THE HISTORY OF OUR CHURCH
From Tin Temple to stately spire, with a sojourn in Mars Street in between, how far and how graciously has God moved the Congregation of St James’ Church.
He has blessed us with leaders of stature and dignity, who have been at the forefront of our organisations and our Church and we praise His name.
In 1914, as WW1 darkened Western Europe, a group of people came together to begin a Presbyterian Congregation to bring light to the folk of the eastern suburbs of Johannesburg. A band of determined Scots descendents began their meetings in the “Star Bioscope Hall” in Denver, with the first “meeting” being held on 30 March 1914. First Communion was held on 2 May 1914. By June of that year the church was home to a Sunday School of over 100 children and had a constituted WA.
With the need for prayer paramount on their agenda, the little group quickly swelled in number and soon began looking for new premises.
A corrugated iron mine winding engine house structure was built by congregants and, in 1915, the Tin Temple, as it was affectionately known, became the office home of the Malvern and Denver Presbyterian Church. A number of our more senior members fondly remember Sunday services in the tin church.
It was Rev C H Beagley who led the first services at the “Star Bioscope”, but he was succeeded shortly thereafter by the Rev William Menzies, who led the congregation for almost four years and under whose leadership the church was established.
Within a short period, the congregation had grown to a tight-knit family and, as families are wont to do, they enjoyed family life together, celebrating weddings, baptisms, confirmations and funerals with each other. Not only did they meet for regular Sunday worship and communion, but the life of the church grew to include almost daily activities, with the youth being amply provided for.
Soon a thriving Sunday School emerged, as did a St James’ Brownie Pack, a St James’ Girl Guide Group, a Boy’s Brigade, a junior and a senior choir, a Bible class, a youth fellowship, a morning women’s association and a Board of Management.
As in the case in most churches, many of the activities were underpinned by the ladies of the church and we at St James honour and cherish the role of women in the growth of this branch of God’s home on earth.
Church bazaars, or fêtes, were a social highlight of the year for many people and were planned for months in advance, but, while the social value of these affairs was important, the role they played in the financial survival of the church was inestimitable. Knitting needles clicked as fast as tongues, and needles flew in and out of exquisite handwork, in aid of raising badly needed funds to run the new church.
Tombola stalls and white elephant stalls, tea gardens and coconut shies – all helped to fund the church and bring her members into a close fellowship and we are privileged, today, to still count amongst our members those who attended the tin church!
However, in 1918, under Rev Ashenhurst, the church found a new and important, albeit temporary, role – that of a medical depot during the great flu epidemic.
The church continued to thrive and by the early 1930’s it was apparent that a new, larger home, was required. And so was born “the Mars Street Church”. Two years after the ground was purchased, the foundation stone was laid on 24 October 1936 and, on 27 March 1937, the doors of the new church were opened.
Under various ministers, the church continued to grow and in 1945 the name was changed to “St James’ Presbyterian Church”, Malvern and Kensington – named for James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, and whose representation appears in the stained glass windows on the left of the pulpit, as the stairs are mounted to the pulpit.
For a number of years the children would meet at the Tin Temple for Sunday School, then, under the stern eyes of their teachers, would walk in crocodile formation up to the Mars Street Church, where they would have the second half of their schooling in the “big church” with the adults. The plate would be passed and some of our elder folk still recall putting their penny in the plate, after dutifully passing the corner café and resisting temptation.
Obligatory dress for the girls was a straw hat in summer, complete with ribbons and flowers, white socks and sandals and a pretty frock. In winter this gave way to black/brown socks with black/brown sturdy shoes, a felt hat and a dress of sterner stuff than a summer frock.
The children were made to sit boy/girl/boy in an attempt to stop the girls from whispering and giggling, but boys being boys, plaits got tied to pews, ribbons on hats got tied to other hats and dainty white sandals scuffed by black leather shoes – deliberately – and woe betide the girl whose shoes were dirty the next Sunday!
