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Archive for the tag “Methodist Church”

St Stithians College: 60 years old

Sixty years ago today the first pupils arrived at St Stithians College, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

StStithiansSt Stithians was a new Methodist Church school, established as a result of a bequest by two Cornish builders who had prospered in Johannesburg – Albert Charles Collins and William Mountstephens. The school took its name from the village of Stithian in Cornwall, where A.C. Collins was born. After the selection of a suitable piece of ground and the erection of the first buildings, the school was ready for its first classes to begin on 28 January 1953, and boarders were told to arrive the evening before.

I went to St Stithians College, the first day it opened. My mother took me there in our little Wolseley 8. All my things were in a big tin trunk, and when we arrived a bloke came up and introduced himself as John Bennett. Another boy, Michael Westhorpe, went around introducing everyone to everyone else. Since it was a new school, we were all strangers to each other. When enough of us had arrived, the headmaster, Mr Mears, came along and took us on a tour.

We went to see the sewage purification plant. Mr Mears explained how it worked, a large concrete tank filled with stones with rotating metal pipes that squirted water over the stones. There were also special flies whose job was to eat the shit. He said we wouldn’t drink the purified water, but that it would be used to water the gardens. Then we walked back towards Collins House, and a few more people arrived — Michael Westhorpe introduced one of them to me as “Unite — you know, unity — community”. He thought that was very funny.

At 6.00 pm the the headmaster came along and said, “we might as well drift over for supper.” So we followed him, picking our way through piles of pipes and building materials down a ramp at the end of the wattle covered terrace. We lined up on the terrace outside the dining hall, from the tallest to the shortest. Douglas Bennett was the shortest, and the Mr Mears said he was the full stop. George Coetzee, the next shortest, was the comma. I was the third shortest, but didn’t warrant a punctuation mark.

Then we went in and sat down at 3 tables, ten at each, with the shortest ones at one table, the biggest at another, and the middle sized ones in between. Erroll Johnson was the youngest of us; he, Douglas Bennett and I were all 11 years old. The others were 12, 13 or 14. Ian Swan, the oldest, was 15.

There were four classes when the school started; grades one and two, and forms one and two (which would now be called Grades 8 & 9). The juniors were all day boys, however, so there were none of them there that first night. The form one classroom was in the largest dormitory in Collins House, in the centre of the building at the top of the main stairs. We all assembled there, and Mr Mears showed us where we were to go to sleep. Another guy arrived in the middle of his pep talk, and while the head was getting him sorted out, Ian Unite started to play the fool, and Mr Mears lost his temper, shouted at him, and then smiled. We thought that was strange when he seemed so angry. We soon learned to be very careful when when we saw that funny little smile.

The new arrival was big and dark. His name was Manuel Neves, and he came from Mocambique. I was put in a dormitory with two others, Christopher Aitken and Edward Reeves. John Bennett and George Coetzee were not happy about that, because they were older than I was, and they had been put in the biggest dormitory, with six people in it.

When we were going to bed, Michael Westhorpe and Clive Woolley, a bloke with red hair, came and made off with my blanket, and Mr Mears came upon us when I was struggling to get back, and told us to be quiet and go to bed.

So ended the first night at St Stithians.

About a week later, on Tuesday 3 February, there was a kind of unofficial official opening of the school. We missed some classes, and went to the dining hall, where some important people made speeches, and the picture below appeared in The Star.

George Coetzee having his badge examined by the Revd J. Wesley Hunt, the Methodist superintendent minister. Others, from l;eft to right:Douglas Bennett, Michael Westhorpe, Anthony Harvey, Marinus Endenburg, Graham Wilkinson, Christopher Aitken (with glasses), Hugh Cruddas, James Vickers, John Bennett

George Coetzee having his badge examined by the Revd J. Wesley Hunt, the Methodist superintendent minister. Others, from left to right:Douglas Bennett, Michael Westhorpe, Anthony Harvey, Marinus Endenburg, Graham Wilkinson, Christopher Aitken (with glasses), Hugh Cruddas, James Vickers, John Bennett

There were only two completed buildings, Collins House, and the dining hall, so we lived and had our classes in Collins House. Our Form I classroom was a large central upstairs room, and the Grade I class met in the room immediately below. The Grade I and II classes did a lot of singing, and I knew the tunes by heart within a couple of weeks. It was only some decades later that I discovered the name of one of them, hearing it on the car radio late one night — The Keel Row. Another was Ach Du Lieber Augustin.

