Pietersburg was founded in 1886 and by 1895 there were about 800 residents, 974 building sites had been declared, the town had its first health committee, and the area was in the grip of a Rinderpest plague. All public transport and postal services were provided by Zeedebergs Transport.
The first entry in the Vestry Book of the English Church in Pietersburg is a statement of accounts for the period 12th May 1895 to 31st March, 1896. Prior to 1894 there had apparently been occasional services held by visiting priests in the local Court House.
In 1895 Mr E.G Ireland, later Pietersburg’s first mayor, was one of a group who sent a message to the Bishop of Pretoria, telling him that there was a strong feeling that he should visit the area and make arrangements to establish the church on a more permanent basis. The records suggest that this was the start of the first English-speaking church congregation in Pietersburg.
The Bishop duly arrived later that year and agreed to provide a clergyman for the town and district. The people, for their part, promised to provide a stipend of approximately £200-0-0 per annum, a substantial income in 1897. The Revd A Weinstein arrived soon afterwards and in his first service at 11 am on May 12th 1895, preached on “God’s love to Men”. The collection taken up amounted to £1-13-0.
Looking back on 100 years of records and memories of people in Pietersburg…
The records of Christ Church down the years are a narrative packed with matters spiritual and temporal, sad and joyful, momentous and trivial, grave and humorous. Above all they are a narrative of faith, change, and steady growth.
In the 1896 Vestry minutes the Rector reported on the church’s work in Pietersburg, Marabastad and Spelonken and among the Pedi, and interestingly recorded at the same time that services, which were held in the town’s goal were much appreciated by the prisoners. Who these prisoners were we do not know. We do know, however, that such was the progress of the church at the time that in 1896 the first confirmation service was held and that members of the Munnik, Haenert and Kleinenberg families, today well-known names in the Northern Transvaal, were confirmed, as were people from such surrounding areas as “Mphahlele’s Kraal” and “Jonathan’s Kraal”.
The light of faith shone brightly at the time and in 1897 it was recorded that people were regularly trekking many miles to attend services in Pietersburg. In the 1898 register, prayers for smallpox and drought were recorded. More surprisingly for modern parishioners, on several occasions no service was held because of heavy rain! During 1899 church attendance was very poor for graver reasons – large numbers had left town because of the war scare. Of those remaining many men were members of the Town Guard. The last meeting of the Church Council, before the Anglo-Boer war, took place on 2nd August of that year and by November only 20 British subjects were left in Pietersburg.
Records are sparse for the duration of the war but it appears that the Rector, for reasons unstated, was imprisoned by the Dutch during 1900. In the same year it is also recorded that many people fell ill, though for what reason is unclear. Church services were resumed in November 1901.
Some of the recorded items are eyebrow raising stuff. Take, for example, an entry in the Council Minutes of May 12th 1905; “resolved that a boy be paid at the rate of 3/- per week for doing the following work viz, cleaning and filing lamps and lighting them on Sunday evenings, keeping the church clean, ringing the bell for 8 o clock, 11 o clock and 7:30 services on Sunday.” What price sweated labour and the rate for the job!
After the war, accessible records from old Service Register, Council Minutes and Vestry Minutes, settle into a pattern familiar to this day – stipends, mortgages, car and building maintenance, fund raising, church attendance and the arrival and departure of Rectors. Church annual income in 1910 was £655, including an annual rector’s stipend that was now £360, details dutifully recorded in longhand by Mr Kleinenberg, treasurer at the time. On May 20th 1910 a memorial service for King Edward VII was held and was attended by more than 300 people. Reflecting events closer to home, Sunday was closed for a while “for measles” during the same year.
Baptism registered at the time included those of Mockford and Wheelwright babies. A first mortgage of church property, Erf 198, in favour of Frank Pemberton Mockford for £1 000 at 7%, was recorded. Charles Wheelwright had come to Pietersburg in 1893 and subsequent generations of Wheelwrights have been baptised, confirmed, married, and buried from Christ Church. There was an Erskine-Wheelwright wedding in 1932 which apparently received much attention from the press. The Mockford and Wheelwright families remain active in our parish today.
