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,


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