We had a good view of the building operations on the first classroom block and the chapel, which were often more interesting than the lessons, especiually when they began pushing two-wheeled barrows with concrete up a ramp for the first floor. The concrete was poured on top of ceramic beams reinforced with steel rods, which was then a new method of construction.

On the 28th January, the first day of classes, we were introduced to the funny little maths man, E.M. Harris. “The name’s Harris,” he said. “You’ll find out the other two later.” He taught maths, physics and chemistry, while Mr Mears taught English, Latin and history. Michael Lewis referred to Mr Mears as “The Boss”, and the term stuck, and he was “The Boss” to us from then on.

On 11 August there was the official official opening of the school, with the laying of the foundatio0n stone of the chapel, and the unveiling of a brass plaque by Mrs Mountstephens. The new classrooms were ready for occupation at the end of the third term, and we carried all our desks down there. When the chapel walls had reached roof height Mr Bailey, the foreman of the building operations, invited us all to sign our names on a piece of cardboard, which was dropped down between the inner and outer walls of the chapel. We speculated on whether someone would discover it several hundred years from now, but it will probably be eaten by termites long before then, It was just ordinary corrugated cardboard from a box lid.

At the end of the year school photos were taken, and I think those were the main photographic record of the first year of St Stithians. A couple of years later there was a darkroom and a photography club, and several pupils had cameras and used them, but there was nothing like that in the first year.

Form I, St Stithians College, 1953. Back: Marinus Endenburg, Christopher Cook, Manuel Neves, Christopher Aitken, Graham Wilkinson, Clive Lotter, Clive Ashfierld, Michael Lewis, Edward Reeves. Middle Row: John Kelly, Lindsay MacMillan, Cliuve Woolley, Michael Westhorpe, Peter Wallis, John Mair, Angthony Harvey, James Vickers, Anthony Campbell.Front Row: George Coetzee, Stephen Hayes, Robert Taylor, Edwin Montague Harris (Class Master), John Bennett, Errol Johnson, Douglas Bennett.

Form I, St Stithians College, 1953. Back: Marinus Endenburg, Christopher Cook, Manuel Neves, Christopher Aitken, Graham Wilkinson, Clive Lotter, Clive Ashfield, Michael Lewis, Edward Reeves. Middle Row: John Kelly, Lindsay MacMillan, Clive Woolley, Michael Westhorpe, Peter Wallis, John Mair, Anthony Harvey, James Vickers, Anthony Campbell.
Front Row: George Coetzee, Stephen Hayes, Robert Taylor, Edwin Montague Harris (Class Master), John Bennett, Errol Johnson, Douglas Bennett.

John and Douglas Bennett, Peter Wallis and Michael Westhorpe did not return to the school after the end of 1953.

See also St Stithians College Founders Day, 2008.

Steyn Krige, RIP

One of my old school teachers died this week.

I suppose I’ve reached an age where I should not be surprised at such things, but I’m nevertheless saddened by his passing.

He was Marthinus Theunis Steyn Krige, known as Steyn, and he was my geography and scripture teacher at St Stithians College, Randburg, from 1954-1958.

I learnt of his death from an e-mail sent out by the St Stithians Alumni Association

It is with deep regret and sadness that we must inform you that Mr Steyn Krige passed away peacefully on Tuesday night, 27 September 2011, after a long illness.

Steyn was the second Headmaster of the College from 1962 – 68 and the recently-opened class room block at the Boys’ College was named the Krige Block in his honour.

Steyn matriculated from Rondebosch Boys’ High with a first class Matric and taught at that school before moving to St Stithians. At Saints he became Second Master under Wally Mears as well as Mountstephens Housemaster. He succeeded Mr Mears as Headmaster. He was a conscientious and dedicated teacher and a deeply committed Christian. He was instrumental in founding and developing the Randburg Methodist Church.

Whilst Headmaster of St Stithians, he was also Chairman of the HMC, forerunner of the present day SAHISA (South African Heads of Independent Schools Association) and, as Chairman of the HMC, he played a major role in the opening of private schools to all races.

Steyn was a profound educational thinker and many of his innovations are still with us – the option of African languages, Integrated Studies, a three term year and the tutor system.

He was also a progressive educationalist and, after leaving St Stithians, went on to found Woodmead School which was a beacon of liberal education in the 1970s and ’80s. He also founded the New Era Schools Trust, an educational trust, in 1981 together with Dean Yates, a former headmaster of St John’s.