However, the dangers of crossing Jules Street each Sunday morning became obvious and a decision was made to build a hall adjacent to the Mars Street Church. In the fine tradition of the Presbyterian faithful, the women of the church worked tirelessly and the MacDonald Hall was opened.
An often repeated memory which the older members share is that of the Penny Mile. In order to involve the Sunday School in the raising of funds for the new Mars Street church the children were asked to bring in their pennies and see if they could join their pennies in a long line stretching from the Tin Temple to the proposed new building - a distance of a mile. The children rose to the challenge with great excitement and a real sense of belonging and the Penny Mile was laid out one Saturday morning, to the delight of adults and children alike. Imagine how the counting committee must have loved counting that lot!
In May 1953 Rev Nicol Binnie was ordained and inducted into the pulpit of St James Presbyterian Church, a position which he filled with love and dedication until 1975. Under Rev Binnie, the church and all its organisations flourished and membership swelled.
Rev Binnie recognised that the newly developing suburbs of Edenvale stood in need of a Presbyterian Church, so the decision was made to plant a church in Elma Park. On 15 December 1965, a block of land was transferred into the name of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa. Trinity Preaching Station, which had been the dream of Rev Binnie, became the reality of a Church Extension Charge. The preaching station had originally met in the home of Mr and Mrs Tom Jamieson, as had the Sunday School. Once again the ladies of the church rallied and raised a significant portion of the funds required for what was to become Trinity Presbyterian Church.
With the recognition of the growth of Bedford Gardens, the idea of a church there grew. After canvassing the area, it was decided to begin a Sunday School in Bedford Gardens and the Malvern East Sunday School opened early in 1967, under the leadership of Mr and Mrs WAR Harris, in the Op’t Hof School, Healy Road, Malvern East.
However, with social migration and urban sprawl, it eventually became apparent that St James’ might need to move away from the increasingly inner city nature of its location and so began, with much debate, the search for a new home. The move to Bedfordview was first mooted in 1972 and the deed of purchase signed on 4 May 1974, when stand 26 Oxford Road, Bedford Gardens, was purchased from Gillis Mason. This was followed by a garden party at the home of Dick and Ann Hart.
Miss Dorothy Archibald left the church a sum of money, which enabled this purchase, but the process which began in November 1971, would take almost three years to come to fruition.
The Presbytery of Johannesburg proclaimed Bedford Gardens a preaching station in December 1973, by which stage the decision had already been taken to turn the sod of the new premises as part of the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee. In February 1974 the decision was taken to sell the Mars Street property and move to a new home – 3 Oxford Road, Bedfordview.
In 1975 Rev Binnie accepted a call to St Andrews Church in Germiston and St James entered a period of tension and instability. The plot of land had been bought in Bedfordview but the finances needed to build a church were huge! “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” and St James was blessed by the arrival of Rev David Jones, who was at first Stated Supply, but in October 1976, was accepted into the Presbyterian Ministry of Southern Africa. When Rev Jones began as stated supply, he earned the princely salary of R4.20 per sermon!
In January 1976 the first church service was held, and the building was consecrated on 17 January 1976, although the actual dedication service was conducted by the interim Moderator, the Rev Allan Maker, on 6 March 1976.
The Mars Street Church was sold and the pressure of raising funds for the new St James’ Church was enormous –and once again, a flurry of fund raising began. A number of precious items, such as the bell, the organ and the stained glass windows were moved to their new home, along with the pulpit, the pews and many other dedicated items.
The Rev Bill Marshall joined our congregation in 1976 and he and Rev Dr Tom Copeland were called upon to preach from time to time.
In June 1977, additional land was purchased, with a view to building the new halls and creating a parking area. These halls were completed in 1979 by Elder Eric Birkhead.
It was in 1980 that storm clouds began gathering again, as the proposal to unify the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa and the United Congregational Church was first brought forward. Although this proposed union was ultimately defeated, the storm clouds were to remain to beset future union discussion with tensions.
