27 July 2020

Anglican Students Federation -- 60th Anniversary

Today, 27 July 2020, is the 60th anniversary of the Anglican Students Federation of South Africa (ASF), whose founding meeting was held on 27 July 1960 at Modderpoort in the Free State.

The ASF has had a considerable impact on the life of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, though that impact has rarely received public attention. Many clergy and lay leaders have been influenced during their student years by the ASF, and it has given many of them valuable experience in leadership.

Germ of an Idea

To my knowledge, the idea of the ASF began on the Wits University Campus in 1959. At that time the Chaplain to the University was Fr Tom Comber, and the Chairman of the Anglican Society was John Daines, who later became a military chaplain, while Tom Comber was later arrested for participating in peace demonstrations in the UK.

Anglican Society activities at Wits then consisted of a weekly Mass in one of the lecture rooms, a weekly lunch-time meeting, with a speaker, and informal gatherings in the chaplain's office, which was a prefab hut. The Anglican Society, led by John Daines and Brian Gannon, was aggressively Anglo-Catholic, and the fact that Roman Catholic students had a "National Catholic Federation of Students" seems to have been the spur which led to the formation of the ASF.

Revd Tom Comber, Wits chaplain
Tom Comber, John Daines and Brian Gannon formed an ad hoc committee to arrange a national Anglican conference in July 1960. Invitations were sent to other Anglican Societies at universities and teacher training colleges and theological colleges. The venue was to be the St Augustine's Test School at the priory of the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM) at Modderpoort in the eastern Free State.

Tom Comber found that the parents of many of the female students would not allow them to attend the conference unless there was a chaperon, and he persuaded my mother, Ella Hayes, to attend in that capacity.

The conference almost had to be cancelled because of the State of Emergency that followed the Sharpeville Massacre, but he somehow managed to get a paper with the necessary permission for such a gathering. So students converged on Modderpoort from all over the country. I travelled by car with my mother, and we took a couple of theological students from St Peter's College, Rosettenville, Benjamin Photolo and Jacob Maleke, whose homes were in Sharpeville, so they knew people who had been killed or injured in the shooting there,

I'll tell most of the story of the conference from the diary I kept at the time, with occasional explanatory notes.


Saturday 23 July 1960

We left for Modderpoort at about 8.30 am, and picked up Jacob Maleke at Amen Court (next to St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg) at 9.00 am, and went on to Vereeniging where we picked up Benjamin Photolo at 9.45 am, and then went on through Parys and Brandfort. Between Brandfort and Kroonstad Mr (Rex) Simpson passed us, with Mike Quail, Louise Hesselman, Margaret Edwards and Pam Lowick. We stopped at Kroonstad to fill up with petrol - 150 miles on nearly 4 gallons. At 12.30, ten miles out of Kroonstad, we stopped for lunch - cold chicken and sandwiches. Graham Tremeer passed us in an Austin while we were stopped.

We set off again, and I nearly fell asleep driving over the flat Free State countryside. We passed through Winburg, and continued on a gravel road. On the other side of Winburg Fr Tom Comber was stopped, having lunch. We stopped for a short while to chat, then went on to Modderpoort through Marquard and Clocolan. We were the first car to arrive at Modderpoort, and were greeted by John Daines, who had arrived that morning by train.

We had tea in the refectory, and then went to the station to meet people who had arrived on the train from Durban. Among them was John Greig, a student from St Paul's College, Grahamstown.

After supper, we joined the SSM fathers for Compline in the priory chapel, and then went to bed, shivering, in dormitories below the dining room. (My mother, who had been persuaded by Fr Comber to come as a chaperone for the girls, stayed with Miss Minnie Wright, sister of one of the SSM fathers, in a cottage some distance away)

Sunday 24 July 1960

We got up, still shivering, at 6.30 am, and went to Mattins and Mass (in the Priory Chapel). The Bishop of Bloemfontein, Bendyshe Burnett, celebrated. After breakfast we made our beds, and then went to a classroom for the first address, by the Bishop of Bloemfontein, on The Theological Roots of Anglicanism.