Our sincerest sympathies and condolences go to Steyn’s widow, Hazel, their children and grandchildren, including Ken, a former teacher at the Boys’ College and currently Headmaster of Felixton College in KZN. Please hold them in your thoughts and prayers at this sad time.

His funeral will take place on Friday 30 September 2011 at 14h30 at the Randburg Methodist Church.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Lowry
Rector

David Knowles
Headmaster: Boys’ College

Four years ago a fellow blogger challenged people to write about five people, living or dead, who had influenced our spiritual path in a positive way, and I took up the challenge, and this is what I wrote about Steyn Krige Notes from underground: Five influences

He taught me for most of my time in high school at St Stithians College from the age of 12 to the age of 17. For the first couple of years he taught Geography, Chemistry and Scripture. Chemistry wasn’t his field, and some of his experiments went horribly wrong, and I think he cookbooked his lessons. But he was a good teacher, and even when his experiments went wrong and the expected didn’t happen, we knew what was supposed to have happened.

The year before he came to the school I had begun to break away from my atheist/agnostic upbringing and become interested in reading the Bible, and Steyn Krige hosted voluntary Bible study groups in the housemaster’s flat where he lived with his family. He also arranged camps during the school holidays — in the Western Cape, in the mountains of Lesotho and in other places. And he it was who guided me and showed what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

I rather hope that someone will write a biography of Steyn Krige one day, because the announcement of his death sent out by the school was almost as notable for what it didn’t say as for what it did say.

It said that a classroom block at the school was named after him. I’m glad to hear that, because to my recollection the school treated him pretty shabbily, and it’s good to know that they perhaps tried to make amends in that way.

The obituary says that after leaving St Stithians he went on to found Woodmead School, but did not mention the fact that the reason for his leaving St Stithian’s was that he was sacked. The story of his sacking was all over the Sunday newspapers back in 1969, but the reasons for it were never revealed. Perhaps now is the time to tell it.

When I heard of Steyn’s death I did a Google search for him, and discovered that something similar had happened at Woodmead School, in a fragmentary anonymous article rescued from from Yahoo’s Geocities disaster. What happened to Woodmead Schoolo?:

In December 1998, Woodmead School, the first fully multi-racial school in South Africa, closed its doors after twenty-eight years. Employees who had served the school faithfully were evicted from their houses on the property. Some had been there from the beginning. Most had nowhere to go. To exacerbate matters the school’s Board breached numerous tenets of the National Labor Laws. It withheld information. It ‘fobbed off’ concerned parents. In the end, several members of the Board fraudulently ‘donated’ Woodmead’s Preparatory School to a spurious company. It was then secretly sold to Crawford College for a fraction of its value. The people who closed Woodmead School didn’t understand its unique place in South African history. What occurred was a tragedy. Why did it happen?

An anonymous article rescued from Yahoo’s dustbin is not much to go on, but it does make the questions What happened? Why did it happen? more insistent. It seems that in his teaching career Steyn Krige experienced a considerable amount of back-stabbing.

The Woodmead article goes on to say

When I arrived at Woodmead in 1981, Steyn Krige was still the Headmaster. He had pioneered much of what was unique about Woodmead – the Tutor System, the Tier System, its democratically elected Student Council and Integrated Studies. He particularly liked to discuss Integrated Studies, one of the school’s shining lights, and he would periodically announce that it was time for a conference to assess the current progress of the subject. In theory, Integrated Studies replaced English, Geography, History and Social Studies, but in practice it encompassed a great deal more. Emphasis was placed on themes rather than topics. Each theme was approached from different directions and students were encouraged to explore the theme along a range of pathways. Skills were emphasized and independent learning encouraged and fostered. The students were enormously enthusiastic and supportive. There were classes of fifty but the strength and breadth of the subject offset the disadvantage of large classes. What emerged from the Integrated Studies program were highly motivated students who approached their final years of secondary school with confidence and enthusiasm. In 1982, I conducted a series of interviews with Standard 8 (Grade 10) Integrated Studies students who, without exception, spoke in glowing terms about the value of the subject, its significance in the school curriculum and the positive way it had influenced their academic progress.

