A picture of Cindy Spencer shared by Rev. Peter van Breda (London)
If we speak out the name Cindy Spencer thousands of people all over this country will almost certainly echo back: ah yes Cindy, she is that famous mercurial lady who had the idea of an Organic Market and how this light filled idea became a living reality. That was forty years ago! In the early years when this idea was still in seed form Cindy worked tirelessly sharing her unbounded enthusiasm with everybody she met. I recall her first opening day at the back of the school in the car park. There she stood with a decorated table and on it were a few bunches of organic carrots, and of course coffee, tea and cake. Whoever chanced by listened with interest to Cindy's plans of how this market would change a lot of things both in the school and in society. Good stars shone down that day for it wasn’t many weeks later that the first stall holders joined Cindy and a new market with wholistic impulses was born. Very soon it began to hum a new hope filled song. The leading idea for this market lived I am sure in the ether waiting for somebody with wakefulness to recognise it. Cindy saw it coming towards us like a comet, she stepped forward and embraced it. This moment when the image of the market arose in her soul she was filled with a never ceasing, bubbling energetic joy. The birth of the Organic Market undoubtedly changed the lives not only of single people but thousands of folk who have visited this market over four decades. They have been touched in all kinds of ways. By what though were they touched? Why did stall holders and customers return week after week, year after year? There were, I believe four, precious elements that Cindy nurtured. In time they came part of her unfolding initiative, all of them are still in a way present today.
The first is her deep felt connection to the plight of the earth and to the lack of bio-dynamic and organic farming. She knew more than most people at that time in the early eighties that our dear Mother Earth needed constant care, a care born out of a visible conscience in deed.
This was the central theme of the organic market, only produce, and all other items too, had to carry this principle of holism, true care and mindful intent, to be sold. Very soon an association of producers, farmers, craftsmen and of course the buyers, and customers became an economic reality. All involved benefited from this living fraternity of people who had become part of a living market community. We could not add up the number of items made and sold, and the countless coffees, teas and cakes and meals consumed? The school of course was the main beneficiary who over the years have been gifted countless new possibilities through enjoying this financial support.
So we can observe a unique fraternity of ethical producers and happy consumers who together founded a principle of mutual co-operation. Cindy upheld throughout the years that only produce which enhanced and supported the environment and human beings were allowed to be sold.
The third element that shone through and permeated the life presence of the market was the community of people who gathered there week after week, year after year. How many times have you heard yourself saying, "well then let’s meet at the market for a cup of tea? Or do you know who I met last week at the market, I haven’t set eyes upon them for years and suddenly there they were? We had such a good conversation." Or hearing a parent saying to another, "I've told the children to meet us at the market, we could have a quick coffee together before they come." There are a host of other examples I could share but what shines through is that Cindy’s impulse to create this market has given rise to one of, if not the most precious aspects of community life, which is conversation. In Goethe’s fairy tale at a certain moment a question is posed, what is more precious than gold? The answer sounds back, conversation is more precious than even gold. Out of these conversations, destiny meetings, friendships and many warm meetings were forged. We may all look back in real gratitude that this has been possible. As mentioned before it all started with that strong-willed, ever enthusiastic lady, ever gregarious individual with her bunch of carrots and a few cups of coffee and little cakes.
There is then a fourth element which is a little more difficult to describe which is Cindy’s moral intuition. Deep down Cindy had an ever present sense of morality. She never wanted to hurt people; mostly she wanted to inspire them to greater things. Her enthusiasm was born anew in each situation. Her imaginative mind knew no barriers, often it travelled far ahead of less attentive people. I think it is fair to say that her strong will could sometimes cause offence. She didn’t mean to offend but for Cindy holding back an idea or impulse was far too boring and meaningless. I think most people in the end understood that Cindy always meant well and many acknowledged later that her outbursts of enthusiasm were often filled with new possibilities for growth and wisdom.
I wish to close on a personal note, it was the day that Cindy strode into the church community room and in one strident statement changed the course of the Johannesburg Christian Community for years to come. "I have a new idea for you, we are going to offer a moonlight market and you here in the church are going to serve the food." Well, have you ever tried to say no to Cindy when she is in full flight? I knew I could only say yes and obey Cindy's command. If I look back on those nearly 20 years of moonlight markets I can confirm that working together creates community and it certainly did. I’m sure over 50 people from the church were in one way or another participants in keeping this impulse moving forward. We are deeply grateful to her for including us in her grand plans.
In closing and there would still be much to share but let me say this, Cindy Spencer this mercurial, ever active, ever enthusiastic human being who loved the earth with all its bounty and cared for her fellowman in so many ways should go down in the annuals of history as one of the truly greats. Cindy radiated positivity, it was highly infectious. If you knew Cindy you would at some point be positively infected. We live in a time of a very negative disease. Some claim and I think they are right that we suffer with this dreadful disease as we no longer care for this planet as we should. Christ took up a dwelling place here on the earth and made a home in the souls of human beings. He awaits our recognition and our preparedness to put our shoulder to the plough to work towards the transformation of this earth and our fellowman.
