Sunday, January 27, 2008

Central Methodist Mission - Cape Town

Greetings from Cape Town

The first minister of the Methodist Church in Cape Town and the founder of South African Methodism, The Rev. Barnabas Shaw, arrived in Cape Town on April 14, 1816. I’m not going to take you through all of the succeeding years and the details contained in their A Brief History pamphlet. If you want those, send and email to and ask for a copy. Suffice it to say there have been multiple structures and many ministers over these years.

The current building, then called the Metropolitan Church, was constructed in 1878/79 and opened on November 12, 1879. The racial separation of the Methodists had begun in 1837 and this church was a predominantly White church. The Buitenkant Street Methodist Church, 6-8 blocks away, was the predominantly Coloured church, converted from a large wine warehouse in 1883.

The Metropolitan Church was attended by many prominent citizens of Cape Town and was famous for its fine preachers and outstanding choirs. Metro continued to attract large congregations until the late 1960s when urban sprawl and other factors began to take their toll and attendance and membership declined. By the late 1980s only a few dozen people attended services.

John Delaney, the only remaining member from that period, remembers those times well. He relates how the church was made an offer by Royal Dutch Shell, the petroleum company. They wanted the land for their headquarters and offered to tear the church down, rebuild it elsewhere and establish a maintenance fund to care for the building forever. The offer was refused.

In the meantime, the Buitenkant Street church served the people of District Six (an area of Cape Town to the east) and was a thriving congregation until District Six was declared a White Group Area in 1966. Thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes, including most members of the Buitenkant Street congregation. During this time of upheaval the congregation participated in the growing resistance to apartheid and in particular to the destruction of District Six. Despite attempts to break the spirit of the people through forced removals, detention and harassment, the congregation continued to commute from the suburbs to Buitenkant Street on Sundays and a lively congregation of more them 100 people still worshiped regularly in the late 1980s.

These two congregations maintained their separation until 1988 when they decided to amalgamate and form the Central Methodist Mission. We were told that this amalgamation was somewhat controversial and that many of the Met members moved their membership to another church Today a vibrant congregation with more than 200 members worships at the church on Greenmarket Square. The Buitenkant Street church accommodates a number of outreach projects to the people of the city, including the Ons Plek Shelter for Female Street Children, Stepping Stones Children’s Centre and the District Six Museum.

So, that is a brief background of the church we attend while here in Cape Town. It doesn’t begin to tell the story of the warmth of the people we have met.

Themba Mntambo, the current minister, is one of the four ministers I have experienced in my lifetime who have connected with me. I’ll have to give that realization some thought and use it in my current role, searching for a new pastor back home.

Ron & Gwen Abrahams and his sisters who have been so welcoming and kind. And many more whose names I cannot pronounce or remember.

I almost forgot another outreach effort maintained by CMM. As mentioned, they are in the heart of Cape Town, adjacent to an active market square which hosts hundreds of vendors, tourists, local business people and the inevitable homeless and panhandlers. The church is open to everyone from 10am to 3pm Monday through Saturday. Tour groups wander through – workers stop in to use the toilets – people stop in for a moment of prayer and peace. It’s a stunning contrast to us in our suburban churches which we keep so tightly locked up.

Think about it.

Blessings to all,


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Drakensberg I

Dear Friends and Family

Last week Floyd and I had a real “Out of Africa” experience. Have you ever seen the movie? Do you remember scenes somewhat like this, with miles of open grasslands and mountains in the distance? In our case, often the mountains were covered in mist; you could only see glimmers of their shapes. On the plains during the day, the sound of wind and call of the birds broke the silence. There was nothing around us for miles and miles and miles except the backpacker’s lodge we were staying in. The huts in the distances in this picture were at least 7 miles away; the people living in one of the most remote villages in the region, walking in and out. The mountains are about forty miles away. Distances seemed compacted because you can see so far. Behind the line of trees in the rolling hills is a huge crater called the Amphitheater. More about it later.

We were in the Drakensberg Mountains near Durbin in the eastern section of South Africa. While Cape Town tends to be hot and dry in summer; the Eastern Cape area has its rainy season, which cools the land significantly. Therefore, we were expecting cool days, cold nights, with rain each day. We did have some heavy rainfall, but most days were bright and sunny.

There is little to do in the Drakensberg except eat, sleep and hike. Most of the mountains are inaccessible unless you go on extended, multiday hikes. So, that is basically what we did in our four full days there.

Day 1 – We visited the Cathedral Peak area in the central Drakensberg to find out more about the San rock art in the area. There, some very informative displays depicted the life of the San and the interpretation of San figures. A lot of their culture evolved around elands, a type of bok. Over 80% of their art includes eland figures. Over 15,000 eland still roam the Drakensberg, but they are very elusive and roam high elevations.

