Thursday, December 26, 2013

Being right or being good?

John JP Patterson writes

 Hmmm... A lot of us Christians, rather than being followers of Jesus, we’re defenders of religious certainty. And having certainty about what is and isn’t true, good, and holy is actually not faith, it’s just certainty. And certainty regarding matters of faith isn’t Christian.

So we end up acting like jackasses, kicking and galloping and trolling around like we own the place. All the while bellowing scripture and unfounded statistics…

We can’t love people when we’re intoxicated with certainty. We can’t serve people with a pure heart if we’re burdened by certainty. We can’t be anything remotely close to “Christ-like” when we’re certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that we know what’s up regarding God.

Why? Because we’re too busy defending our rightness to be kind, thoughtful, and good.

reposted from

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Acts 1:1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over forty- day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God. 4 While he was with them, he declared, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. 5 For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, "Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He told them,"You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth." 9 After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and cloud hid him from their sight. 10 As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them 11 and said,"Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven." 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called the Mount of Olives (which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away).

The enduring cry throughout our Christian history is "Jesus will come back again". This is the hope that draws Christian communities together and the motivation for Christian living. Christmas is the time when we re-visit this hope. Let us pray once again for Jesus to be with us.
Sent via my BlackBerry

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Last Great Liberator of the Twentieth Century

I am sitting in front of the television watching the public celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. And it is overwhelming:

·         I am moved to tears by the way people have queued from 4am to catch transport to the stadium; I am moved by their willingness to sing and dance in the rain; I am moved to see the ”rainbow nation” represented here – people of all corners, cultures and creeds of our country have come, This gives me hope.

·         I am moved by the many, many world leaders who have come to join us for this service; these are powerful people who lead enormous economies – coming to a small country to pay tribute to one of us. These are leaders who also would not ordinarily be in the same room together. I am moved by the sight of Barak Obama shaking hands with President Castro of Cuba! And of the Prime Minister of England sharing the same platform as Robert Mugabe. This gives me hope.

·         I am moved by the speech of Barak Obama. He was welcomed as a “son of Africa” and responds by asking the leaders of our world to live up to the legacy left by Madiba: “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”
This gives me hope.

·         I am moved when I see the leaders of my Methodist Church officiating at this event. I grew up in an era that gave the Dutch Reformed Church prominence at every national occasion – so it feels good to see my colleagues leading this service. But at the same time I am acutely aware of how a church that enjoys the favour of the ruling party can easily become a tool that is used to suggest God’s preferential favour for this party. I must therefore note my disquiet at the way we invited Jacob Zuma to speak at the farewell of Ivan Abrahams; and the way we allow a senior Methodist Minister to be a chaplain to the ruling political party. I not as hopeful.   

·         I am moved when I switch between channels and discover that in addition to the South African TV channels, CNN, BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera, CCTV, CNBCA, EuroNews, RaiItalia, and ITV are all screening this event. I am startled to see how much of an international figure he is. I am moved to tears when I discover that people from all over the world are watching this event – including my daughter who lives in Japan. That said, I am dismayed that CNN should label the speech of Barak Obama as the ‘highlight’ of the event – before speeches by other world leaders or before the sermon. The commentators then ignored the speakers who followed, choosing instead to comment on Obama’s speech.This American-centred view of the world is the reason that I struggle with the United States of America. It is an imperialistic view that diminishes the contribution that America could make to our world. I am not as hopeful.

I was aggrieved at the ill-discipline of the crowd, but this has been taught to them at recent political rallies and trades union meetings. I thoroughly enjoyed Desmond Tutu’s ability to hold a crowd – and impose order. It might have been better for him to have been the preacher because he has the charisma and feel for the crowd - but it would have been very difficult for anyone to preach, with the sermon coming in as speaker number 16! That said, I was disappointed that the sermon had no Christian content. It was a generic eulogy of Madiba, using the image of Elijah’s passing of the mantel. But no hope in Jesus was offered.

The memorial is over and people are streaming homeward.
And I am thankful for the leadership of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

“We promise God that we are going to follow the example of Nelson Mandela”           

Friday, December 06, 2013


Monday, November 04, 2013

Visiting Eden

This morning I went to the Edendale Methodist Church.

