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Angelique Havenga and Marnus Havenga on Lament, Community, and Ubuntu in the Dutch Reformed Church of Stellenbosch, South Africa

In this episode, pastor-theologians Angelique and Marnus Havenga share with Maria Cornou about what they are learning about pastoring and serving the community as a whole in the Dutch Reformed Church, located in city-center of Stellenbosch, one of the most unequal towns in the country of South Africa.

Listen on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, PandoraRSS Feed.

This interview occurred in the fall of 2020 as part of a course "Learning from Worshiping Communities Worldwide" offered by Calvin Theological Seminary and taught by Calvin Institute of Christian Worship staff Maria Cornou and John D. Witvliet.

See all episodes in Season 2

Episode Transcript:

Host: 

Welcome to Public Worship and the Christian Life, a podcast by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. In this series of conversations, hosted by Calvin Institute of Christian worship staff members, we invite you to explore connections between the public worship practices of congregations and the dynamics of Christian life and witness in a variety of cultural contexts, including places of work, education, community development, artistic and media engagement, and more . Our conversation partners represent many areas of expertise and a range of Christian traditions offering insights to challenge us as we discern the shape of faithful worship and witness in our own communities. In this episode, pastor-theologians, Angelique and Marnus Havenga share with María Cornou about what they are learning about pastoring and serving the community as a whole in the Dutch Reformed Church, located in city center of Stellenbosch, one of the most unequal towns in the country of South Africa.

María Cornou: 

I have the privilege of interviewing two good friends from South Africa who are also terrific church leaders: Angelique and Marnus Havenga. The two of them are members at Moederkerk; that's a Reformed congregation in Stellenbosch. Angelique is one of the pastors of the pastoral team. And Marnus is a professor at the theology school of the University of Stellenbosch and also at Ekklesia Center, which is one of the ministry centers at the university. Thank you very much, Angelique and Marnus, for joining us today. ... So I would like to start [by] asking you questions about your community, if you could describe [for] us your worshiping community, tell us about your neighborhood, and how long have you been involved in this community and your roles in the congregation?

Angelique Havenga: 

Would you like to start off, Marnus?

Marnus Havenga: 

Yes. So both of us are originally from the northern part of the country, but then we came to study here in Stellenbosch. And even though we've traveled about a bit and lived abroad we've mostly been based in Stellenbosch for the better part of ten years, ... first as students, and then later also as we started ... with our careers involved in this church, the Dutch Reformed Moederkerk, the Mother Church. Angelique is one of the ministers, so maybe you can say something about that.

Angelique Havenga: 

I first helped out with the youth ministry at the congregation, but I've now been appointed as a student minister at this church. And although the student ministry is mainly my focus, ... I have five colleagues, and we switch between the different ministries. So I don't only preach at the student services; ... we are all around, as we would say.

Marnus Havenga: 

And besides, I guess, supporting Angelique in her pastoral duties, I work at the faculty of theology at Stellenbosch University, which is just across the road from the church , which is wonderful. And I've also been involved in the synodical structures of the Dutch Reformed Church, and it's a wonderful privilege to be serving ... the church as a whole, but also this specific church, specifically also then in this town of Stellenbosch, which is a wonderful place. It's a student town, so it's buzzing normally. Before COVID you would see students in the street, and there's museums and music and a lot of cultural activities.

Angelique Havenga: 

And the town was almost never asleep. With students in town there would be movement all through the day and all through the night.

Marnus Havenga: 

And it's also a very famous wine district. So most of the areas around Stellenbosch have wine farms. And so it's beautiful, the mountains, and we're also close to the ocean, but then also Stellenbosch is probably one of the most unequal towns in our country. So there's a lot of poverty, a lot of inequality, social and economic wise. And that is also part of the reality. So oftentimes people would come to Stellenbosch and everything would look nice and beautiful and wonderful, but ... also then realize if you start to move around town and especially the outskirts of the town, that is also very much the story of Stellenbosch.