He said that the church roots were the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, the three creeds of the undivided church, the sacraments and the threefold ministry. A non-papal Catholic church emerged from a political settlement, which became the Anglican Communion. Political influence enabled it to retain its Catholic nature. Today most Anglican Churches have no state connections. It has been shown that papal supremacy is not necessary to church order. The Anglican Communion has no objection to papal primacy which is quite different from papal supremacy.

The Roman Church has attacked episcopacy as much as the Protestants - the Holy Spirit is virtually replaced by a ruler ex-cathedra. Episcopacy in the Anglican Church reminded the English that it was not a merely English institution, but the utterance in England of the universal Christian Church. The Pope describes himself as the ``Vicar of Christ'' - it is a false conception that the ministers are deputed to do what our Lord did years ago. They regard themselves as representing a sometimes present Christ - a practical loss of faith in the Holy Spirit. Anglican ministers are representatives - they represent to the church the ever-present Christ. The ministry is a divinely ordained order. The Protestant view is too subjective.

The Anglican Communion has no faith in itself. We are concerned with the Church of God. The words used at the consecration of a Bishop - ``receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Bishop in the Church of God'' are alone sufficient evidence of this.

The use of Scripture to establish doctrine must be done in the Church. Scripture in the context of the Church is the standard for doctrine. The appeal to Scripture by Anglicans is different from that of Protestants who approach Scripture in a vacuum. Because the Anglican Communion is both Catholic and Reformed some make the Bible and some make Tradition the more important. The liturgy preserves us from ultimate loss by pressure from the spirit of the age.

The Anglican Church became too tolerant, liberal, and thus worldly until the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The reaction from this led to the formation of three streams - Liberal, Catholic and Evangelical, basing their ideas on reason, tradition, and scripture respectively. The church must not be tied down by the spirit of the age, but some latitude is necessary.

The Reformers liberated us from Medieval thinking by the emphasis on Justification by Grace, rediscovering the social nature of the Church. Until recently the Roman Church has been thoroughly individualistic and Protestant in their approach to the Mass. The whole Church is the people of God, a priestly body. With Protestantism the evangelical principles become too vague and pietistic.

The Catholic stream emphasizes the fact that the Church, Sacraments etc. are all given. The Church mediates Christ to the world. All members of the Church are becoming more and more into the full manhood of Christ into which they have already been baptized.

These three are all necessary to the Catholic Church of God, although sometimes we do not appreciate all of them. Even Rome is now catching up on the positive insights of the Reformation.

The mistake of Evangelicals is that they think baptism gives no status. They emphasize conversion and think that one must be able to state how and when it happened. The Romans also, for all practical purposes, regard their members as unbaptized, and emphasize repentance and a series of penitential acts. The West thinks of the dying Christ - the East thinks of the risen Christ, but the Anglican Church has a structure which embraces both.

In the afternoon several of us climbed the mountain behind the Priory, and walked along the top for a while, before coming down a gully, with Liz Tucker leading the way like a mountain goat. We had tea, and Evensong in the Priory chapel at 6.00 pm with the SSM, which was followed by supper.
The SSM Priory and Test School at Modderpoort, from the hill behind

After supper the Bishop of Bloemfontein gave another address, on The Church of the Future.

Bishop Bendyshe Burnett of Bloemfontein
He said that people are generally unsuccessful in relating the rapid advance in technical knowledge to what really matters. The Church must bring a theological basis back to the centre of our lives. Intellectuals are out of touch with modern theologians. People must become more aware of the theological purpose of what they do in everyday life.

Many church buildings in this country are mock-Gothic and out of touch with reality. This could be rectified if architects knew what a church is for. The church should use modern skill, knowledge and materials to build more functional buildings.