I accompanied my daughter Lisa, who is a student at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary. Her seminary church placement is an isiZulu speaking congregation located in a sprawling black urban area bordering the Pietermaritzburg magisterial district. It began life as the farm of Andreis Pretorius, before Wesleyan Missionary James Allison and his community of 100 Christian families broke with the Wesleyan Missionary Society at Indaleni and settled on this farm - which they renamed Edendale. They purchased the farm on a share basis and sub-divided it into a central village with acre-sized plots and outlying arable fields.  Initially this community ruled itself under the pastoral authority of Allison, but when they had a falling out with Allison they approached the Wesleyan Missionary Society. Although initially cautious, the Wesleyans agreed to accept pastoral care of their community.

The current minister of this church is Rev Vuyo Dlamini, a graduate of the University of KwaZulu Natal and Vice-Chairman of the Natal West District. He serves a large area with many congregations scattered across the surrounding hills. He was preaching elsewhere today, and we were greeted instead by a local preacher.  She was a Zulu Granny dressed in her uniform of black jacket, white shirt and black tie. We climbed the steep stairs to the church entrance, shaking hands with congregation members who ushered us inside.

Inside the church is painted blue and cream. It has an unvarnished wooden floor and a truly lovely wooden communion rail around the chancel, at which people can kneel to pray or receive communion. It follows the 19th century custom of a centrally elevated pulpit with a lectern for reading the Bible to the left of the communion table. There is also a stone font dated 1948 and engraved “donated by the Manyano”.

Today’s service was stock standard morning worship which consisted of isiZulu liturgy (read – translation of the 1935 British Methodist morning order), isiZulu hymns and a sermon preached with fire and passion. This kind of service does not need a minister to function, held together instead by the routine of the liturgy and the cadence of the voices. Sure - the preacher read from the Bible and then ignored it as she went off in another direction; and the service concluded with various housekeeping activities, membership matters and financial contributions. But it did not require me to understand the words or to grasp the business to know that I was amongst a praying community. I let the words wash over me and enjoyed being part of something much bigger than my own simple contribution to their worship (I was asked to pray for the offering).

And I am grateful.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I am an African

 am an African not because I was born in Africa 

but because Africa is born in me.
 Kwame Nkrumah[1]

Monday, October 21, 2013

Seth Jason Molefi Mokitimi

A tribute by P Grassow

1904 - 1971
Fifty years ago today the Conference of the Methodist Church of SA elected the Rev Seth Mokitimi as its president. This election did not come out of nowhere – Mokitimi had lost the vote for president the previous year by just one vote, and he had been on the ballot since 1957. Despite this, the election of Seth Mokitimi caused a huge stir. The Cape Times had this as its headline: “Bantu to lead Methodists” – noting that Mokitimi had risen from MoSotho herdboy to become the first black head of the Methodist Church.[1] Dr Verwoerd, the Prime Minister, was unhappy, as were many, many white Methodists – some of whom left the Methodist Church. At the same time many, many letter and telegrams of congratulations flooded in, including from the Gen Secretary of the World Council of Churches, and from the leadership of the African National Congress.  

So why was this so controversial?
An important component of this story is The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, Act No 49 of 1953 which formed part of the Apartheid system of racial segregation in South Africa. The Separate Amenities Act legislated that South Africans were to separate themselves according to race in all public spaces such as schools, hospitals, sports stadiums, public transport, and – it was thought – in churches. The Methodist Church struggled to answer this because it was caught between a natural desire to obey the law, and our Christian faith that brings us all together. For years the Methodist Church had held two District Synods, and two Connexional Conferences – one for Black members,  that met first and was chaired by a White minister – followed by a White Synod/Conference that reviewed the resolutions of the Black meeting. Most of the Methodist members had lived with this so long that they had become used to this system. But one man persistently brought a resolution to Conference, year after year, moving that there be one unified session. This man was the Rev Seth Mokitimi.

He was born at Quthing, Lesotho, in 1904. At the age of 11 he moved to the Orange Free State when his teacher father became a Methodist Minister. He completed his Grade 8 at the Ohlange Institute in Inanda and took an industrial course in shoemaking. He then went to Healdtown in the Eastern Cape where he finished his junior certificate and completed his teacher training. In 1927 he became a teacher at Healdtown, and a year later he married Grace Sello. In 1931 he candidated for the ministry of the Methodist Church, and went to Wesley House at Fort Hare, where he joined a group of theological students who formed a preaching band called “the Mighty Twenty Four”.
After his ordination Seth Mokitimi was called back to Healdtown by the Principal, the Rev Arthur Wellington, who was President of Conference that year and needed help.  He became the first black ordained minister at Healdtown, where he remained for the next 15 years (1937-1951). One of his most famous pupils was Nelson Mandela, who remembers him as ‘delightful’. In Long Walk to Freedom Mandela describes him as “a modern and enlightened fellow who understood our complaints”.[2] Mandela also writes of glimpsing a rising African determination to achieve greater dignity and rights when he witnessed his chaplain and housemaster, the Rev Seth Mokitimi, stand up successfully to the principal’s authority by defending the rights of the pupils.  

