Father Clive McBride spoke of “rawse-pink” vestments. I had no idea what that was and maintained my silence, hoping that some clue would surface later in the conversation.
I sat before him respectfully, unlike that day of our meeting in Bishopscourt in 1980. He had been part of a five-person panel which had interviewed me to discern my suitability for the Anglican priesthood. One member of the panel, referred to by some as Bybel-kop - a reference to the middle-path that ran from his Brylcreemed crown to above his frown-creased forehead, creating the semblance of an open Bible - had emphasised that “going to seminary doesn’t guarantee ordination. It’s just part of the testing period”. The second person to interview me was Father Clive.
He had been a fire-brand in his day, a celebrated chaplain to the black-consciousness movement. Many of its luminaries, such as Barney Pityana and Steve Biko, frequented the McBride home in Maryland Street, Factreton. But in the late 1970s, he had been anointed by the fire of the Holy Spirit of the charismatic movement. It seemed as if its flames had doused Father Clive’s revolutionary zeal.
As I sat before him, he eased his lanky frame into a semi-reclining position. After a while, he told me: “So, you a church youth worker. You guys mos don’t work with the skokaas.”
I figured, by the challenging tone of his voice, that was I being dismissed as a Black Petty Booswah sturvie who knew nothing of the rough edges of life. Skokaas was McBride for lumpenproletariat defined in the Communist Manifesto as “the ‘dangerous class,’ the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society”. Before I could respond, he asked if I was Stanley’s boy. My dad and he had been friends, he told me.
On the day of the “rawse-pink” mention I was visiting Father Clive a few months or so after my ordination to the priesthood in December of 1985. We had met previously at a contemplative group meeting led by Father John Rowland. I was aware of my ignorance of many of the ritual conventions of the church. The Book of Common Prayer, a treasury of doctrine rich rites and ceremonies had been swept aside as the church was engulfed by the rough waves of the liturgical revisionism of the 1970s. My generation of priests had been left bereft of what had been good and worthy ways of leading the faithful in the acts of worship known by our parents and beyond. We were well aware of our lack and sought the advice of likes of McBride, Bob de Maar, David Binns.
Father Clive spoke of the rose-coloured vestments used on Mothering Sunday or Laetare Sunday, Latin for “rejoice”. A reference to the command to laetari, to rejoice “with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her”. To rejoice that we have another opportunity to recommit as Mothering Sunday marks the midpoint of the Lenten journey. Many of us might have fallen off the high mountain of our best intention. The 40 days of Lent are characterised by frugality, the choice to fast in the case of some and to commit to acts of charity, penance and reconciliation. At the deanery on that day we will delight in bowls of boeber, that culinary delight which includes vermicelli, sago, enhanced with cardamom and rose water.
Tomorrow’s Mothering Sunday at the Cathedral will be especially celebratory. During the 9.30am Mass, we will receive and bless a set of rose-coloured vestments gifted by the Lester family in memory of their mother and spouse, the late Colleen Lester.
* The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.