Angelique Havenga: 

So our ministry and the context of our ministry is that we're in this paradoxical situation where on the one hand, the church and all of our buildings are situated in the middle of the town, which is opulent and very European with wonderful buildings. But then a lot of our congregants also function between the very poor areas around, and also then, inside the middle of town. So I think you have to switch between these two contexts all the time.

María Cornou: 

Yeah. I was there with you last year. So could you tell us a little bit about the racial composition of the community?

Angelique Havenga: 

Sure. So the community of Stellenbosch is very diverse, where we have, I think a lot of white people living inside of the town, but the town also reflects our apartheid legacy in a way where a lot of people had to move and were allocated places on the outskirts of Stellenbosch. So the middle of the town would be mostly white people, where all of the mostly Black people would live on the outskirts of town. So there's still a big racial disparity as well as an income disparity.

María Cornou: 

Your congregation reflects all this diversity?

Angelique Havenga: 

Well, I think our congregation is a bit of both, although the congregation is situated in the middle of town, and if you've already picked up on who lives in the middle of town, our congregation consists mainly of white congregants. Although we have a very big ministry outside of necessarily the middle of town where there's a lot of uplift projects. And I think we as a congregation [are] always actively looking for ways in which we can serve the community as a whole and not continue to be an enclave in this bigger context of Stellenbosch.

Marnus Havenga: 

So there's a lot of cooperation, I think, with other churches, also ecumenically, and especially in this COVID time, I think we'll get to that. One of the wonderful things that we saw is just people crossing boundaries, meeting one another, you have all these historical boundaries almost between people and especially in the COVID time. We'll say something more about that. We saw in the church reaching out. So that was wonderful to see.

María Cornou: 

When I was there, one of the striking things is your church building because you are there and you realize how old your congregation is and how your congregation has been part of the history of Christianity in your country. Could you tell us a little more about the history, key dates of the history of your congregation and a little bit of the identity?

Angelique Havenga: 

Well, I think [unintelligible] Moederkerk, as it's called, is the second oldest Dutch Reformed congregation in South Africa. So in the 1600s, a lot of Dutch immigrants arrived in South Africa, and in the year 1686 the Dutch Reformed church in Stellenbosch branched off from the Dutch Reformed church in Cape Town, which was the first Dutch Reformed congregation. So I think that is also why we are called the "mother church" as the second-oldest congregation in South Africa. A lot of the congregations in the surrounding area branched off from this church in Stellenbosch. And I think there's a lot of symbolism as well connected to the church building and also then its long history in South Africa as an emblem of, I think, ... of the past, but also I think in a sense it signifies also something about ways that Stellenbosch is hated in some way. Do you want to maybe add anything?

Marnus Havenga: 

So I think being the second-oldest church, the story of the church is very much intertwined also of the story not only of the region, but also the story of the country. So I think the whole time also being part of this church, also at the faculty of theology just across the road, is to in a way ask questions. You will think about sort of the church's own part in the history of the country. But as Angelique then also said, believing that the story's continuing to be written and also asking where is God leading a congregation that has such a sort of long and complex history also in the future. So I think the whole time looking back, but also then asking where we are now and definitely also thinking about where we're going in God's storybook.

María Cornou: 

And especially because your country has been through a big time of change, perhaps you can share briefly with our students how you have perceived this change because you have been part of a generation who has grown up in the middle of this change, social change.

Marnus Havenga: 

So obviously in 1994 we had our first democratic election, and Nelson Mandela became the president of the country. And yes, since then, I think in many ways---we were born around that time or just before then, so oftentimes they would speak of the "born free" generation. So that's a term you often hear. But I think what we realize and what is necessary to be said is that, even though apartheid is no more, and while institutional laws that were sort of in place that were keeping people apart and that were sort of causing this injustice to be part of the country is not any more part of sort of the formal legislation of the country, ... we are still very much dealing with the remnants of apartheid. So even though even this term "born free" is problematic because we are still seeing the effects of apartheid.

Angelique Havenga: 

I was also born in he legacy of apartheid and still have to struggle with the legacy of poverty and inequality even though it's more than 20 years after the abolishment of apartheid.

Marnus Havenga: 

I think for many years [or] at least for the first few years after apartheid ended, people hoped in a way---we've now reached a point where things will ... But I do think we realize there's a lot of hard work that still needs to be done: reconciliation, restitution, and questions of justice.