When I was at St Stithians Steyn Krige was only deputy headmaster and there was no talk of “Integrated Studies”, but I think I experienced some of the precursors. On one occasion we had a double period of Scripture and Geography, taught by Steyn, and the one flowed seamlessly into the other with no break, with wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of topics, including the end of the world and flying saucers. We rather smugly thought that we had put one over Steyn, and got away with turning a formal lesson into a bull session. But actually people paid far more attention in the bull session than they did in formal lessons. Perhaps that’s where Steyn got the idea, or perhaps he already had the idea, and took advantage of a double period to try it out.

Reading the paragraphs above about Woodmead, it is also clear that by South African standards of the 1970s, Steyn Krige was a loony leftist. By American standards of the present day, he would be regarded as belonging to the Religious Right.

Steyn Krige’s theology was Conservative Evangelical.

St Stithians was a Methodist Church school, and a Methodist minister would come and preach in the school chapel on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week the religious life of the school was guided and directed by Steyn Krige (a Methodist) and Derek Hudson-Reed (a Baptist) and they ran the informal evangelistic “hot gospel” sessions on Sunday evenings, which usually ended in an “altar call”, and the voluntary Bible study and prayer meetings where we learned far more than in formal “Scripture” classes. Steyn was a Pre-Trib Pre-Millenniallist, though he never used those terms and I only came to understand what they meant several decades later. He taught the “rapture”, though he never used such fancy theological terms, and it was only much later that I discovered the theological meaning of that as well.

So when I was at school, Steyn Krige was showing that it was possible to be politically liberal (and even radical) while being theologically conservative, and I’m sure that those aspects of his life were pretty well integrated too.

And I suspect that this may have been one reason why he was sacked. School boards, and even the boards of church schools, tend to be composed of hard-headed businessmen (who, it would be hoped, would be good at raising money for the school), but to such businessmen both religious fanaticism and political radicalism would be anathema. But I’m guessing now — that’s why it would be good to know the real story.

I try to think of what my life might have been like if Steyn Krige had not influenced me as he did, and somehow I just can’t imagine it.

Methodists: gays out of the closet and refugees under the carpet?

One of the bigger news items last week was the suspension of Methodist bishop Paul Verryn by his ecclesiastical superiors. This came as quite a shock to many of us who know him, and one of the places I naturally looked to for information was some of my Methodist blogging friends. There are quite a few Methodist bloggers in South Africa, so one hoped to learn something from them.

Paul Verryn has been in the news lately for opening the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg to homeless refugees, mostly from Zimbabwe.

Dion Forster wrote about him a few months ago in Dion’s random ramblings: Central Methodist Mission, Bishop Paul Verryn and compassion

A couple of years ago Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu remarked that Anglicans seemed to be obsessed with sex, and were discussing sex to the exclusion of more important issues, such as HIV/Aids, Zimbabwe, and the situation in Darfur (see BBC NEWS: Anglicans ‘obsessed’ by gay issue), and indeed some Anglican blogs, not just in South Africa, but in other parts of the world, seem to focus on little else but sexual morality. I blogged about it at Notes from underground: Anglican introversion, and one Baptist blogger (Matt Stone of Australia) remarked “Consumerism, pluralism, spirituality, collapse of Christian credibility and moral authority in the media and public discourse … don’t these issues deserve some attention? I don’t recall Jesus being that sex obsessed” (the link on his blog has changed, and I can no longer find it, but he did say it).

Now it seems to be the turn of Methodists. Several Methodist bloggers have been blogging about homosexuality recently, but I haven’t been able to find any who has mentioned the suspension of Paul Verryn. I blogged about it here, and people from other Christian groups in South Africa have Twittered about it, but there seems to be a great silence from South African Methodist bloggers.

Now perhaps I’m sticking my neck out too far here, but it seems to me that Paul Verryn is the Methodist Desmond Tutu, one of those church leaders who make the “don’t rock the boat” kind of leaders uncomfortable because they “speak the truth to power”. And to me as an outsider the whole thing is beginning to look more and more like a hatchet job. When Jesus was arrested it was a plot hatched by the secular rulers and the religious authorities between them, and a very mixed bunch came to arrest him. And something similar seems to be happening here, with the addition of the media jumping in as well.