He became a delegate to four international conferences: the World Youth Conference, the International Missionary Council, the All Africa Church Conference, and the World Methodist Conference. Mokitimi represented the best of black African leadership at the time. He is described as “an important black spokesman for liberal, multiracial, ecumenical Christianity from the late 1930s to the 1960s”[3]  Mokitimi’s subsequent election as Methodist President was not only a tribute to his spiritual integrity, but it also became a moment when the Methodist Church publically rejected the ideology of Apartheid - something Mokitimi called “an idea born out of fear” and “unchristian”. [4]  

However, black leadership ran out of patience with the intransigence of the Apartheid  Government and in the same year that Mokitimi was elected President of the Methodist Church, Nelson Mandela was Accused Number One in the Pretoria Supreme Court, charged with nine others for planning to topple the government by military means. For the next eight years, while some black leaders developed the armed struggle against Apartheid,  Mokitimi chose to preach against segregation, and to work tirelessly to bring black and white people together. His health deteriorated, and Seth Mokitimi died on 25 November 1971. It is fitting to close with his words:
The “watchword” of a new South Africa “must no longer be White or Black, but Black and White, none regarding the other as a menace but each in his own way contributing towards the full harmony of our South African life”.[5]

[1] Cape Times 23 October 1963.
[2] N Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: the Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (London, Little brown and Company, 1994), 36-37.
[3] Deborah Gaitskell South Africa and beyond: Seth Mokitimi and the ‘Kingdom without Barriers’, 1939-1964.  Journal of South African Studies Vol 338, No 3, September 2012.
[4] S Mokitimi  ‘Race relations’, in Christian Council of South Africa (CCSA), Christian reconstruction in South Africa, A report of the Fort Hare Conference, July, 1942 (Lovedale, CCSA, 1942), 40.
[5] Mokitimi, 41.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Goin' to a motorcycle gathering (The Rhino Rally)

Today I get on my BMW1150 and join thousands of other motorcycle enthusiasts in Harrismith. This is the Rhino Rally: a social gathering of people from all over the country for a weekend of motorcycles and people. There will be a huge marquee on the soccer fields, which houses a bar and live music. There will be a ‘shenanigan street’ for wheelies and drags. On Saturday morning there will be a mass ride from the site, around town, down the hooligan street and back. There will be lots of prizes and trophies, flea markets, stalls and exhibitions ... oh yes also paramedics and a site hospital.

I go for the bikes, the friends, the crazy people, and for the ride. For just a moment I leave behind the responsibilities of life and become a kid again. Will keep you posted.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Delme Linscott

I have a colleague who offers compassionate pastoral care to all who come to him, rigorous academic lectures in church history to seminary students, and loving support to his wife and family. He is Delme Linscott, and he writes regular reflections on life at Living in Grace.  I respect him for his unflagging commitment to encouraging people in their walk with Jesus.  He does this both through sermons and teaching series, and more importantly through personal example.     

Delme strives for integrity in his actions and words, this nowhere more evident than in his interactions with the people around him. Yesterday, along with eleven others, he took part in a 40km cross-country cycle race for a children’s charity. The week before the event he had battled with flu, and so could have pulled out. But his commitment to the charity saw him struggle through the first 30km despite cramping badly. I admire this kind of guts. I admire even more the way he chose to withdraw from the race, recognising that his health was at risk. This kind of self-awareness is admirable, and is the kind of courage for living that adds value to life.