Angelique Havenga: 

And especially in church. I think a church such as [ unintelligible], which is a historically been, I think, almost seen as one of the big or important churches that was supporting in some way apartheid. Now [it's] made the big shift and is obviously actively trying to work against this kind of historical ... injustices of the past. So I think also just the church now, in a way, it's also a place of critical dialogue and a place where we would invite other voices in to discuss what they experience when they see the church, what the church means to them, and how the church can change, or how can they play a more active role in the community with the historical baggage that they also have.

María Cornou: 

So perhaps to clarify this to our students, that could be more aware and more familiarized with apartheid or not. Could you very briefly explain [to] them what the system was, the old system, the apartheid system?

Marnus Havenga: 

So ... for many hundreds of years ... in the colonial history of the country, there was discrimination. There were instances of, for example, land offlocal peoples being taken away, but at least from 1948 in the last century, so the middle of the last century, the government enforced certain laws that made it ...

Angelique Havenga: 

... institutionalized racial discrimination. And I think the Dutch Reformed Church was the state church at the time, and I think not only was the segregation reflected in the laws of the country, but it was also undergirded with theology from the Dutch Reformed Church. That was not only necessarily in the Dutch Reformed Church itself, but in other church communities as well. But as the state church, it played an important role in keeping the segregated laws and almost, in a way, supporting it.

Marnus Havenga: 

And you had big laws that had to deal with the fact that people weren't, for example, allowed to vote, but then you also had what they called "picky apartheid"---smaller laws that people, for example, can't ...

Angelique Havenga: 

... use the same doorways, or sit on the same park benches, or use the same ...

Marnus Havenga: 

And that is sort of the legacy that we have to deal with and face here.

María Cornou: 

This system lasted from 1948 to 1994, correct?

Marnus Havenga: 

Yes. To 1994 from almost, I think, the end of the 1980s changes were starting to happen in the church. So there was a [unintelligible] realization, and also then the church in many ways helped and encouraged this fact that Nelson Mandela, for example, was released from prison, and the first democratic election and was then held in 1994.

María Cornou: 

Thank you very much. I think this is a fascinating story, and I hope our students could go deeper into understanding all these dynamics that for those of us who are not part of the country, we are learning from abroad. I want to bring all this legacy to today and to this particular situation we are dealing with after this virus hit every community around the globe. And I wonder about your congregation's context. How has the congregation responded to this COVID crisis, and how have these new times affected or are reflected in your worship practices and your worship services, in the preaching? Could you share with us?

Angelique Havenga: 

We will share our screen. We actually quickly put together a few of the things that [we?] are doing at the moment.

Marnus Havenga: 

So perhaps you can just say they're just a few photos of Stellenbosch, perhaps the Stellenbosch you'll see in a tourist guide, beautiful wine, the culture, the museums, and the next picture you see also other side of Stellenbosch. ... And I think we can start here. So overnight, I think like in many other contexts, the COVID reality struck, as it probably was the case in many other countries, literally overnight. We were one moment [when] it wasn't well documented and also covered in our media. I think so we didn't realize, I guess, ...

Angelique Havenga: 

... how quickly the virus would be spreading in South Africa and at what rate we will have to adjust to the fact that we can't go outside or leave our homes.

Marnus Havenga: 

So we were actually learning, me and Angelique, a big worship symposium type of conference that would have taken place on the next week Monday. And then on the Wednesday, we were still meeting up with people and planning, and then that evening, almost out of the blue, the president said our country is going under lockdown. So overnight, churches' ... meetings were banned, and everything had to go online.

Angelique Havenga: 

... I was preaching that Sunday, so I also had to plan differently, but here's a few pictures. We immediately had to make an earlier recording of the service. And that is, I think, the first step that took us online.

María Cornou: 

So you were the first one preaching online.

Angelique Havenga: 

I was the first one! Yes, I had to break the ice for everyone else that's to come after me.

Marnus Havenga: 

And they told Angelique we didn't have a lot of time because the country's literally---everyone is running around trying---one take.