In music we wallow in Victorian slush - as far as art is concerned, the church is wearing clothes which are out of date. Modern art is symbolic, and ideally adapted to the use of the church. In the experimental liturgy there is no blessing - the congregation is told to go out into the world and "be the church."

The Church of the future must be reunited, and the Ceylon scheme of reunion is a good pointer in this direction. Denominational apartheid is an evil which must be remedied. The Ceylon scheme will keep the ancient scheme of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

The Church must become indigenous in each locality, but this must not be paramount, as the word ``Anglican'' seems to suggest. The emphasis is often too much on ``Anglican'' and too little on ``Communion''. The church over the whole world is too ``Anglican'' - too ``English''. How can we be indigenous and yet remain Catholic ? Nationalism must not cause us to lose our Catholic principles.

We must really BE the people of God. The Church must be built around the altar, font and pulpit as the buildings are. We must live as if we really are in the dying and rising community which is the Church. You do not become a Christian and then join the Church. We are baptized into a body, a community - the Church, which is the Body of Christ. We must become what we are by virtue of our baptism. The altar and pulpit enable us to do this. We are Christians, and we must become what we are. We neglect the Holy Spirit too much. One cannot see God and live - our preaching must say this, but because we are dying with Christ, we must also rise with him.

Worship is not merely one of the things the Church does - the Church is a worshipping community. We place our lives and all that we have on the altar, and receive all this back to become the Body of Christ. The perfect union with Christ will come at the Last Day - at the consummation. At every Mass we are waiting for the bridegroom.

Monday 25th June 1960 - St James the Great

We got up early and went to Mattins and Mass at 6.45 am. Fr Gregory (Wilkins) celebrated, and Fr Austin Masters was the server.

At 10.00 am Fr Victor Ranford, SSM, delivered a paper on Empirical Knowledge and Revealed Truth. He said Christians must become scientific, and make an experiment with their lives, trying out Christianity to see if it worked.

In the afternoon Brother Roger, of the Community of the Resurrection, spoke on Pilgrims of the Absolute He gave as his subtitle The Unrespectability of our Religion - he said we make our religion too respectable, and so we do not really show people how urgent it is to know God. None of us is really aware of the desperate necessity of some of the things our Lord said:-

  1. Pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your heavenly Father
  2. Forgive others - and be forgiven.
  3. It is very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

He said that beatniks got their name from beatific, meaning sanctified and that beatniks were true pilgrims of the Absolute, not hidebound by convention, as so many respectable church people are.In passing he mentioned a Frenchman who converted Simone Weil, and lived in absolute poverty (Leon Bloy). (The full text of Brother Roger's paper can be found here:  Pilgrims of the Absolute).

Discussion followed, mainly about Holy Poverty. Fr Comber said that poverty was one of the wickedest things he knew. Fr Gregory Wilkins, SSM, with better insight into what Brother Roger had said, remarked: Our Lord said it was difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven, and here we go about raising the standard of living and making people richer.

Brother Roger said beatniks are looking for what St Francis was looking for - only the beats look for God to get a kick out of it, while St Francis looked for God because he thought God wanted him. The dregs of the beatniks have a flavour of holiness.

After supper the discussion was on boring topics such as the character of people who picked up hitch-hikers and the merits of private and government schools.

Tuesday 26 July 1960

Fr Comber celebrated Mass at 7.15, and at breakfast I sat next to Br. Roger. He must have had plenty of interesting things to say, but unfortunately he did not get much chance because Mr Simpson sat on the other side making infallible pronouncements on the character of the Afrikaner and similar topics. I found it rather annoying.

At 10 am Alan Paton spoke to us on Christianity and Communism. He told us about the beginnings and spread of communism, and its idea that society is more important than the individuals living in it. He said that we must remember that Christ was crucified for individual human beings and not their society. We must believe in morality for morality's sake, and for God's sake. The end, for a Christian, cannot justify the means.

