by Rev. Michaël Merle (Written for the January 2021 newsletter)
It was with much sadness that we heard of Judy Holman’s passing. Judy was the wife of Rev. Peter Holman, who spent over 20 years in our region, for the first half of that time at Camp Hill Alpha and then in Hillcrest, KZN. Judy was born in Durban on 20 May 1965, and crossed the threshold on 27 December 2020 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Peter and Judy moved to Edinburgh in May of 2018 in search of good care for Judy who was suffering from early-onset dementia. She will be well remembered as Peter’s loving wife, a talented musician and music teacher, the mother of Mark, Natalie, Matthew and Johnathan, a Waldorf Class teacher, a quiet friend and a keen and competitive sportswoman. Our deepest condolences and prayers are extended to Peter and the family. Her funeral was held on Sunday 3 January, and the Act of Consecration of Man for one who has Died will be held on Saturday 9 January in Edinburgh.
Greetings from Edinburgh!
by Peter Holman (Sent to the congregation in Hillcrest in July 2018. Edited to be more generally read.)
It is three months after our departure and I thought I’d send a few lines to let you know how we’re getting on. Judy, Johnathan and I had a few weeks with Judy’s mum in Sussex to catch our breath and get a taste of life in England before moving to our new country.
My induction into the Edinburgh congregation on St John’s Day was a fine event. The Lenker, Tom Ravetz, was present and conducted a counter-ceremony to Reingard’s releasing of me from your community. He elaborated on what the Sending is and spoke of the priest’s work in relation to Whitsun, as well as to the sending out into life of the congregation after every Act of Consecration of Man. I celebrated and, I must say, experienced a strong and substance-filled aura around the altar that reminded me of my first ever celebrating in Stuttgart in 1995. It was a special confirmation of the rightness of this move for me. Music, Scottish poetry and speeches were followed by a (rare) bring-and-share lunch in the warm, sunny church garden.
There are so many blessings to count! The large, lush garden – part wild and colourful, part cultivated – the nearby canal for walks, warm, welcoming people and a fascinating city with its rich history to explore. I have bought a bicycle and enjoy speeding around with the thousands of other riders in this cycle-friendly cathedral town. We have a fine home in the basement of the church and part-time caring support for Judy. Many challenges face us, but we are well-placed to meet them.
Johnathan is getting to know the countries: a road trip with me to Scotland and now some weeks in Northern Ireland before he starts as volunteer trainee at a small Camphill community in south-east England have introduced him to his new land of residence. He is managing well, so far, and certainly enjoyed watching World Cup football in an Irish pub!
My thoughts are often with the congregation we left behind and our life in Alverstone. I wonder who will live in the flat, what events they are enjoying with their new priest and how the property generally is faring. I hope the new altar will soon be installed and hope to see a photo. Our 10 years in KZN were formative and taught me much. Our family will always have a warm memory of being there. Let us remain united in spirit, especially when we gather around the altar.
Twenty one years on
by Peter Holman (first published in Perspectives shortly before the Holman family went their individual ways and Peter and Judy relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland)
21 years after arriving with my young family in the Cape. 21 years on the job. It has been a rich time. So much has happened; so much has changed.
Judy and I left the UK on 7th September 1997 - the day after Princess Diana`s funeral, which was itself the day after Mother Teresa crossed the threshold. We brought with us our two small children, Mark and Natalie. A warm welcome awaited us at Camphill Village Alpha and we settled into life in the Village. Our twin boys, Matthew and Johnathan came to earth a year later and the four of them had a rich childhood among the trees, cows, molehills and spring daisies. Growing up surrounded by Villagers - the residents with their special challenges and handicaps - taught us all valuable lessons of respect, patience, deep understanding and love for people who are “different”, human beings who radiate such remarkable qualities in their chosen destinies. We learned to relate without masks, with a heart language and with warm humour.
My work among residents and co-workers was largely inspired by my mentor, Julian Sleigh. Julian had been one of the ones who helped me along the path towards priesthood. He had guided me through the process of training and growing. He celebrated his 70th birthday soon after we got to South Africa and set out to “pioneer retirement” as Christoph Jensen, senior co-worker put it. Julian appointed himself as my “curate” and gave me a free rein for most of the ten years we worked together. Letting go completely is never easy!