If you get a chance to spend time with Delme it is a real tonic.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Do Not be Afraid

Sermon preached at Plumstead Methodist Church

Psalm 23
Luke 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33  Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35  "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36  be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37  Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38  If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39  "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Hebrews 13:5  Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." 6  So we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?" 7  Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Our scripture passage today begins with the words:
 “Luk 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
So what is going on? Who is Jesus speaking to and why would they be afraid?
Let me provide a context to this Bible reading:
Luk 12:1  Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, Jesus began to speak    .......
Jesus has been preaching in the rural areas.  He is preaching to people who are really struggling for life.
Every Empire in history has marched through their land – the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and now the Romans. They have been hammered by soldiers.
·         They are very poor, living from hand to mouth
·         They are often sick with mysterious diseases, and little access to any kind of health care
·         They are poorly educated, and very few can read or write
Is it any wonder that they are afraid of life –
They are afraid of soldiers / of poverty / of illness / ... and of God.
Is it any wonder that the first words that Jesus speaks to them are “Luk 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom”?

Now let me take us forward in time by fifty or sixty years: to the next generation who follow Jesus:
·         The next generation are homeless:  this Christian community has seen Jerusalem burned to the ground by Roman soldiers, and has scattered across the empire.
·         They are bankrupt:  have fled for their lives, losing everything.
·         And now they are persecuted: the Emperor Nero blaming them for the great fire of Rome.
One of their leaders is St Luke: who looks for a way to encourage them – and he remembers these words of Jesus:
Luk 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

So here is my question – do we have any connection with these people of the Bible?
Is there anyone here who is afraid?
·         Anyone afraid of the economy? Anyone who has checked the petrol price / return on your investments / cost of groceries?
·         Afraid for your health? How are your knees / Blood pressure / (I have to get out of bed by swinging my feet off the bed – and using the door handle to get me on my feet!)
·         Afraid of crime and corruption? Here I speak to those of us who have fences around our house / armed response / or a gun in the drawer!
·         Can I ask those who are New Parents
      Are you afraid for your children’s future - Do you shout at politicians on TV that they are messing up your children’s future?
-      Are you afraid that you will not cope – do you shout at each other... or at the in-laws?
Perhaps we too need to hear the words of Jesus:
Luk 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom”

And as Jesus says this, I can hear each group asking Jesus – so how do I stop being afraid?

This is not a simple question!  
Have you ever been afraid?
I remember as a child my job was to lock the Church after the evening service: This was the Simonstown Methodist Church. This is the oldest Methodist Church in SA, which makes it old and creaky! The light was at the door – lock the door from the inside, switch the light off – and sprint down the aisle and out the vestry.  Very scary! My dad said “Don’t be afraid” – do you think that helped?

So this is not a “Don’t be afraid” message that assumes you can stop feeling afraid because someone tells you to stop.

Jesus says that there are two steps to losing our fear:

 Step One:
Stop trusting our riches to take away our fear.
This is a common mistake that we human beings make.
Throughout history we have thought that if we have money we will be safe
That is why we enter the lotto – if only I had that money I would never be afraid again!
In fact: Having stuff will not take away our fear... this might make us even more fearful!Now aAdded to all our fears is the fear of losing our possessions.
Jesus is quite clear. Vs 33  “Sell your possessions, and give to the poor”
If you want to live without fear - Stop trusting your possessions

Step Two:
Discover that Jesus is with you.
Luke 12:36: “be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.”

We can lose our fear, because we have a friend who comes and knocks at the door of our lives at the moment of our fear.
Let me take us back to my story of locking the church:
There was a moment when I stopped being afraid of running through the dark church – It came when I told my dad that I was afraid.
Do you know what his answer was?
“Don’t be afraid – I am here with you”.
Jesus is able to tell the flock not to be afraid – because he promised to be with them:

Let us not be afraid
And let us not think that money is the way to stay safe
Instead – discover that God is with you every step of the way.

Allow me to conclude by pointing out – the best way of discovering the presence of God is through the people that God sends our way
·         people who encourage us,
·         people who support us,
·         people who provide us with strength.
In the same way – when we pray for someone else to have courage in life, we might have to hear God saying to us “So how are you going to become the encourager?”
The best way for us to lose our fear is for us to become a community that cares for one another / to become a community that gives each other courage / a community that rebukes fear by showing the Love, and the Grace, and the Strength of God.

These are the signs of the Kingdom of God. And when we practice these signs, then God’s peace is with us:
The words from Hebrews sum up the point I am making:
Re-read Hebrews 13: 5-8

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Stanley James Grassow

27/10/1925 – 05/08/2013

Stanley James Grassow was born in Wynberg, Cape, on the 27th October 1925. He came from a missionary family: His Granny Hurrell was the first deaconess sent from England for the S.A. General Mission. Grandpa Hurrell, having worked his passage from England in a sailing ship, joined her in running the Cape Town Docks Mission during the Anglo-Boer War, before serving in the Salvation Army at the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home connected to the Simon’s Town Methodist Church.

