Index Page   The Lord Took Me


Church Life

Both of our parents were children of missionary immigrants and had never seen the land of their forefathers. In fact that land no longer held an attraction for them. Africa had become their home and Germany was unimaginably far away in those days. I had often wondered whether, in Germany, one would have had, under one’s feet, firm ground such as it was with us at Table Mountain.

At family devotions, every morning and evening, we heard, repeatedly, the words of the time honoured prayer: ‘…that the fullness of the heathen might turn to the Lord and Israel and Ishmael also be saved…’ Our forefathers had brought it from home and prayed it here in a heathen land. Their children had held on to it and had added it to their family prayers. To us it sounded mysterious and solemn. We little understood that the heathen lived round about us, and that our playmates with whom we moulded clay oxen and searched for wild figs were all heathen children. Israel and Ishmael were, for us, words without meaning and without responsibility.

On Sundays, every German living in our valley drove or rode to the Church beyond the river, six miles from Table Mountain. In the rainy season we had to cross the swaying wooden bridge on which horses and donkeys shied, then jibbed stubbornly. Later the government built a cement bridge and made the crossing easy and unexciting.

The simple red brick church stood at the foot of a mountain strewn with stones and boulders. Next to it were the school, vicarage and teacher’s house. Nearby were several little houses where the families sat in bad weather during the ‘interval,’ drank coffee and ate sandwiches brought from home. Half an hour separated the first service from the second service. In front of the church stood the wooden belfry housing the deep-throated bell with its beautifully majestic peals. This bell once came loose and hurtled down to the bell-ringer’s feet. The astounded young man, rope in hand, suddenly found the bell before him, and, scarcely believing his senses, tried to make it ring with his foot. It, however, remained as silent as the grave.

Long before the start of the service, horse and mule drawn chariots arrived; each was outspanned in its own special place and was harnessed up again only after ‘second church.’ The young people came riding on horses – proud and beautiful animals which were treated like personal friends. In wintertime one stood in the sun according to age groups. The older folk spoke of politics and world events and sometimes of business affairs. The young men talked of horses, of dogs and of love. The schoolboys shared with each other the adventures they had had while shooting pigeons or while swimming. What the mothers and young girls talked about we could never really discover. One thing I knew of my mother; she waited eagerly for the beginning of the service so that she might hear the Word of God.

When the bell rang at nine o’clock sharp – at nine o’clock by the pastor’s watch which was always much too early – all of us would stream into the church. The young men trooped up to the gallery where they were less exposed to the eye of the preacher than in the nave below, and the rest sorted themselves into their customary seats below. A short prelude would then be played on the harmonium and we would sing the old Lutheran anthems at a very slow pace. For festival days the mixed choir used to practise revival hymns which we loved – though none of us understood them. After a rather prolix liturgy the pastor ascended the pulpit and preached at great length. ‘Pastor’ had come from Germany, and, with the exception of the teacher, was the only one whom we had to address as ‘Sir’. Everyone else was called by their Christian name, the older ones being addressed as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunt.’ This with us, incidentally, indicates not only relationship but also seniority. Such intimacy, however, was not possible with ‘Pastor.’