The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the current Dean of St George's Cathedral. File picture: Leon Muller/Independent Media
Recently a friend reminded me that “the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord”. He was commenting on the silence of the church compared with its outspokenness during apartheid.

Ironically, that hymn has reference to the colonial period of South Africa’s history and the matter of Bishop John Colenso versus Bishop Robert Gray.

Colenso, the first bishop of Natal, questioned the literal and historical accuracy of sections of the Bible. A tribunal presided over by Gray, the bishop of Cape Town, found Colenso guilty of heresy and deposed him. Colenso appealed to the Privy Council in London, and its Judicial Committee ruled in his favour. The Reverend Samuel J Stone was inspired to write the hymn, The Church’s one Foundation, at this time.

We can learn from this matter in the direct and honest engagement in the public square and within the ranks of the church. We can learn about a willingness to weigh the substance of faith on the scales of reason and experience.

Colenso arrived on our shores with his missionary purpose in part inspired by FD Maurice, a theologian and a proponent of Christian socialism. Maurice and those who shared his philosophy viewed Christian discipleship through the eyes of the early church fathers such as John Chrysostom, who said: “I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth. I point out constantly that those I accuse are not the rich, but the rapacious; wealth is one thing, covetousness another. Learn to distinguish.”

Sobantu (‘father of the people’), while not seeking to be controversial, was not silenced when controversy challenged his considered and compassionate response to Zulu customary practices. He also challenged the colonial courts in defence of Langalibalele, king of the amaHlubi, who had been falsely accused, found guilty of rebellion and sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island. While embraced by the Zulu people, Colenso found himself a pariah on the fringe of the colonial establishment.

The matters of identity and the nature of leadership continue to surface in the political landscape of a 21st century South Africa.

On Advent Sunday, December, 3, 2017, the New Apostolic Church (NAC) introduced a paradigm on how to build our Father’s house and its many dwelling places. Chief Apostle John Kriel sat between Father Austen Jackson and myself in the NAC’s auditorium in Silvertown, Athlone.

John was an uncle to the MK martyr, Ashley Kriel, and younger brother of the iconic bassist, Gary Kriel. It was brought home to me that being part of a community means responding to any need, making sacrifices for freedom, and the healing and nurturing gift of music.

The NAC’s children’s choir and orchestra gave a benefit concert to raise funds for St Marks in District Six after the arson attack in September. Three of the bishops of the NAC, along with Rev Jackson, attended Pioneer Primary School in Bonteheuwel. At the end of the concert, president John Kriel handed over a cheque of R80 000 to the people of the Parish of St Marks.

The NAC prides itself on fostering a spirit of voluntarism in its members. It seeks out the musically untutored and, while teaching them, sows the seeds of dignity.

Not so long ago, in that church, Paxton Fielies sang a Sally Albrecht composition: “I am small part of the world I have a small hand which to hold. But if I stand by your side and you put your hand in mine, Together we can be so strong and bold.”

* The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the current Dean of St George's Cathedral.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Weekend Argus