The only accessible records of the First World War are notes in a Service Register on the Battle of Delville Wood on July 16th 1916, and Armistice Day, November 11th. It was, however, during those years that the Khaiso Mission, later to play an important role in this parish, was started by a missionary by the name of John Fuller.
One of the most remarkable incumbents of Christ Church was Bishop John Latimer Fuller (1870 – 1950) who was appointed Vicar of Pietersburg in 1921. His life is described in detail and with much respect and nostalgia by past pupils in recent newsletters of the All Saints Parish (A.C.S.A) in Seshego.
He wrote two books about his missionary work in this area and in Mozambique from 1905 onwards and was founder of the Grace Dieu Teachers College – today Setotolwane – near Pietersburg, the training ground of among many others the distinguishing painter Gerard Sekoto. Bishop Fuller and his wife were involved for years in the development of Grace Dieu and Khaiso School, a nursery school, a social work mission and a medical mission. The demise of a 50 year long tradition of Anglican education during the early apartheid years was a great loss to the Northern Transvaal.
There is, happily, a living link with Bishop Fuller, for Mary Ann Kisten, a member of Christ Church congregation today, was adopted as a baby by the Fullers during the twenties. She was baptised at Christ Church and confirmed in Khaiso School chapel.
The records show that Christ Church cannot be accused of failing to contribute to the social life of the Pietersburg community, since from the Thirties to the mid Forties the parish held an annual New Years Eve Dance in the Town Hall, which did not start until midnight on the 31st December. During the Second World War soldiers were charged half price to attend this dance.
The records also tell us that in May 1940 His Majesty King George VI called for a day of prayer. In June the Rector, the Revd F Clarke, was released by the Bishop for service as Chaplain to the Botha Regiment which was recruited mainly from the Pietersburg area. The Chaplain from Grace Dieu, the Revd Chas Jones then assisted with services at Christ Church until the arrival of the Revd H.F.A Treble in 1943. The Revd C Jones is remembered by parishioners Ida Goddard for “being an inspiration to us all during the war years”.
Throughout the war the names of those congregants serving in the forces, and of those killed or injured, were read out each week. The lectern in the church bears a complete list of those who gave their lives in the war.
The Jubilee of Christ Church parish was held in 1955 and many people who had been present in 1895, were able to join in the celebration. A picnic was held for the children and there was also a parish party and thanksgiving service.
Less seriously, it is interesting to note that the Church Council minutes at one stage during the fifties give a great deal of attention to getting quotations – some of them quite excessive it is remarked – for installation of a lavatory (presumably a water-borne system) at the Rectory.
In 1957 the Bishop of Pretoria decided to make Pietersburg the Headquarters of the Archdeaconry of the North under the care of Harry Wraige. As the Archdeaconry covered a large area with a number of parishes, missions and chapelries, it was imperative that he be given some assistance and thus in December, Christ Church welcomed its first curate in the person of Trevor Verryn.
On the 9th March of the same year we made history with our first S.A.B.C. broadcast service from Christ Church.
During the apartheid years it was reported by Geoff Goddard in the 1977 Pretoria Diocese Centenary brochure that with the development of other Northern Transvaal parishes, the work in Pietersburg had somewhat diminished while mission efforts in the locality of the town had increased. The same report also mentions that “coloured” members routinely joined in the worship, parish activities, Sunday school and Church Council at Christ Church, a practice that existed throughout the apartheid years.
In an event of major ecumenical significance the centenary of the Pretoria Diocese was celebrated in Pietersburg at the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and many Bishops, including the Bishop of Mozambique, were in attendance.
One of Christ Church’s much loved older members, Harry Starsmore, has fond memories of the seventies. He particularly recalls the Very Revd Mark Nye playing croquet with him on the rectory lawn on Sunday afternoons and enjoying a rewarding and happy weeklong mission held at Christ Church during that time. He also remembers a year when there was no Rector and our dedicated Churchwardens John Le Cordeur and Heinz Haas regularly took communion to the sick. John Le Cordeur’s memory of that period is of the remarkable assistance given to Christ Church by Anglican clergy from other parishes as well as by Pietersburg ministers from other denominations.
