“I’m full of joy, redeemed, set free” is the slogan being used by the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. It is taken from the opening lines of a psalm-poem by the Rhineland cabaret artist and writer Hanns Dieter Hüsch (1925-2005).

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Regional Synod

Bringing painful memories together before God

The Rhineland Church has welcomed its new partner churches in South Africa during the regional synod 2019 with a Ceremony of Remembrance, and has broached a difficult bit of history. Watch the video now, most parts are in English.

The Rhenish Church of South Africa (RCSA) and the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) are members of United Evangelical Mission (UEM) since September 2018 and, as such, are officially partner churches. Executive Minister Barbara Rudolph, head of the Department of Theology and Ecumenism, explained that “in light of the eventful history of the South African churches, a special form of welcome was needed that would allow space for sometimes-difficult memories and an opportunity to bring these memories before God”.

In addition to a common invitation to prayer, the Ceremony of Remembrance included an interview during which journalist Bettina von Clausewitz took a look at the past together with representatives from the South African churches. Also taking part were UEM General Secretary Volker Dally, a representative of the Rhenish Church Synod Hongkong and doctoral candidate Malte Stollewerk, who is researching the history of the Rhineland Church in South Africa.

Painful break in the 1930s

The South African partner churches – or at least some of their local church congregations – have Rhenish roots. These go back to the Rhenish Missionary Society, which started its work in South Africa in 1829 and founded various mission stations in the Cape Town region. Some 20 local church congregations came into being over the next 100 years. Then came the painful break in the 1930s: The Rhenish Missionary Society withdrew from South Africa and transferred its local church congregations to the Dutch Reformed Church, a church which supported the apartheid regime.

“It was a painful experience,” explained Tommy Solomons from the RCSA. “Our spiritual mothers and fathers abandoned us and left us behind as orphans.” The black local church congregations had no say in matters and this step, which congregational members experienced as a huge breach of trust, had spiritual and economic consequences. “We lost our identity and our property. The Church did the same thing to us as did the apartheid regime,” Solomons said.

Transfer against the will of congregations and missionaries

Volker Dally, general secretary of the UEM, which has its origins in the Rhenish Missionary Society, explained that the decision to transfer the local church congregations to the Dutch Reformed Church was made by the General Assembly in Germany – against the will of the local church congregations and missionaries in South Africa.

“The Missionary Society was in a complicated financial situation. It needed to consolidate its budget and, in order to do so, to give up mission work in certain areas,” Dally said.

That this history was broached and brought before God through a reconciliation ritual with water and oil during the Ceremony of Remembrance meant a lot to the African partners. “The wrongdoings of the past are being admitted and we are expressing our readiness to begin a new relationship,” Solomons said.

Llewellyn MacMasters, URCSA moderator, added: “I find it important to take a critical look back. And to look ahead together. We are one Church of Christ. The world gives us challenges that we as churches must face together.”

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ekir.de / Christina Schramm / 11.01.2019

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