While churches across the world celebrated Pentecost Sunday – an ancient feast of the Christian Church held 50 days after Easter – the trouble-torn Anglican St Alban the Martyr Cathedral in Pretoria held a service stripped of ritual.
St Alban’s Cathedral is at the centre of strife and struggle – last week, the parish and the parish council took Diocesan Bishop Jo Seoka to court over his decision to close the cathedral.
The two sides were urged by the court to try to find a solution agreeable to all rather than fighting it out in legal hearings.
The court ordered that a mediator be appointed within 30 days to try to resolve the differences in the parish.
The cathedral does not have a priest and parishioners have not celebrated the Eucharist since November.
On Sunday, the 130-year-old church was to have marked Pentecost Sunday – an event much like Christmas and Lent, but which is celebrated as a great event that marked the birth of the Christian church.
However, activities at St Alban’s have been disrupted over the past few months.
Confirmation classes, Sunday school, Bible studies and the tradition of visiting the sick and praying for them have been affected.
“We at St Alban’s are not fulfilling the mission of the church,” said alternate church warden Sibusiso Mnguni.
“But we will continue to stand for what we believe is right for the parish.”
Mnguni said taking Seoka to court had been an attempt to restore things to normal.
“There was no justification for the closure of the church. How can he throw us out and leave us with nowhere to worship?” he said.
On Sunday, lay ministers David Sheppard and Nonhle Ndlovu led the service, much against the wishes of the congregation.
Congregants had asked the bishop not to send Ndlovu, because her prayers so offended and provoked them that there was a mass walkout during one of her services in March.
Seoka informed the congregation that Ndlovu would continue leading them in prayer until the church decided otherwise.
He also told church wardens that only he had the authority to appoint people to officiate at services.
Seoka forbade them from using the microphones, saying only those he gave authority to conduct services, and not the church wardens, could use them.
On Sunday, notices and announcement were read without them.
“I am in the unenviable position of having to talk without a mic to give you an update on parish issues,” said Mnguni.
“We are aggrieved because this has been going on for a while now. We were unable to observe Lent and our Good Friday celebrations were not satisfactory either.”
Problems at the church started when parishioners alleged there was reason to suspect the bishop of misappropriating cathedral funds. They accused him of dishonesty and breach of trust and of abuse of power.
They allege Seoka used R500 000 of the diocese’s money to pay for his bond on his home and that R162 000 set aside to pay for legal representation is unaccounted for.
Problems came to a head when Seoka suspended the dean, the Reverend Livingstone Ngewu last year, forbidding him from ministering in the diocese – a move that caused a deep division in the church.
The two clerics were at loggerheads for almost a year before Ngewu died in February.
Ngewu had been accused of undermining the authority of the bishop, among other things. He was suspended and barred from services at the cathedral.
Two memorial services were held for him in Pretoria – one by members of the parish council and senior church members who defied an order that they should wait for the service led by Seoka.
At the service held by Seoka, the Anglican Archbishop, Thabo Makgoba, called for the problems to be put to a stop.
Makgoba called on Seoka to drop all charges against Ngewu and told him and the cathedral parish, the chapter and the synod to honour his request before Ngewu’s funeral.
He also instructed them to hang Ngewu’s portrait in the vestry as they had those of all other deans.
“What is happening here is sad,” Mnguni said.
“It has weakened the parish body, but we remain keen to see its restoration to normality.”
Parish members said Makgoba’s instructions had not been followed.