Stan attended the Lutheran Mission Primary School, and then the Wynberg Boy’s High School. He wrote Matric, but did not pass, because he failed Afrikaans. He later obtained a Matric Exemption at Rhodes University by writing Afrikaans I.

Stan attended the Wynberg Methodist Sunday School from the age of two and a half years, became a Full Member in 1942, and then taught in the Sunday School for 2 years. He was always grateful for the example of the teachers in the Sunday School. It was there that he learned to appreciate Hymns.  He joined the S.A. Air Force in January 1944 while WWII was still in progress. After the war Stan worked at Iscor in Pretoria in their Cost Accounts section for three years. 

Stan joined the Wesley Church ( Andries Street), where he found friends in the Wesley Guild. The Guild had a tennis club and tennis became Stan’s sport. He encountered the Lord Jesus Christ personally in 1947 at a Youth Camp, and found his life turned around. Stan became Guild Devotional Convenor, A Sunday-School teacher in two Sunday-Schools, Choir member, and Mission Band member.

In 1948 at the September Youth Camp Stan experienced a call to the ordained ministry. The Rev. Alfred Salmon gave good advice to Stan who felt unqualified for this call:  “See if you can win one person to Christ in the next year. If you can bring one person you can bring more. Meanwhile become a Local Preacher.” Stan started as a Local Preacher.  Six months later Stan’s brother Ted started work for the Post Office. He was living in a tent at a Post Office construction camp outside Vanwyksvlei. He was converted mainly through Stan’s writing to him.

Stan could not escape the call to the ministry. 1950 saw Stan working at Capital Park and Wesley Church as assistant to the Rev. Alfred Salmon and as a Prospective Candidate for the ministry. Stan was accepted as a Probationer Minister in October 1950 and stationed at Primrose, Germiston for 1951 before being sent to Rhodes University in 1952.

Stan found academic life very difficult, but experienced spiritual nurture through the Rev. A. J. T. Cook’s “How Greater Flame” Campaign in the Eastern Cape, the dynamic preaching of the Rev. Charles Moore at Commemoration Church and the Saturday evening prayer meeting.  One very good result came from the Rhodes episode: Stan met Robin Beard who later became his wife. They had to wait 2 years to marry: he needed to be ordained, and she to finish her teacher training.

Stan then served in Durban County Circuit in 1954, the year of his ordination, before moving to Newcastle (1955 – 1956) where Stan and Robin were married in January 1956; This was followed by Matatiele for six months before a move to Mthatha  (1956-1962). The six and a half years in Mthatha was a time of growth for Stan. To keep up with preparation for preaching two sermons and a Bible Study each week Stan had to read and study. Both Stan’s and Robin’s children were born in Umtata. In the sixth year Stan got ill and was diagnosed as having epilepsy and was moved to a quieter station at Standerton (1963), before being moved again to The Pretoria East Circuit (!964 – 1967). Stan describes this as “one of the busiest, most challenging, and most satisfying times in my ministry. In addition to being District Youth Secretary. Stan started the process of joining small societies into what was to become the Valley Church.

Simon’s Town. (1968 – 1972). The next three years were heart-breaking. Under the Group Areas Act the Coloured members of his congregation were forcibly relocated. These people needed a great deal of counselling and practical and spiritual help. Stan’s emphasis here was to teach the people so that they could stand on their own spiritual feet wherever they went.  Stan was also District Youth Secretary and then District Missionary Secretary.

This was followed by periods in Camps Bay (1973 – 1975), Vanderbijl Park (1976 – 1980) and Primrose, Germiston. (1981 – 1991). The last lap ended where Stan had started as a Probationer in 1951. 30 years earlier Stan started at Primrose knowing nothing about ministry. Now he was able to start putting 30 years of experience into the work there.  

After retiring to their new home Stan assisted at the Fish Hoek Methodist Church, leading the morning Bible Study and preaching. The last three years of his life saw a gradual deterioration in his health, with a number of mini-strokes. Stan finally took leave of this life on Monday 5th August in the 63rd year of his ministry and the 88th year of his life.