Theology Undergraduate Gerald England was invited to serve as Assistant Minister at St James in 1983. His tenure was one which many people remember fondly. When Gerald left us to complete his military service at the end of 1984, he was followed by Rev Tim Hawkridge as Assistant Minister. Rev Hawkridge served at St James from 1985 until he took up a call to St Giles Presbyterian Church, at the end of 1986.
In September 1986, Rev Bill Marshall was appointed as Assistant Minister and Mr Dick Hart as Pastoral Assistant. Each of these men of God added such dignity and stature to the mix of our church and, whilst each retired from active service, they blessed us with their presence until they were called home to their reward. Mrs Cindy Marshall, widow of Rev Bill Marshall, is still a cherished member of our church family today.
An amusing aside – in 1985 it was proposed that computers be introduced at St James, but after due consideration, it was decided that computers were “unnecessary and should not be introduced”! Thirty years later …
In 1986 Mr John Tudhope was nominated as the new Session Clerk, as Mr Ben Visser resigned the position due to work pressure.
In the years which followed, the membership of the church grew and members enjoyed the sense of community which stems from belonging to a church family. It was during this time that first Rev Paul van Zyl, and later Rev Mark Kenton, attended to our congregation as Assistant Ministers, for approximately two years each, to Rev David Jones.
For a period of almost 20 years, St James was outside the main body of the Presbyterian Church, electing to be a “Free Presbyterian Church”. While being Presbyterian in structure, the church remained independent of the ruling councils of the PCSA and then, subsequently, the UPCSA.
In May 2003 it was announced that Rev Willem Pieters and his wife, Janette, would join St James in the August of that year. Rev Pieters was appointed as Additional Minister, having been called from Harare, Zimbabwe.
In August of 2003 Elder John Tudhope resigned as Session Clerk, due to work pressure, and Elder Roger Falls was invited to fill this position.
Rev Pieters was inducted in August 2003 and immediately began to make his presence felt in the Youth Group and on the Caring Committee.
In March 2004, St James celebrated their 90th birthday. The occasion was marked by the celebration of communion, followed by a social at both the morning and evening services.
In May 2004, Rev Pieters was designated as a full Minister to St James, replacing the designations of Assistant or Associate Minister. In November 2004 the evening Contemporary Service was trialed, and, due to its enormous success, instituted permanently on the second and fourth Sunday evenings of the month. Later this became every Sunday.
During the period 2004-2007, there was considerable growth in the church and the organisations associated with it. A Ladies Bible Study began, which has flourished ever since; the two youth groups expanded exponentially; the Music Society thrived; the Birding Group expanded (but did not Tweet!) and the small groups Bible Study grew in knowledge and numbers.
In May 2008 the congregation of St James was shaken by the news that Rev David Jones had requested that he be allowed to retire as Moderator. Rev Willem Pieters was named as Moderator Elect.
For the many who had been edified by David’s inspirational sermons Sunday by Sunday, this was devasting news, and, as so often happens when change occurs and we feel insecure, there followed a period of some dissention and instability. We thank God for David’s 34 year long ministry and inspiration, for his leadership and his personality and our prayers and love remain with him.
But, as in every instance with God, where He closes one door, He opens another and the towering intellect of Willem, his challenging sermons and his absolute passion for Jesus, led the faithful to new and mind expanding vistas.
Particularly wonderful was the growth in the Youth Group and the commitment of the young people who came to know the Lord during this time.
Concurrent with Rev David Jones letter of retirement, Elder Roger Falls resigned as Session Clerk. Again God called a man of vision and towering personal strength in the person of Elder Malcolm Elston. In June 2008 our dearly loved, honoured and respected Malcolm took up the post of Session Clerk, a position he still holds.
Inevitably, there were resignations, but the strength of a church is never numerical but spiritual and, while our numbers were depleted, the depth of our understanding and knowledge were increased. Where Christians go to war, the only victor can be Satan.