In December 2003 an informal group of Johannesburg church leaders of different denominations urged the South African government to be more active in opposing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Paul Verryn was one of the prime movers of this. The group was attacked by other church leaders who were close to the government at the time, notably Frank Chikane and Cedric Mayson, and they likened Paul Verryn and the other Johannesburg leaders to George Bush. The comparison is utterly ridiculous, because at the same time Paul Verryn was investigating possible ways of having George Bush charged with war crimes. In the very same week Desmond Tutu appeared on the front pages of newspapers, attacking the South African government for failing to criticise the Mugabe regime for human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

No one knows how many Zimbabwe refugees there are in South Africa, but very few of them have been granted political asylum, because the South African government does not want to acknowledge the gross human rights abuses that have been taking place in Zimbabwe. One of the South African groups that has been aware of those abuses is Cosatu, the Congress of South African trade unions (the Mugabe regime has been particularly hard on trade unionists), and Cosatu has recently been under sustained attack from the ANC youth league, one of its political alliance partners.

A few months ago government officials and politicans visited the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg where homeless refugees, most of them from Zimbabwe, have been given shelter, and threatened to close the church, and blamed Paul Verryn for the problems there. The real cause of the problem, of course, is the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, from which most of the refugees come, and the secondary cause is the South African government, which fails to acknowledge the problem and make provision for the refugees. People like Paul Verryn try to apply a private enterprise solution, and get attacked for it.

There have been reports of sexual immorality and criminal activity among the refugees staying in the Central Methodist Church. I am not surprised. Just because people are refugees does not mean that they are all necessarily good people.

But the announcement of the suspension of Paul Verryn by the authorities of the Methodist Church made no mention of the disciplinary charges against him, allowing, perhaps deliberately, some very nasty media speculation and innuendoes. On Friday the Johannesburg Star published the most unflattering picture of him they could find, while other press reports practically invited readers to infer that he was a criminal, running a bordello, and deliberately allowing criminals to operate unchecked on the church premises.

So I am really quite anxious to know what Methodist bloggers think of this, rather than abstract questions of sexual morality. The gays may be coming out of the closet, but why are the refugees apparently being swept under the carpet?

Central Methodist Church could face closure

Central Methodist Church could face closure – Mail & Guardian Online:

Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church, which houses over 3 000 Zimbabwean refugees, could face closure after a visit by the Gauteng legislature’s health and social development portfolio committee early on Friday morning.

‘We will make a recommendation to close the church after witnessing the horror that we saw this morning,’ said committee chairperson Molebatsi Bopape.

‘If I could have it my way, I would close it down today.’

Quite how they plan to “close” the church is not clear. There might be a slight problem with the constitution, which guarantees religious freedom.

But the fact is that Bishop Paul Verryn has been asking the provincial and municipal authorities for years now to do something to help homeless refugees, and they have done nothing concrete. The church opening its door to homeless refugees is “horror” — but what then is the attitude of provincial and municipal authorities, who would prefer them to sleep in shop doorways?

And all credit to the South African Council of Churches, who have not only supported their member church, the Methodist Church of South Africa, but have, in a clear and lucid statement reminded national, provincial and local government of their responsibilities. Reggie: SACC Media Statement on the situation at Central Methodist Church:

It is well known that the living conditions of the refugees at the CMC are poor and often appalling. No one wants to live in an over-crowded situation where there is no privacy, few sanitation facilities, etc. People are not living in these conditions out of choice. They are not living there because Bishop Paul Verryn and the staff at CMC have invited and encouraged them to live there. Nor is this the reason for Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF) camping at the CMC. The people have moved into CMC because it responded to a humanitarian crisis – to which few other people, including the local, provincial and national government responded. It is the calling of the church to provide care and refuge to the destitute and the vulnerable.

While it is easy to turn CMC into a villain in this scenario, SACC warns against jumping to that conclusion. The primary villain, if there is one, first and foremost are such governments as that of Zimbabwe and of those African countries whose nationals live at the church. Within South Africa the primary villain is government; and not the Central Methodist Church.

For far too long the South African government has turned a blind eye to Robert Mugabe’s autocratic and kleptocratic fascist distatorship, which is why millions of Zimbabweans have voted with their feet and fled to neighbouring countries to seek refuge. They are here, in part, because the South African government coddled and cossetted and pampered their oppressor, and doesn’t even want to acknowledge their existence because to do so would expose the unpalatable truth that Zimbabwe under Mugabe is a fascist dictatorship.

Ms Bopape, your government helped to create this situation, and the Methodist Church just responded to it. If you regard it with “horror”, then the best long-term solution is to help make the homeland of the refugees habitable again, instead of turning a blind eye to the repression and gross violations of human rights that are taking place there. And until Zimbabwe becomes habitable again, do something about helping the homeless refugees now.

Reggie Nel quotes the SACC statement in full on his blog, and it is well worth reading.

Want to do something about it? Sign this petition for a start.

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