Angelique Havenga: 

So that picture's of me actually stressing a bit. But ... although the first service I think was so scary, I think we immediately made a big switch to try to do as much as we can online. And we even had a few new ministries that came out of this time that we didn't have before. So the first thing that we did, and I already spoke a bit about that, is our online services on a Sunday. So we would pre - record our sermons on Wednesday so that it could be put on YouTube so that people can watch it. Usually it will be live at the same time our services would be, but then we went into a new phase of lockdown where we couldn't even leave our homes. So we had to record at home. We didn't have a picture of that, but a few of the sermons you will actually see a lot of the pastors' homes or kitchens or gardens. ... And then we also try to, in a way, encourage our congregants to worship at home with their families. We have different services and different worship styles. So at Moederkerk, with the prominent church building, it's classical worship with the organ, and we add some of the organ recordings and we would also incorporate the songs which were part of the church here to sing from home with the organ recording. And when we could get a band together again we also added more informal ways of encouraging worship here. Actually ... we tried to do multilingual songs, and I think you will see there's a [Xhosa?] song that's being sung. II's not in English or in Afrikaans. And it's one of the new things that we thought we were just going to do for the 21 days of our very strict lockdown [that] soon became very successful. And I think where the sermons' views fluctuate, we also started daily online meditations on YouTube where we every day speak about the text of the day and create time for silence and encourage congregants to go someplace where they can read and pray. And that we do now ... we've done that now for more than 200 days already, and it's still going strong.

Marnus Havenga: 

I could say that the number of people tuning into that has stayed consistent for the time, which was wonderful in a way to see, and very much focused also then on certain practices. So we would sort of encourage congregants, like Angelique said, to sit around the dinner table, as a family, perhaps, to light a candle, and also then prayers would be very much important. So the Lord's Prayer, every one of these of these meditations would be ended off initially with the Lord Prayer, then later with, for example, the Apostle's Creed, and to have a very strong focus that we're doing this at home, but in a way also as a faith community. And as we were praying, for example, the Lord's Prayer, we are also these different families all over town and all over the world actually praying together, which is wonderful.

María Cornou: 

I love that because I think that this is one of the most challenging issues in these times is how to keep the sense of belonging to the community when you are isolated at your home. So I think this is a beautiful way to engage everyone as part of the body of Christ and being together, even in a [mutual?] world.

Host: 

You are listening to Public Worship and the Christian Life: Conversations for the Journey, a podcast produced by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Check out our website at worship.calvin . edu for resources related to this topic and many other aspects of public worship.

Marnus Havenga: 

I think that was one of the big challenges: ... how can we create community? How can we bring people together? How can we create sort of a sense of, even though we're physically apart, we're still being connected as a faith community, [unintelligible] most of that online. So, for example, on a weekly basis, on a Wednesday, for example, there would be meetings over on YouTube, but also over Zoom, we would get congregants together to do Bible study, to reflect on the text; ... we had an online retreat where people could be part of that.

Angelique Havenga: 

I think it was also important for us for the congregants to voice their experiences. We put out an online survey asking, what type of emotions are you experiencing? Why, if you are stressed, why do you think it is that way? And out of those surveys, we started thinking about ... the lessons that we can learn in our lockdown time and how we as [a] church react to the needs and emotions of our community. So the lockdown sessions or mid-week that Marnus referred to is almost our engagement with the emotional well - being of the congregation and the community.

Marnus Havenga: 

María, perhaps one last thing. So there's some more stuff that happened, also a lot around family. So we sent out for example, weekly resources that were sent out for families, some arts and crafts stuff that can be done that connected up with the church that the lectionary takes, for example, the sermon being preached. But one thing I do actually, talking about worship, just want to say is: there was a very sort of deep awareness of the church year. I think. The lockdown we were like all over the world in the time of Lent.

Angelique Havenga: 

... Not only the season of Lent, but for us, that was our season going into winter time. So we were not only going into Lent, but also seeing the trees stripped from its leaves. And so it's a very intense awareness of this church season being accentuated by the seasons changing.

