Dear Johannesburg Congregation,
A recent visit to England prompts this letter to you, timely too as another year has passed since our arrival in Vienna and an update was in the air.
But first, to England and the reason for our visit. Christine and I wanted to attend the opening of the new church in Stroud. Aaron Mirkin is one of the three colleagues there, as well as Selina Horn who some of you may remember from Michaël Merle´s Ordination. Stroud, west of London, was my first sending in 2000 and already in 2001 the opportunity came to purchase an adjoining overgrown orchard – who knows when it might come in useful?!
The congregation almost immediately started to dream, envisage, and gradually plan a new build for the 1968 built-on-a-shoe-string church, ancillary rooms and small flat (in which we were living). The first architects were approached (including Dennis Shaw, at that time living and working locally), as well as the first costings floated for the various permutations.
Time moved on, we too, but the wheels continued to turn, the plans took on form.
And now this marathon run was completed, and a proud new church stands, for all to see and admire and, since Sunday, 20th October, to use! A festive weekend by all accounts, and particularly because the original church still stands alongside: this meant that the events began in the ‘old’ space, (evening lecture, the final Act of Consecration of Man) followed by the symbolic scraping of the walls, while those assembled remained seated in the middle, then the removing of the altar, the fittings and the contents of the now ‘old’ vestry.
In the afternoon, across the adjoining hallway, we gathered again to hear from the architect`s team (now their third church for The Christian Community), some of the factors and challenges involved, including the new design possibilities through working with so called ‘cross laminated panelling’. Then the red ribbon was cut by the wives of Michael Tapp and Peter Allan, (both priests of the congregation and both still living in Stroud until recently).
Lines from T.S. Eliot`s well known “Choruses from the Rock”, which was performed on the Saturday evening, stood over the weekend festivities;
“The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service.”
And so it was, on the Sunday morning the Act of Consecration was preceded by the consecration of the new church space – this time from the centre to the periphery and beyond; North, West, East and South, each in relation to one of the four elements, Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Following the Service came greetings and gifts from other communities, children from the congregation performed folkdances, new music and choir pieces filled the packed space.
It isn`t often given to experience the consecration of a new church, still less to witness it dovetailing with the farewell to the previous space – almost a once in a lifetime occasion.
Back in Vienna, enriched, we enter our third year here, learning the quirks of the Austrian folk-soul, and Christine now well established in the eurythmy and eurythmy therapy scene (even over the border into neighbouring Hungary).
There in Johannesburg you have also completed a long process – it was impressive to read that after re-visiting the possibilities for the Windmill Property over so many years, a decision has finally been reached – something had shifted! It must be a very satisfying feeling, on the one hand to have reached and implemented this decision, and now to be in a position to tackle some improvements and new developments. All good wishes to you in this regard.
For all unanswered questions, do ask Margie, whom it was lovely to see here a few months ago.
Malcolm & Christine
One year on…... with warm Greetings to all of you from Vienna
by Christine and Malcolm Allsop
One year on since leaving Johannesburg – Michaelmas, Michaël Merle`s Ordination and the next Advent Fair already looming – and since our landing here in another new home, this time a smaller city but living much more in the hustle and bustle.
We have four tram routes on our door step, (to and over the Danube, to the city centre, or out to the Wienerwald) and a bus that goes directly past the city centre Christian Community address.
We also walk quite often, (when the bus isn't due) and continue to enjoy the charm of the 19th Century architecture and the efforts to integrate the new as well. Just the garden is missing, but herbs in pots are taking over the kitchen window sill at least.
As a second congregation gradually established itself in one of the suburbs, and finally a small church could be build there a couple of years ago, there was the fear that the old Wien-Mitte congregation would suffer, even expire, but it hasn't been the case, rather the two centres are existing alongside each other, sharing the three priests, the festivals, programme highlights and finances. In short, a healthy development. As in Jo`burg, the congregational life nurtures a good mix of cultural events (the arts) and “content” (talks, discussion, study groups). Just no puppet theatre!
A feature that has developed here over the years is a good working relationship with other, predominately Christian groups. (Others – Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc. - appear sporadically at meetings and events.) It's refreshing to experience the genuine tolerance and openness towards us, and to have the framework in which to reciprocate. With the Catholic Church – traditionally the strongest denomination here – we also meet on a bi-annual basis, to compare and contrast our understanding of Christianity and how that manifests in their and our Sacraments.
In the Summer Break I had the long overdue opportunity to visit friends in Scotland, (no longer so very far away) and look in on Peter and Judy Holman who were just settling into new routines in Edinburgh. Lots of walking and nature, from dingy dells to rugged hills, canals and coastal routes. Then Christine and I explored some of our still new surroundings here; the mountains and lakes South of Vienna towards Slovenia and circling back North along the Hungarian border. The proximity to these Eastern countries is very tangible; family names over generations, Austrian menus full of recipes from the East, musical influences and holiday destinations, e.g. Croatia, Czech Republic.
