The 18th August has been a highlight in the St Saviour’s Parish calendar for twenty years since we were presented with a cross of nails admitting St Saviour’s Claremont with Good Shepherd Protea to the international Community of the Cross of Nails in 2000. This happened in Coventry Cathedral at the first International CCN Conference. Since 2001 each year we have held a special service, reminding us of our responsibility for reconciliation on the nearest Sunday to the 18th August calling it CCN Sunday alternating between St Saviour’s (mother church) and Good Shepherd Protea (chapelry). We usually have had a guest preacher followed by a lunch giving us time for fellowship. This year being our twentieth anniversary, unfortunately we are unable to celebrate this service as the church is still closed because of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The Church of the Good Shepherd Protea has been a symbol of God’s presence at the foot of Table Mountain below Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens since 1864, when the first Bishop of Cape Town, the Rt Rev Robert Gray, had bought the farm Protea and built a small chapel for the converted slaves he had been released in 1834, and who had formed a settlement on the farm. Bishop Gray named the chapel Good Shepherd and changed the name of the farm to Bishopscourt, which is still the residence of our current Archbishop. The settlement grew over the years and so in 1886 the present church was built with the assistance of the Protea community who brought stones from the nearby Liesbeeck River.
Protea Village grew into a vibrant self-sustaining community providing much needed labour, especially for the development of Kirstenbosch, until the people were forcibly removed by the apartheid government in the sixties. This caused much heartache and pain as the community were split up and spread all over the desolate Cape Flats. Many stayed faithful to Good Shepherd, coming once a month for a service as the church was closed in 1968 for regular service . The church reopened for regular worship on Advent Sunday 1978, forming a new congregation as now the surrounding new white neighbours also joined the church. This was an opportunity to get to know each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, despite the apartheid laws of the time.
In January, 1995, I was prompted by God to read Psalm 37. It says, verse 22” Those the Lord blesses will inherit the land “ and verse 29 “ the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever “. The community did not believe it was possible to claim their land. I called Lawyers for Human Rights to convince them that it was possible with the new Restitution Act. They formed a committee, gathered the scattered community together and in September 1995 they submitted their claim for the land from which they had been so brutally forcibly removed. I served on this Committee for eleven years. The process has been long and hard. Many meetings, a court case, delays, and ups and downs.
In 2006 the Land was restored to the community. The process is still continuing today and despite Covid, meetings are continuing via Zoom. The Protea community are to be commended for their tenacity, patience, perseverance, retaining their dignity and hope through the many years. Today there are substantial plans for the redevelopment of the land and the return of the community, bringing justice to all and hopefully some healing.
This is the story that caught the attention of Canon Andrew White who invited us to join the Community of the Cross of Nails, a journey which started in the eighties when I visited Coventry Cathedral. The story of reconciliation spoke to me as I felt healing the hurts of history is so much needed in South Africa. Over the years and many visits to Coventry we have established wonderful relationships with many CCN Centres and Cathedral staff. After the visit of Canon Paul Oestreicher in 1991 we started a prayer group meeting on the first Friday of the month praying the Litany of reconciliation. This has met ever since then and only stopped this year because of Covid.
We are extremely grateful to the Rev Oliver Scheugraf for setting up the international Zoom meetings for prayers during the lockdown, and now meeting on the first Friday of the month. We have attended four international CCN Conferences (2000, 2004 ,2012 & 2018) in Coventry; our youth have been privileged to attend several CCN Youth Conferences sponsored by the German CCN in Coventry, Germany and Poland. Being part of the international community has meant so much to us sharing our stories, hopes and dreams, and putting the Protea story on the international stage. We have been so blessed with the many visits to Cape Town from Cross of Nails partners and been so happy to share our story with them and show them our beautiful country. The highlight was hosting the second international CCN Youth Conference in Cape Town in 2006. Forty-five delegates from eleven different countries arrived as strangers and left as friends.
Through the many generations Good Shepherd has been central to the lives of the Protea community. In the dark days of apartheid it was a safe meeting place. Despite many of them joining churches in their new areas they often return for baptisms, weddings and funerals and other special occasions always tending the family graves on their visits. Throughout the claim any success or progress has been celebrated with a special thanksgiving service. God has walked this journey with them.
In preparation for the return of the Protea community, the church building was enlarged in 2010 when extensive renovations needed to be done. Now seating about one hundred and twenty (previously ninety), in 2019 the Archbishop Thabo Makgoba proposed that Good Shepherd should become an independent parish with its own parochial boundaries. This is still in discussion and should be finalised once the lockdown is over.
We pray that in the not too distant future building will start and the Protea community can return home with much rejoicing.
To God be the glory.
For further information www.goodshepherd-protea.org.za
Companion of the Community of the Cross of Nails