Outside the museum there was a shop with the types of baskets made in the area, so we were able to pick up a few fine examples of local craft work. This is a very rural area, and this shop keeper did not speak a word of English. All communication was via hand signals, frowns and smiles.

For lunch we headed higher up Cathedral Peak to a provincial lodge. There we discovered the alternative reason for visiting the area. One of Becky’s PhD students needed some samples of baboon dung, so we were on the hunt for baboons. After inquiries at the lodge, as Floyd and I sat finishing our wine, Becky and Kurt headed up, and down, the mountain on the hunt. No luck today, maybe we will find them tomorrow.

So ended day one. We are headed to Lesoto tomorrow.

From under a tree somewhere in the northern Drakensberg, love to all.

Betsy and Floyd

Dove Update

Greetings from Cape Town

It’s time for a dove update. Remember these eggs were laid the day we arrived in Cape Town. The squabs are moving around on their own, feeling their oats, ducking away from me when I approach the nest. Hopefully they are not ready to try out their wings. It’s a long way down from the 11th floor.

Just in case you thought we had forgotten about writing to all of you, not so. It’s just taking a bit longer than expected to organize the next series of notes. We have a set of Drakensberg messages and one on the local Methodist church. It’s a historic place and I hope you will enjoy reading about it no matter your religion or lack thereof.

I wish all of you could be here. The weather is very interesting. It was hot and sunny on Monday, around 90F. Towards evening a breeze blew in and the cooling began – an extremely pleasant sleeping night, around 63F. The morning dog walk was quite brisk and the old dog (and I) enjoyed the cool temps. Tuesday has been mostly cloudy and cool, unusual for Cape Town. The high today was around 73F. Wednesday should also be cool but you never can be certain. I’m planning some yard work at B&K’s place. We’re rebuilding some terraces and moving stones and dirt – cool weather will be appreciated.

That’s all for now. Blessings to all.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Greetings from Cape Town

A visit to Cape Town is incomplete without spending time at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. “Time” might be a couple of hours or it might be several visits over a longer stay. We tend to visit with about the same frequency as we do the Morton Arboretum in our area and for the same reasons: fresh air, good food, exercise, and the opportunity to celebrate God’s creations.

Established in 1913, Kirstenbosch was the world’s first indigenous botanical garden. It is also part of the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site. Translation: this is a very special place.

The Kirstenbosch logo is the Bird of Paradise. One of their featured plants is Streletzia ‘Nelson Mandela’ which has an all-yellow flower.

On display as we entered were examples of the flora currently blooming. You can see the members of the local vegetation, the fynbos (fine bush), represented on the table. Proteas, Restios (reeds), Heaths, and Agapanthus

All we had to do was to find them blooming as we walked up the garden paths toward Table Mountain.

We chose a very nice day for our trip. The choice was accidental, this side of the mountain happened to have a nice cloud cover, making it a bit cool and very pleasant.

Note the mountains in the background. We would be quite near them at the mid-point of our visit.

We started toward the protea section of the garden. It’s an uphill climb, as you can see from the photo. The grasses in the foreground are restios, the desert-like plants in the center are aloes and euphorbias. Note the slope.

You may be able to find these at a high-end garden center. They are commonly known as “ice plant,” botanically as Delosperma.

This is one of the family of heaths, or heathers, the two names are often confused. Lovely flowers.

The best bloom time for proteas is mid-July through mid-September. Laggards exist and this one posed nicely for me.

The leucospermum is a member of the protea family. They are commonly called the pincushion flower and appear in shades from yellow through red.

Betsy wanted this picture to prove that she had made it all the way to the top of the gardens. The path starting off to the right is the starting point for hikers climbing one of the gorges to the top of Table Mountain. I’d like to say that we took that hike, but I won’t.

Simply beautiful. This interplanting of a large restio and an agapanthus just stopped me in my tracks.

Another member of the protea family is this Mimites.

Proteas have blooms as part of their reproductive process. Some varieties, such as this one, feature foliage more than the blooms.

An interesting shrub, the kankerbosse, is an example of a medicinal plant used by natives for centuries and just recently “discovered” by modern medicine.

Parts of the plant are brewed into a bitter tea and drunk three times daily to treat cancers of the digestive system. It works.

Just in case you thought Kirstenbosch was only about flora, here is some fauna. My aunt, on the farm in Wisconsin, used to raise these, Guinea Fowl, and they tasted quite good. Made an awful racket when disturbed.
My aunt used them as an alarm system as well as a food source.

Camphor Lane, one of the walkways at Kirstenbosch. Quite a stunning finale for our walk.