Europe, this luxurious corner of the world, wrestles with its own problems. How to unite a very varied mix of nationalities (from Dutch to Greek, French to Polish) and also do justice to the uniqueness, strengths and weaknesses of each land. Inevitably the demands of a “Brexit” are exhausting vast reserves of time and energy for all concerned, notwithstanding the worry that other countries might follow suit.
A word of consolation too regarding corruption; the diesel scandal here in flag-ship car manufacturers, for example, reminds us that it’s a learning curve, a long learning curve, when it comes to using our freedom and honouring our fellow human being's space, and rights as well.
The dust settles, I find my feet in the German language little by little, (grateful for the fortnightly practice Saturdays in Dover Street), breathe out as Christine also builds her network of contacts and clients, and with the first shades of Autumn feel the completion of a year. (Oh, how stunning the Autumn colours were in the Norwegian woods just after leaving South Africa.)
Therewith too, pictures of places and people from our four years in Johannesburg gradually re-surface, and smile.
Letter from Vienna - November 2017
A rollercoaster month on four suitcases, (one without wheels), since our farewell from Dover Street. From old haunts to pastures new and some still barely known (particularly for Christine who was only briefly here in Vienna before returning to Germany - she should be back for her birthday!).
A few highlights along the way: In the first days – Michaelmas - we experienced an unforgettable, jam-packed, club appearance of a ninety plus, concentration camp survivor who, having read excerpts from her autobiography, was joined by her son on electric bass and a rap singer who together struck up a programme of social-political-critical songs for a better world. A unique and very moving meeting of worlds.
Two weeks in Norway were altogether a highlight - unknown territory with perhaps few parallels; a strong, carved, beautiful landscape, rich but not opulent, mirrored in the people and their culture. Little excess, little flimsiness and between the two a special "inner warmth" seemed thus very real.
The pictures are from the mountain train journey between Oslo and Bergen, a breathtaking journey. First the long haul up into the mountains at 1,200 metres then down through the west coast fjord landscape and the beautiful city of Bergen. Six very special hours on our journey from Jo'burg to Vienna.
A first touchdown in Vienna followed - 104 steps up to our future flat could be described as a highlight? (fourth floor and light-filled rooms where the old parquet flooring is being restored and the walls repainted as I write).
Certainly worth a mention is a globe museum, tucked away behind the bigger tourist attractions. Exhibits from over five hundred years, as the globe was re-discovered. All shapes and sizes - shapes included inflatable and umbrella constructions, sizes ranged from 2cm to almost 2m. Moon and terrestrial globes and the fascinating history from pre-Christian times, as Mankind's awareness for its surroundings expanded. Fascinating - a must when you come and visit!
We whirlwinded back to Germany, partly for the wedding of my god daughter - there was certainly a parental feeling of letting go after twenty eight years accompanying her path.
The highlight throughout proved to be a remarkable Autumn, even by European standards, where the gradual changing of the colours can continue often for a month or more, before the November weather accelerates its decline. This year, said many locals, was extraordinary in its radiance and duration.
Meanwhile snow creeps closer - in Norway we saw it at 1,200m on the train from Oslo to Bergen. In the last days its moved closer and down to 500m....
....and the gift of this transition period draws to a close. (e.g. the monthly Vorstand's meeting this evening - equivalent of the Trustees).
The initial welcome from the Congregation has been very warm, my official induction will be on the 1st Advent. Optimistic into a new chapter!
Before Malcolm and Christine left South Africa, Malcolm wrote an article for Perspectives that dealt mainly with Christianity and the role of The Christian Community in South Africa. In the articles titled Three Weeks, Three Years, Thirty Years (Perspectives September-November 2017) two of the paragraphs are biographical and relate to Malcolm's time in South Africa. They are published here below.
Three weeks refers to a visit here in February 1982, to visit a friend living in a Camphill community between Johannesburg and Pretoria. A flat, sandy and dusty, characterless rural area with a scattering of homesteads, and a nearby little drive-through town, fittingly called Halfway House, which boasted a snake park. Not far away was Jan Smut’s house (and car) and the Swiss Club, an evening destination for the young co-workers. In the city centre the Market Theatre already had quite a reputation for mixed actors, mixed audiences and controversial productions. For tourists there was a bus tour of the brighter sides of Soweto (“South West Township”).
Here again much later, in 2013, I could this time gather three years of impressions. Halfway House is now Halfway Urban Sprawl, just about marking the end of the steadily encroaching northern suburbs of Johannesburg and the southern expansion of Pretoria from the north, and the snake park has gone. So too the Camphill community. My observations have this time been somewhat limited to the lens of The Christian Community. Of course the extended stay has allowed visits further afield (to Cape Town, Durban, the mountains and the reserves) as well as return visits to Soweto, the Market Theatre (and Jan Smut’s House!). The only visit to Soweto wasn’t in a bus full of tourists but to a theatre production there. It could equally have been to Sophia Town (the Trevor Huddleston community centre) or to more upmarket Rosebank. Culture thrives in the city and is increasingly enjoyed by a cross section of the population.
Where are they now?
Members of our congregation move away from Johannesburg. Whenever they visit us they feel immediately at home. In part this is through receiving our monthly newsletter. We too would hope to remain connected through these posts and learn something of their lives and where they are now living.