I pay tribute to one whose passion was for teaching, training and encouraging faithful followers of Jesus. In addition to his Bible Study notes and preaching series, his passion for church camps, and his involvement with the Order of Christian Service, his ministry resulted in many effective Christian ministers: I think of people such as Mel vd Berg, Costa Stathakis, Joe Kruger, Peter Grobler, Eric Jurgensen, Gordon Edgar, Cathy du Plessis and Jimmy Ramage - and I am sure that I have forgotten to mention others.  

My father never wanted a tribute at his funeral. He was afraid that talking about him would take the attention away from Jesus. I hope that this account of his life would be seen as a tribute to the work of God in the life of a frail human being, who did great things because of Jesus.  

Stan writes: “Marrying Robin was the second best thing I did in my life; the first was responding to Jesus”.

 Thank to for all the support we have received.

The family would want especially to mention the special people who cared for Stan when he became frail: 
The carers - Eunica, Mandi, Valentia, Elizabeth
St John’s for their availability to help with anything we needed
Cape Medical Response – who always came again and again and always showed great compassion and support
We are grateful for the messages, email, and phone calls from family, friends and people we do not know.

Friday, August 09, 2013


Today I buried my father.

And I feel like I should mark this with some kind of profound comment. But I am somewhat overwhelmed.

I facilitated the tributes at his memorial service this afternoon. There were friends and colleagues at the service – some were his contemporaries, and some were mine. And we shared memories of ways in which he touched our lives. My Dad was adamant that he did not want tributes at his funeral – because he did not want adulation. He was a classic evangelical preacher, who wanted to honour Jesus, and was anxious that people should not be distracted from this by talking about by the life of a mere human being. I believe that we managed to speak about my father in a God-honouring way. I was humbled by the people who spoke of the way his teaching and encouragement touched their own living: humbled to see the size of the footsteps I walk in.   

Stanley James Grassow took leave of this life on Monday 5th August in the 88th year of his life. He was in the 57th year of his marriage to my mother. Dad has been a Methodist Minister for 63 years and has also been the pastor to our family, and extended family. I feel the weight of having no senior members of my family left: I have become the patriarch!  More than this, I feel my responsibility in taking over the role my father played in providing direction and values for the family.

And I ask your prayers as I begin a new chapter of my life – a life without a father to call on.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

My father is dying.

And I am 1 500km away from him, with commitments to life that prevent me from putting everything on hold to sit at his bed as he gradually fades away. I am grateful for my sister Jan who has taken over his care. She has organised nursing, and when there are no nurses – she sits through the night with him.

I wrote this for her to read to him from me:

Dear Dad
You have been a good father to me:
You gave me the skills and values I needed for life. From you I learned about faithfulness to my commitments, respect for my elders, and fair treatment towards all people, irrespective of their race, culture or social standing.

You set an example in your love for God, your passion for good worship, and your commitment to excellence in preaching.

Your love for singing rubbed off on me. You loved Methodist hymns. But you also loved fine choral music: I remember you singing parts from Handel's "Messiah" and seeing your obvious joy in carrying the baritone lines. I also learned to love poetry through your recitation of Wordsworth's "Daffodils" (I can hear you: "I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils").

Dad - I appreciate your sense of humour: you taught us limericks and doggerel that made us smile: here's one: "One fine day in the middle of the night, Two dead men got up to fight; one blind man to see fair play, one dumb man to shout 'hooray'; a paralysed donkey passing by - kicked the blind man in the eye ..."

One evening at Rocklands farm you took the time to teach me how to whistle - and after making me promise not to tell mom, you even helped me learn how to whistle at girls.

You taught me tennis, and we spent hours playing together at Camps Bay Club. I appreciated this father-son camaraderie.  During this time I learned far more than tennis: I learned the values of good sportsmanship: fair play, honesty, perseverance and a capacity to laugh at my mistakes.

Over the passing years we have not always agreed - as would be expected when the young puppy challenges the leader of the pack. But you never stopped praying for me - and I heard from others that you were proud of me - even when you couldn't tell me yourself.

So this is to say thank you for being my dad.

I love you.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Life

I love my life.
I love what I do.
I look forward to each day.

Now I know that there are many, many people who are forced to do work they do not like in order to stay alive; who spend all their energy meeting responsibilities; or seeing out a lifetime of drudgery because there is no other choice. Therefore I am grateful that I get to do things that I enjoy:

I teach Church history;
I am Chaplain to a seminary;
I am responsible for the formation of new pastors.