The successful broadcast service of the fifties was followed up by one during the eighties in which we were ably assisted by the Methodist Choir and choir from Seshego.
The Rt. Revd John Ruston was sent to Pietersburg as the Suffragan Bishop of Pretoria in order to set up a new Diocese in the North.
The new Diocese of St Mark the Evangelist, encompassing the area that became the Northern Transvaal Province after the 1994 democratic elections, was established in 1987. The first Bishop, the Rt Revd Philip Le Feuvre, was inducted on 30th January 1988 at Christ Church by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Bishop Philip Le Feuvre, his wife Charmian and children Stephen, Micklyn and Jonathan, are currently members of Christ Church parish.
South Africans started to experience changes on many fronts during the late ‘80s and at Christ Church changes in the liturgy took place during the time of the Revd Alan Williams who is remembered for his favourite turn of phrase “God’s rattling your cage.”
The Revd Alan Williams recalls “It was the sense of being family together… that was special about Christ Church.” He has special memories of the ordination of Revd Carl Garner in the Roman Catholic Cathedral while Alan was Rector of Christ Church.
Mr A.L. Devenish donated a site, Erf 209, in Market street, on which the original church was built, at a cost of just over £600-0-0. It was opened on 20th June 1897, and it is recorded that this was also the date of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
It seems that the thinking when the first church was built that it should form the nucleus of a bigger building or possibly the sanctuary of a far larger church because, although the site was extensive, the original structure was positioned as close as possible to the eastern boundary on Market Street. An impressive avenue of pines was planted on the West side of the property in Joubert Street. In 1904 when it became necessary to extend the building, a sanctuary and vestry of wood and iron construction was built onto the west end and a porch to the east thus providing an entrance off Market Street.
In October 1910, after much deliberation and procrastination, a house was purchased at a cost of £800-0-0 for use as a Rectory. This was situated close to the church, where OK Bazaars stands today, and sold in 1933 for £1500-0-0.
While Bishop Fuller was Rector, a Church Hall was built in 1923 and by 1928 the proceeds of successive Church Bazaars had paid for it.
In 1931, for the sum of £1 150, the site of the church - erf 569 - was purchased complete with house for use as a Rectory.
A building fund was started in 1949 and in 1951 a decision was taken to build a new church on the Rectory site. The old building was showing its age, termites had got into the walls and fear was expressed that the roof would eventually become dangerous.
In November 1957 it was agreed that a new hall, vestry and Rectory should be built and planning was put in hand. In March 1960 the Vicar General, the Very Revd F.H. Amoore, laid the foundation of the new hall and vestry. The last service in the old building that had served this congregation so well over 60 years was held on Sunday, 25th September, 1960.
In July 1968 architects were commissioned to plan the new church and on Saturday 30th November, yet another foundation stone was laid, this time by Mr J.A. Goddard. This honour was accorded him in recognition of the many years of devoted and unbroken service he had given to Christ Church since 1927 when he, his wife and sons, including Geoff, had arrived from Britain to join his father, postmaster in Pietersburg and active Anglican. (Geoff married Ida Hellmann at Christ Church in 1942. He passed away in 1993 and Ida, children and grandchildren are members of the present congregation).
In 1969 the church and a flat for the curate were completed at a cost of R35 500.00. The dedication of the church by the Bishop of Pretoria took place on Sunday, 10th August 1969. Ida Goddard describes the occasion as being, for her, the most memorable in her 60 years as a parishioner.
During the past 20 years new Sunday school rooms have been built behind the Rectory, the hall kitchen extended, the Geoff Goddard Garden of Remembrance established, and, recently, the curate’s flat enlarged to become a small family home. There are further plans for building extensions on the property.
Acknowledgement Mrs Ann Kirkpatrick