I remember early on presenting Julian with a special card. I think it was for his 70th birthday, in fact. It bore a picture of a red flower flourishing in sandy soil. I used it then in the written message and also since as an image for what was possible there in sandy Alpha. I remember paying tribute to all that Julian and Renate and their team had achieved over the years since 1965 on the sandy, barren farm Alpha, as it first was. Much was done over the years through hard work, composting, Biodynamic preparations and quite simply the walking over the land of generations of cows. Add to that the heart-forces of the villagers who helped various farmers over 50 decades to cultivate the land, turn it to good soil that could yield rich crops and mingle with the elemental beings.
Over and beyond that, though, as I wrote to Julian back then, the decisive thing that allowed the infertile sand to be so transformed was the reality of the Sacraments that were celebrated week in, year out. Already in 1969 the lovely little chapel was built and in the last 50 years well over 5000 Act of Consecration of Man services have been held, numerous funerals and many baptisms and weddings. Also the Children`s Service every week. With every Act of Consecration spiritual forces and sun rays streamed out into the surroundings, most powerfully into the chapel garden (where the spring daisies are at their most spectacular) and also into the whole of the big estate and beyond. These spiritual forces were decisive in the transformation that came about in the Village. And if today some changes have come about and the celebration of our services are less frequent, the seed has nevertheless been sown and our earth is the richer for all that has happened in the Community there.
My ten years in Camphill Village West Coast (as it became) were rich and varied. I had many, many conversations with community individuals on all sorts of themes. We celebrated the festivals in marvellous ways with plays, talks, singing, fires and activities on the land. There were lots of children, including my own, who attended the Services over the years and were confirmed. Some groups had outings to Table Mountain, caves on the Peninsular, even a camp in Macgregor one year with drumming and other social events.
These were pioneer years for the Village and the Western Cape. The congregation in Somerset West which embraced Stllenbosch and surrounds brought our work to a wider circumference and let me venture into Afrikaans for many services. In Alpha I even conducted an Afrikaans Child Burial, as the parents spoke little English, and the main purpose of this poignant ritual is to comfort the grieving parents.
The Hermanus Camphill Farm and School communities were looked after from Alpha, so I got to know this area very well too. Judy and I had first encountered Camphill life in Hermanus in the early 1990s as “young” co-workers, so this was a kind of home-coming for me! Being a “visiting” or non-residential priest is different, and there was always a good turn out in the Hemel en Aarde Valley.
While in the Dassenberg area (ie at Alpha) I came to learn a lot about life in South Africa. That particular area was where three communities met: the impoverished Xhosa settlement, Witsand; the rough Coloured town of Atlantis; and the many smallholdings where white often Afrikaans-speaking families eked out a living. Philadelphia represented a natural centre for this latter community. And Camphill Village represented something else, something perhaps more future-orientated - to some extent - not least because it housed people of all three races and from various other countries. And it strove for a modern social and cultural life, an enlightened approach to agriculture and of course had the chapel with its festival, pastoral and sacramental life.
What was particularly interesting was the potential for The Christian Community to make a difference. We tried, with some small success, to connect to people in the surroundings, ie “outside the Village!”. There was a feeling that perhaps families had settled many years before, seeking something else, an escape from the city perhaps, or a freer way of life. Maybe that hadn`t always brought hoped for contentment; certainly there were conversations around the meaning of life, making sense of personal destinies and exploring a different kind of spirituality. There was an openness in people, that led, for example, to a number of funeral services. But quite naturally a part of me wishes we had made more use of opportunities that were there. More bridges could have been built and appropriate outreach more often attempted.
One initiative that Judy and I were closely connected to was the establishing of the Dassenberg Waldorf School, which is located in the exact place where the three communities mentioned intersect. It was has been one of the brave examples of how our rainbow nation might be able to live and work together. Much of great human and social value has happened at this school since the start of the new century, and I was able to play a small role through teaching religion lessons and serving as Chairman of the Board of Trustees through some bumpy times.