Early in 2009, St James was privileged to welcome Mr Jan de Jong and his wife, Sparrow, into our congregation. Jan has had many years in lay ministry, so we were delighted to be able to hear him preach at occasional services and to have him lead the Tuesday evening Bible Study/Fellowship group, as well as the early Sunday morning Prayer Meeting.
A sad blow in 2009 was the diagnosis of our much loved Elder, Lawrence Gill, with cancer. Laurie had headed the Caring Committee with such deep compassion and real Christian caring, that all who knew him were shocked. Despite a gallant fight, this true servant of God left us to be with our Father in November 2009.
Early in 2010, Greg and Sally Yatt began worshipping at St James and in May 2010, Greg was proposed as an additional lay preacher, to assist Rev Willem Pieters. Greg was at that time studying theology and his acceptance into this role was one which was to provide a source of comfort and inspiration to many, as he ministered to our congregation. In addition, Sally led the worship in the Sunday School where her teaching skills and musical abilities proved invaluable assets.
In October 2010, Rev Willem Pieters received a call from the Winterton Dutch Reform Church, to assume the role of Moderator to that church. His health had been compromised as a result of stress and he felt that the taking up of this position, in a slower paced environment, would be beneficial. So it was with deep sadness of many who had come to cherish Willem and Janette, and whose walk with God had been strengthened and deepened by them, that we bade farewell to Willem and his lovely Janette at the end of January 2011.
The Church, at this point, was without a minister and again God proved his faithfulness in His provision for us of a Session Clerk who is not only a man of God, but a man of vision. Under the unerring pilot ship of Malcolm Elston, the ship of St James was steered through rocky seas and it was in no small measure due to him that we have reached the safe harbour in which we now find ourselves.
Elder Malcolm Elston was appointed by the Session as Interim Moderator of St James and it was in this capacity that he advised the session on 21 February 2011 that a number of congregants and Elders had approached him and asked if it were not time that we, as a congregation, considered the possibility of returning to the fold of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa; now known as the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa.
This was the beginning of a long and arduous journey, beginning with a meeting between Malcolm Elston and Rt Rev Dr George Marchinkowski, in which the latter outlined the nature and requirements of a return to Presbytery. At a special congregational meeting, held on 15 May 2011, the congregation unanimously voted in favour of the decision to return to the UPCSA. Thus it was that at a special meeting of Session on 10 July 2011, a Presbytery Visitation Team from the Egoli Presbytery visited St James and the official process of returning to the UPCSA was underway.
Consequently, Rt Rev Dr George Marchinkowski and Rev Melanie Cook were appointed as Interim Moderators by Presbytery. At a special meeting of the congregation on 18 September 2011, Rt Rev Dr Marchinkowski began his address with the words “welcome home”. What a moment! And so the time to appoint a Call Committee had arrived.
This dedicated committee spent many long hours, firstly deciding on the requirements of a minister for St James and then on interviewing possible candidates.
No words can express our gratitude to Malcolm Elston for the inordinate amount of time he invested in this process. Without Malcolm’s patient, firm and insightful input, we might yet be floundering. Thank you, Malcolm.
Thanks must also go to Rt Rev Dr George Marchinkowski and Rev Melanie Cook for their many hours of love and service. We need, also, to thank the Call Committee for a wonderful job, faithfully executed.
16 May 2012 was, unbeknown to all but a few, a momentous day for St James Church, for on that date the Rev Gavin Lock and his wife Janine, were officially interviewed and Rev Lock was invited to preach, with a view to a call, on Sunday 27 May 2012. Consequent to those two services, the decision was made to call Rev Gavin Lock to the pulpit of St James. What a wise decision that was! What joy has been the result thereof!
Janine is a wonderful asset in the Sunday School, which is now known as LEGO.
The changes are many – some obvious, like our new logo, some more subtle, like the newly formatted intimation sheets, but over everything there is a pervasive peace and the love of Jesus shines into each nook and cranny of our spiritual home.