More than fifteen years ago, a young man named Charles attended my confirmation class at the Groutville Congregational Church (United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, UCCSA). Groutville was the first church I served after ordination. In the past, confirmation at Groutville lasted three or four weeks and consisted of reading, memorizing, and regurgitating a classical catechistical formula. But with Charles and others, class lasted throughout the year. Real questions of faith were asked. Who was/is Jesus? What is sin? Can God be male? What is the church’s role in society? Why are the sacraments important? What are Congregational values?
On Confirmation day, Charles and others confirmed their baptisms, promised to God and the faith community that they would serve the world through the church and proclaim the gospel in their lives. Charles was my most perceptive and intuitive student. On that Sunday, I prophesied to the church that Charles was going to be an umfundisi (ordained minister).
Many years later, after I finished my term at Groutville, I met Charles again at the local university. We talked. He updated me on his life and his chemical engineering studies. Some years later, I met Charles yet again, and he confided to me that he was not happy with his major and had switched to civil engineering. Many years later, while teaching a course on Christian history, I looked up from my lecture notes and saw an older, but still quite recognizable, Charles. “What are you doing in this class?” I inquired. Charles explained that he was now studying for the ministry. I was very proud that he finally was following his calling.
I also taught confirmation class at the Bethel Congregational Church, UCCSA. There, one of my first confirmands was a young man named Frank. Frank wrote of his experience: “Once, when attending confirmation classes under Scott's tutelage, my fellow confirmands and I challenged Scott about his opinions on Jesus' supposed romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene as everyone was in an uproar over Dan Brown's novel Angels and Demons. His response was simple but cutting, ‘So what?’ His elaboration explored whether that detail, whether confirmed fact or fiction, would stop us following Jesus' example to using it as confirmation that Jesus was indeed truly human. His input helped in the development of ideas that I was wrestling with during my own pubescent struggles, a point in my life that I reflect on and consider landmark while developing my personal core values. The window through which I view the happenings in my life and the world. I am a purposefully optimistic person by nature since this experience.”
Before I left the Bethel Congregational Church, Frank was called to be a deacon, perhaps the youngest (not long out of university) to ever serve. He is now married, has a child and is wise beyond his years. Frank, though he was a protégé, is now a role model, and good one, for even his minister!
There is a time for everything … and so a time to leave South Africa after eighteen years of ministry there. It has been an honor and a blessing to serve the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa. I have met and served many Christians who I aspire to emulate. The faith in Africa is rich, strong and vibrant. The soil that the African church grows within is full of nutrients and life-giving water. The church in southern Africa will be strong with the likes of Charles and Frank therein. It was a blessing to teach them and it was an honor to be taught by them.
Today as Charles studies to be a minister, he pulpit supplies at the Bethel Congregational Church during his breaks from seminary studies, serving both Frank and the faith community I once served.
To South Africa, which is currently going through many political transitions and turmoil, I say, “Sala kakhle (stay well). May the God that has always been with you, is with you, and forever will be with you, guide you forward in faith. Amen.”
Love always in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Scott Couper
Scott Couper, serves as a long-term volunteer with the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) School of Region, Philosophy and Classics, Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS) and Inanda Seminary. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Our Church's Wider Mission, Disciples' Mission Fund, and your special gifts.