I do not claim to know everything I need to do these things.
I do not always get things right.... in fact I often make mistakes.
I do not believe that I am the only person who can do what I do.

But I love what I do.
And I am grateful.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Cane Rally

At a guess I would say that 500 motorcycles descended on Pongola this past weekend. [1] Did I hear you say “Where?” 

Well ride out of Pietermaritzburg – stopping first for that rider who forgot to put in fuel – and head for Ballito. You do need to stop along the way for a break: fresh air for some, and tobacconated air for others. Work your way through the long queue of cars at the King Shaka Airport turn off, and discover a crowd of toyi-toying protestors who are throwing logs and rocks onto the N2 Highway. Hold your breath and gun it paasst them. Stop at the Ballito Mall for breakfast, where you try to persuade the waitresses to join your trip. Then go in search of the back-up vehicle that forgot to turn off the highway for breakfast. Back on the road, make sure there are more “fresh-air” stops, turn a corner and there it is: Pongola. Just don’t ride too fast or you will be through it before you see the sign that says the Cane Rally.

This annual event is hosted on the Pongola High School grounds by the Pongola Cane Riders, who invite all motorcyclists to share the weekend with them. This is a combination of bikes, very interesting bikers, live music, a touch of alcohol, braai/potjiekos/curry & rice/footlong hotdogs, and a Saturday morning of drag racing and some amazing superbike tricks on the local air strip.

There were some fascinating characters – people who bring interest and variety to a such bike gathering: one rode a bike that stuggled to start, but once it got going it turned into a bleedin’ backfiring boney; one rode a 250cc that he kept at full throttle all the way in order to keep up with the bunch; there was a real gentleman of Bharat ancestry who was voted the most sociable man at the bar, only leaving when the sun came up; and there was that clear sighted man who claimed to have personally seen Captain Morgan at the rally – in fact he saw The Captain more than once and that was why he needed to stay awake all night.
Looking for The Captain

Please remember that “what happens at the rally – stays at the rally”: so all in all a quiet, well-behaved, early-to bed, meditative experience was had by the bikers who went with me. (This last sentence is inserted especially to reassure those wives and partners who did not go on the rally – trust me on this one: I am a priest!)


[1] Pongola, a small town named after the river that runs through it, is situated in northern KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), and exists because of the surrounding 50 km² of sugarcane and subtropical fruit plantations.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Road Trip

"Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."-Soren Kierkegaard"

Today I climb on my Triumph motorcycle and head north. I am joining a group of 17 other bikers from Pietermaritzburg, and we are on our way to a motorcycle rally in Pongola. This will be a weekend of bikes, trikes, bikers and other interesting things such as wheelies, burnouts, modifications, noise ... oh yes - also men behaving like overgrown adolescents! We all go for the love of the motorcycle. Chalk this weekend up to experiencing life.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Burying the Bishop's wife.

Victor and Nobefundisi Tshangela had been married 43 years. And then she died. Pneumonia & a blood clot in her lung brought this chapter of her life to a close. Now I am at her funeral.

It began with a sunrise service of Holy Communion at the local Methodist Church. This was mainly for family, close friends and colleagues of the Bishop. The procession then moved to a local mega-church building where we were joined by the wider community. This building is packed with a wide variety of people: Bishops from various Districts of the Methodist Church of SA; women dressed in the red,black & white uniform of the Women's Manyano; a black & white clad choir; clergy from all over the country, and many more people from the community. All come in response to a deep-rooted African imperative to show solidarity and respect when someone dies.

As I look around this crowd I am saddened that very few of my white colleagues are here. Us white guys do not understand these occasions. We try to avoid funerals. If we must go, we hope for a short ceremony with few words and no coffin. We do not understand the dynamics of black funerals, with the multitude of speeches of tribute, the many hymns, the crowds, and the obligatory food and socialising afterwards. What we miss is the way this can become moments of mutual support and encouragement - not only for the family, but also for everyone who has had to face death at some point. I believe that those who live closest to the bone in life learn how to draw on the support of community - and funerals become such a moment. When we are wealthy we can privatise our lives and avoid the wider community because we become accustomed to buying our way out of difficulty. We begin to think that we do not need community to survive.  But the reality is that we are designed to live in community. We need people to stay spiritually healthy. And for those who follow Jesus, we are sent into our communities as servants of all.

So I am here as an acknowledgement of my participation in our common humanity. And I am OK.

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