Cindy Spencer was undoubtedly a servant and advocate of this far-reaching goal, that the earth in the future becomes a bright star.
For this and much more I salute you Cindy and thank you for your expansive example and friendship.
Cindy Spencer honoured in the Sandton Chronicle
At the heart of the market
by Aneesa Adams of the Sandton Chronicle
A rich and wholesome history has filled the streets of Bryanston since the inception of the Bryanston Organic Market.
Almost 40 years ago, Cindy Spencer founded the market and after succumbing to cancer on 1 December last year, her memory will live on.
Pioneer and nature enthusiast Spencer was on a mission to share her goodwill and organic ideals. Starting up the Bryanston Organic Market with just a wheelbarrow and fresh vegetables, her legacy as the mercurial being and free-spirited soul still lives on today.
Her daughter Leila Kuhlmann shared the story of how it all came to be.
“My mom was very eccentric and she had quite a few beliefs. She started the market based on the principles of holism, true care and mindful intent."
With just an idea and a whole lot of heart, Spencer’s idea developed into the marvel it is today. “My mom always said not to worry about the money, get going with the idea and flow. So she started at the Michael Mount Waldorf School where my brother and I attended. There, I sat at the end of a wheelbarrow going up and down the street while my mom pushed. Filled with carrots, lettuces and all types of organic vegetables she’d encourage people to buy some.”
Spencer managed to build pools, classrooms and halls with the money raised.
“She eventually stopped pushing the wheelbarrow and started setting up tables.” Spencer took the market to a whole new level after visiting global markets. A few years later in 1988, the market burnt down.
“It was a very sad experience for my mom, she left and didn’t return for 10 years until some healing happened. By the time she got back, it had transformed. The market is still changing, it’s something very special, when she started this, it was to transform the school and that's what she did.”
She was part of a group, Performance Arts which was based in Sandown. The group was invited to attend Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 to give it an ‘African feel’ with special inauguration pots. Spencer’s light went far across the world, so much so that Pope John Paul II was gifted one of her pots by Zanele Mbeki during a state visit in the year 2000. It still sits in the Vatican today.
by Leila Kuhlmann
Cindy Spencer suffered a stroke in the early hours of Friday, 26th April 2019 at her home in Merweville in the Great Karoo. She was only found in the late afternoon on Friday and arrived by ambulance at the Mediclinic Hospital in George at 04h30 on Saturday morning. By then it was too late for early intervention treatment for stroke victims. Cindy is paralyzed on the left side of her body from a stroke that happened on the right side of the brain. She spent most of May 2019 in a Spescare rehabilitation home in George.
Cindy remains a fighter and is getting stronger, but the doctors say that she will need frail care with 24-hour nursing going forward. Her speech has already improved greatly and she is mentally strong. Her cognitive abilities have not been impaired by the stroke. It is going to be a long road ahead and life changing for her and us as a family.
Cindy’s sense of humour is also still intact, and she has been working hard with her physiotherapists and occupational therapists. She has had three hours of therapy a day. Cindy says that after the stroke “it’s like being in prison in your own body”.
The family is preparing to bring Cindy to Johannesburg where they are looking for a suitable frail care home. Paul, Leila and the family are shattered by this event as it was the last thing one would think would happen to Cindy. Cindy was happy and well in Merweville and had planned to live there till she died. Now she will not be going back to Merweville, which she loves and where she is happy, unless a miracle happens.
Some images of Cindy's life in Merweville
The labyrinth and spiral (see the town's church in the background)
Update in June 2019
by Leila Kuhlmann
After visiting many homes with frail care, the most pleasant and suitable home for her is The Village Bryanston. She has her own private room and bathroom and little garden, sunny bright and light. It is a pleasant place to visit, not reminiscent of a hospital at all. It feels like home. It has been furnished specifically for her. She moved in on Wednesday, 19th June. Visitors are always welcome. Cindy will be needing a lot of visits and attention as she has lost her life in the Karoo. She is still paralysed on the left and trying her best to walk with help.
Update on 1st December 2020
Quotes from WhatsApp:
Paul Spencer: "She passed at 01:06 this morning. Leila, Natalie, & I were in the room with her. Tanya, Rowan, Aleksandra, Virginia- Rose, Martin, Margie, Rachel and her 2 careres woke to gather around her to celebrate and support her on her journey. A memory of a lifetime!"
Leila Kuhlmann: "Mums wake is here at her home for now. We welcome you all to come sit quietly with her, read, talk about your life’s journey with her, for her to hear from your heart in joy or sadness.
"What an incredible mum she was.
"We truelly are blessed she allowed Paul and I to be her children on this amazing life’s path she walked. Thank you Mummy for touching my life with such love."
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.
The Act of Consecration of Man
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Sunday Service for Children precede by a story