People who know me well know of my great interest in radio. I am always keen to discover the radio stations in a particular area. CapeTalk started up a few weeks after we arrived in the Cape - on 14th October 1997. I could write a book about my thoughts and experiences of this most marvellous community-orientated, straight-forward, intelligent talk station! It accompanied my years in the Cape. Even today when visiting Cape Town, I tune in to see what has become of that initial success story. The presenters mostly live in Cape Town, love their city, are passionate about it. You can switch on to the breakfast show or afternoon drive programme and within 10 minutes will have picked up a lot of useful information about local affairs, also national and international issues, themes of the moment, topical matters. The listeners who phone in and are put on air in are mostly articulate with relevant points to make. The presenters are often refreshingly candid, even politically incorrect. Through politics and environmental happenings, good local films and issues in the news, CapeTalk connects one to this rainbow nation land in a way that richly supplements our own experiences of South Africa.
Apart from working in the Boland and Hermanus, I was often in the Plumstead congregation. This was partly because Richard Goodall, Julian and I tried to meet regularly to study together, speak about mutual congregational matters and hold the large Western Cape area in our communal consciousness. We usually met in Cape Town. It was in the early years of this century that our Regional Synod developed a new way of Lenker working - especially in the years between Julian retiring and Reingard taking up the role. One special feature of this synodal sharing was that Richard and I would hold the Confirmation services for one another`s groups. I appreciated what Richard did at Camphill and Somerset West in this regard each year. I experienced it as an absolute privilege to be entrusted with this powerful sacrament for young people. It required a good preparation, both inwardly as priest, as well as with the parents and children on the Saturday before. The task and experience of standing before such a full church and in front of these 14 year-old young adults at an incredibly fragile and open soul-moment in their destinies to administer the sacraments of Confirmation and the immediately following Act of Consecration has been one of the highlights of my work in South Africa. Something so powerful, so individually relevant and so tangibly real flows in these moments before the young people. One is at the threshold of destiny-working and Christ Presence. It is a warm and peaceful place to be. I am grateful this was granted me in this Region.
Sometimes when Richard was away on holiday a member of the Plumstead congregation died and the nearest priest was called in. It was often me! I have conducted many funerals there. It was a privilege to get to know the families in these exceptional days. I also felt connected to the congregation through visiting on Sunday mornings throughout the years. But one funeral that stands out in my memory particularly was on 29th September 1998 (Michaelmas Day). It was the funeral of Jerome Sax, whose parents were members of the Christian Community. He was a medical services soldier killed in action in Lesotho and received a full military burial service in the SAS Simonstown Chapel. As Richard was away and as the family`s church was ours, Julian was called in and I was asked to accompany him. The large chapel was magnificent in design, there were crowds of important people from the military, local and national government and of course the media (including, naturally, CapeTalk!). Julian did a marvellous job and afterwards we met some politicians including Ronnie Kasrils. The burial (with procession and trumpet salute) in Heroe`s Acre was also an impressive spectacle. That the family and Julian had to share this event with the top brass may be offset by the fact that our working could be witnessed by “the world”. There are ways (and Julian was good at this - you can read about it in his life story) of bringing what we do into the circles in which we move, reaching out into the world.
Another aspect of working in southern Africa for 21 years is the unique spirit of warmth, openness and interest-in-the-other that seems to be possible in such a small Synod as our is. We have, despite quite a turnover of priest colleagues and of course some moments of stress and conflict, always managed to hold the respect for the other and the calm knowledge that we are working together with common purpose and need each other if we are to altogether manage our work in this challenging part of the world. There has been a particular joy in being together and a real support for one another, especially in tough times. I shall miss this.
In late 2007 my family moved to KZN. The Shongweni community had had more than its fair share of joys and sorrows, of challenging situations and pain. Not everyone was directly affected, and there was of course much of value that was achieved here. From 2005 a small group carried the inner flame of the community faithfully while there was no resident priest. The readiness of this congregation to receive a new priest coincided with the readiness of my family to move to a new community.
They have been heart-warming years as the congregation has regrouped and found a new future in Alverstone, near Hillcrest. That story is currently being written in the KZN Chronicle that I and others are busy with. Our children finished growing up here and have made their first exploratory steps into the world. There have been quite a few joys and sorrows, both in the community here and in our family. There have been so many encounters, events and valuable processes. Many people have visited our services, a good number have stayed. The relationships with the Waldorf School and Anthroposophical Society are excellent, also the wider society.
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.