Marnus Havenga: 

And that's not always such a big thing. So we try [to] follow the church year and work with the lectionary, but for the first time I think ever, I've seen almost all churches making this very much part of the ministry in this time, building up also into Holy Week. So normally around Holy Week, but also then Good Friday and the Easter weekend, that is probably the most popular weekend for South Africans to go away, to go on holiday. So normally we have empty churches on Easter. And for the first time now people had to be at home. So I think a lot of the preaching that was taking place, a lot of the worship, a lot of the resources, a lot of the Bible studies were centered around the church year. Also then as we entered Pentecost, after that, also starting to dream and think how God is leading us also to imagine new realities. So I think that helped a lot.

Angelique Havenga: 

And also I think lament and lamentation played a big part in our reflecting on what is happening. I think one thing that COVID really made clear is the disparities that we were speaking about early on between ... so in one way, a lot of people could be at home and do all of the online things, but in a different way, I think we had an enormous crisis in terms of food in Stellenbosch, in South Africa, people losing their jobs. And I think in this way, a lot of our ministry was also focused on supporting and helping out not only in our congregation itself, but in the whole community of Stellenbosch. So there was a big support for local schools. We have a lot of schools [where] a lot of the children in the surrounding area get their daily meals, so if there's no school, then they don't have food. So we tried to support the schools to still in a way, give, provide food and sanitizing products to all of the students. In the June and July holidays, it's usually our student ministries, big outreach programs, which could not take place. And they actually did online fundraising and tried to at least still give to the communities that they usually ... that's expecting that support this time of year. We also tried to create extra funds where our congregants, our more wealthy congregants could, if they perhaps have the extra finances, sponsor some of our congregants that went through huge financial losses, maybe could not pay the bond on their home, or whose businesses closed, or who couldn't pay the school fees for the children. So we had that on the one side and then, I think, something that's been wonderful in Stellenbosch is that we as a community came together. So not only all of the churches in Stellenbosch and the different denominations, but all of the NGOs, all of the community programs came together under a movement called Stellenbosch Unite, where we as the whole community, started to work together to gather food, give food parcels, give support [to] families in the area. And I think that's for me one of the biggest things that COVID brought about in Stellenosch is the fact that it brought the community closer together. And it actually gave the message that you as a congregant are not necessarily only a congregant of a certain church. You are a part of the community, and the church not only serves you; it serves Stellenbosch. And that's my hope, I think, for the future is that this would continue to be the perception of the congregants in our church.

María Cornou: 

Yeah, it's like a change of mind, right? There's this virus that brings a lot of challenges, but also gives us a lot of opportunities to rethink the mission of the church, the engagement with the community, and even our worship practices. Do you think you are one of the preachers, Angelique, that also the sermons have changed or have any ... has this crisis, this situation affected the way you preach, the way you connect with the community through the worship services?

Angelique Havenga: 

Definitely. My experience is that sermons are raw and honest wherein maybe in the past, ... a lot of work would go into the perfectly formulated sermon. Whereas now there's a space to be honest about what's going on inside yourself, inside the community. And there's also space to give expression to the pain and the anxiety that we face. Also, I think there's an openness for lament and lamentation, which there hasn't been in the past, necessarily, although I think South Africa, we have a lot of different reasons to lament throughout especially the last 20 years. But it's something we struggled with and I think for the first time now, even though I think preachers in a lot of sense now that lamentation and lament is important. I think there's the first time congregants that have the need to lament with the preacher. So I think definitely that's a way in which the sermons changed. Yes. And I think also just sharing more of your own stories and experiences as a way of connecting with the congregants because you cannot connect with them physically. I think being more open about your own experiences is a new way of getting closer to the people watching your sermons.

Marnus Havenga: 

A lot of these sermons were preached because the lockdown meant that we couldn't go outside, even to the church, so it was recorded in a lot of the ministers' houses. So that was very ... it was almost from one kitchen to another that these sermons were taking place, which was fascinating and I think also typically had an impact on what was said.

María Cornou: 

This is like a part of [unintelligible], that sometimes even when we are physically keeping distance, we are asked all the time to keep distance from other people, the mutual Word allows us to be closer in other senses, in other ways. What are the things that you have experienced in this crisis that you think will continue in the future or will shape the future?

