturally the corporate nature of the people of God was too radical and too uncomfortable. It was also logistically difficult to do, given the constraints of working within an architectural style that is naturally directed towards everybody facing the front where the minister performers his or her duties of preaching and leading the service. An attempt to have the worship band in the congregation and not elevated on the stage met with a similar fate. The use of the “peace greeting” continues to be part of the services but remains in many peoples’ experience a terribly awkward affair of individuals interacting with each other. So Christ Church finds itself constrained in many ways by South African Anglicanism and a Western worldview, despite its ethos.
This brief case study of Christ Church Kenilworth in the Parish of St John the Evangelist in Cape Town contains several useful lessons for us:
May the Lord always bring us back to the heart of mission and genuine ministry for the sake of the world.
Source for the history of St John’s Parish: Bamford, M (Ed) (2005) St John’s Parish – Its History and Ethos
Note: Case study used with permission of Christ Church Kenilworth