In the afternoon Alan Paton spoke again on Ourselves and the African Continent. "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them" - he said that white people did not follow this rule in their treatment of black people of South Africa, but substituted "fear" for "would'' - do to others what you fear they will do to you. Our Lord never promised that kindness would be repaid.

In the evening Fr Gregory Wilkins spoke on Vocation - he said that vocation could come as an invitation or command - if there was a choice of two or more courses it was an invitation, and if there was no choice, it was a command. God calls us to do what we are doing. Desire, ability and opportunity are all necessary for vocation.

Wednesday 27 July 1960

Mattins and Mass at 6.45 am in the Priory Chapel as usual, and Fr Ranford, the inveterate hitch-hiker, celebrated.

Mr Simpson delivered a paper on The Contemporary and Christian Attitude towards Sex - it was what one would expect to hear from a man like him, largely factual, with some old-fashioned "gentlemanly" touches, like saying (of the view that Christian sexual morality is bad because it gives people inhibitions) "Of course I have inhibitions. I have inhibitions against spitting on the carpet."

In the afternoon a group of us climbed Spitzkop, a little koppie in the middle of the poort, between the river and the priory. Benjamin Photolo, who had been up yesterday, led the way, and we sat at the top discussing the Bishop of Johannesburg (Ambrose Reeves), and his problematic return. John Daines hoped that he would return, and resign immediately (Bishop Reeves had fled the country immediately after the Sharpeville massacre, fearing he would be arrested. He did return a few months later, and was deported).

When we left to go down Brian Beattie stayed behind with Anne Page, and on the way down we lost John Blythe and Margaret Edwards, who went off courting. Rex "the Sex" Simpson obviously had an influence.

After tea Mr Ferrandi, Headmaster of St Andrew's School®X7St Andrew's School¯ in Bloemfontein, spoke on Christian National Education®X7Christian National Education¯.

In the evening there was preliminary discussion on the formation of a National Federation of Anglican Students. After finally deciding that it would be formed we spent such a long time arguing over the constitution that a committee was appointed, representative of all universities and theological colleges present, to draw up a draft constitution, and the rest of us went and had tea and said compline in the Priory Chapel. Back in the dormitory I had an interesting discussion with John Greig, who claimed to be a Prot, but was actually more Catholic than any spike.

Thursday 28 July 1960

We had Mattins and Mass in the Test School Chapel, with the altar in the middle, and the congregation around it. Fr Austin Masters celebrated.

After breakfast we had a symposium, at which the Chairmen of the Anglican Societies of Wits, Rhodes and Natal reported on the work of their respective societies. Brian Beattie, of Rhodes, gave the best report.

After morning tea we discussed two questions on Christianity and Communism, and then Alan Paton gave a brief talk on the future of South Africa. He said there were three possibilities :

  1. That the Government kept control by force, until there was a revolt, which would probably be crushed at the cost of great bloodshed and suffering.
  2. There would be outside intervention, probably from Ghana, followed by United Nations intervention.
  3. The Government might alter its policy.®IP¯

In the afternoon I bought a number of books from the Adams Mission Library, and then we had a discussion on the function of an Anglican Society in a University. Shirley Silverthorne (SCA Travelling Secretary) gave as a reason for poor Anglican Society/SCA relationships in most universities that the SCA in South Africa consisted mainly of fundamentalists. After tea we passed the draft constitution with a few amendments.

After supper we elected a provisional committee, with John Greig as President. Then we had a party. Fr Austin and Fr Gregory came in later and drank down a quart of beer while we sang to them. Fr Comber also had to do the same.
Peter Bowen managed to work out that five or six of us looked like famous people: John Daines was like Robert Mitchum, I was George Cole, Tim Cartwright was Burt Lancaster, John Greig was Orson Welles and Richard Hawkins was Caryl Chessman - a few film stars and a convicted murderer.

We also played a game called "Hedgehog", where one member of a group had to draw something, and the others had to guess what it was. Later in the evening the lights were turned down and most of us went to bed, while the lovers stayed up till three thirty.

