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.