Angelique Havenga: 

Well, I think definitely our online presence is not something that will end even when all the restrictions are no longer being held up. So I think we will definitely continue our online presence. And although I think there's a deep thanks and longing for community, people are hesitant to gather in big groups again, though that's something that I think will be part of our ministry. Also, I hope that the sense of community that I already spoke of will be something that we take into the future after COVID, that the focus of our congregants will continue to broaden and include more people. Even [ unintelligible] circles will become bigger. So I hope that will continue into the future.

Marnus Havenga: 

And I think often also there's division, even though one tries to work against it, between the Sunday worship service and then just life in general. So I think in this time we had the slogan, well, the church's doors are closed, the doors are closed, but the church is open, and we don't have less church, but more church. And church became part of almost one does every day through sort of being involved, for example, in the community, at house and home. And that would be wonderful if we can work towards ... even in speaking about our worship practices, that it's not something that takes place on a Sunday only, permeates our whole lives. ...

Angelique Havenga: 

I can maybe add on to that. ... I experienced a new appreciation for the sacraments and the meaning of celebrating it within your family or in the bigger church community, or obviously within the church building itself. And my hope is that this new appreciation would be something that we can build on and actually maybe even deepen one's experience and spiritual experience when coming to church. And also I think the communion table is such a wonderful symbol also of inclusion and making the circle bigger, [as I] already said. So it would be wonderful if the community, the awareness of the community could be in some way linked to the way we celebrate baptism and Eucharist,.

Listen on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, PandoraRSS Feed.

This interview occurred in the fall of 2020 as part of a course "Learning from Worshiping Communities Worldwide" offered by Calvin Theological Seminary and taught by Calvin Institute of Christian Worship staff Maria Cornou and John D. Witvliet.

See all episodes in Season 2

Episode Transcript

María Cornou: 

As you may know, we have students that are based in different parts, not only in the U.S., but also in other parts of the world. So is there any wisdom or any learning you'd like to share with our students and with us about all these experiences that could perhaps inspire or be a blessing to people from different communities?

Marnus Havenga: 

I think a few things. ... I think one in our country and I think in many parts of society, storytelling is very important. And I think for me, what I would take out of all of this was the importance of stories. So what happened, I think, here and all over the world, ... when you turned on the news, you had a lot of statistics and graphs and numbers and data that was sort of doing the rounds and people were talking about, and we realized in ministry and also working at the university, at the faculty and the church at large, the importance of connecting through telling stories, meeting people where they are, encouraging others to tell their story [about] where they are at the moment. And also I think in the way we worship and connect also to the stories of the Bible. I think that sort of story creates connection between people, between communities, and that was very encouraging, I think, to see over the last few months, and brought people closer together. Like Angelique said, these congregations in this town who've never worked together or spoken with one another ... and now you have this initiative, Stellenbosch Unite. And even if it was over Zoom or at a food bank, ... people were encouraged all over, was my experience, to tell their stories. And that was very powerful in uniting people.

Angelique Havenga: 

I can actually just add on to what you said. So I also think that there's more wisdom I feel I can share in this moment, but in South Africa we have this wonderful notion of Ubuntu, which is a saying that means "I am because of others." And although we've heard that phrase a lot, and used it in a lot of our assignments as students, I think this is the first time that I've actually realized that Ubuntu has such a deep meaning for us as South Africans and as a community, which is "we are because of others." And our stories are so important, and t hat we can listen each other into being, listen to other stories and in a way connect through our shared humanity. For us, here in Stellenbosch, you basically can live in one of either two worlds. Listening to one another, giving them space, I think is so important.

María Cornou: 

Thank you very much. I think this is a wonderful way to close this time together.

Angelique Havenga: 

Thank you very much. Thank you so much, María. We appreciate it.

Host: 

Thanks for listening. We invite you to visit our website at worship.calvin.edu to learn more about the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, an interdisciplinary study and ministry center dedicated to the scholarly study of the theology, history, and practice of Christian worship and the renewal of worship in worshiping communities across North America and beyond.

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