Friday 29 July 1960

Once again we had Mass in the Test School Chapel, with Fr Comber celebrating, and everybody standing around. We stood most of the time, even during the prayer of consecration. That arrangement certainly did make it seem like a meal.

After breakfast we said goodbye to everyone, and then left to go home. We returned through Ladybrand and Maseru (where we had been before on Monday, just before Brother Roger's talk.)
I have reproduced my diary largely as it was written, editing only to avoid repetition, or bad grammar. Some additional comments and recollections, coming many years later, might also be appropriate.

Liturgical Renewal

For many students, the conference was a first exposure to liturgical renewal®X7liturgical renewal¯. In an informal discussion with Fr Gregory Wilkins, someone asked why Austin Masters did not genuflect and elevate the host and chalice after the words of institution at the Mass, and Fr Wilkins replied that the whole Eucharistic Prayer effected the consecration, and not just the words of institution, and this included the Lord's prayer which followed.

For the first few days, the students joined the SSM in the priory chapel for their worship, Mattins and Mass in the morning, evening prayer before supper, and compline late at night. Walking up from the dormitories early in the morning in the Free State winter produced a move to the local style of dress. The fishpond below the priory was frozen over during the morning, and on the second or third morning of the conference, John Blythe, an engineering student from Durban, simply stood up from his bed, wrapping the bedclothes around him, and set off for the Chapel. Stores in Modderpoort, Ladybrand and Maseru did a brisk trade in Basotho blankets and blanket pins over the next few days.

The Test School Chapel (later converted to sleeping accommodation), had a central altar, with benches around thee sides, and students asked Fr Austin Masters to demonstrate its use, so Mass was celebrated there for the last few days of the conference.

Black and White

For many students, too, the Conference was a step out of the isolation of apartheid society. Wits and Cape Town, it is true, had been "open" universities until the previous year, but generally speaking there was not much contact between black and white students on campus, and what little there was generally superficial.

At the conference, however, there were students from the three Provincial theological colleges, as well as from the universities, and in a week-long residential conference, ideas were exchanged, and relationships formed. Among those present were Victor Mkhize, who later became Principal of St Peter's College, and Mcebisi Xundu, who in the 1980s was very active in the United Democratic Front (UDF). Benjamin Photolo, a student at St Peter's (then in Rosettenville), lived in Sharpeville, where four months earlier nearly 70 people had been shot while demonstrating against the pass laws.

It was a time of political ferment and change. Independence for many of the former colonies up North led to the expectation that in Southern Africa too, freedom might just be around the corner. The ANC and PAC had just been banned. Verwoerd had been shot at the Rand Show, there was a State of Emergency, and the Republican Referendum was just around the corner.

At the conference, there was a great deal of input and discussion, ranging from ``The Theological Roots of Anglicanism'' by the Bishop of Bloemfontein, with its look at where we had come from, to an examination of the current situation in the light of the Christian faith. Brother Roger gave a challenge, little understood by many, to develop a radical alternative Christian lifestyle.

At that first conference in 1960, all the speakers were white males. Black students were present, but not chaplains, and the conference was the result of white students' initiative. But those things soon changed, and the next couple of conferences were more representative.

Student control

A couple of years later the Students' Christian Association (SCA) split into four seperate racial organisations, mainly at the instigation of the Afrikaans section. Some in the ASF felt that there needed to be some inclusive organistion for Christian students of all denominations and after a few interdenominational conferences the University Christian Movement (UCM) was formed, but disintegrated after a few years.

The vision that ASF had caught hold of in that, for an interdenominational, rather than a non-denominational umbrella organisation, which would act as a coordinating body between the NCFS (Catholic) ASF (Anglican) and SCA (Protestant) did not materialise. This vision was shared regionally in Natal, and a coordinating body was set up at the University of Natal, and at the University of Zululand. What ultimately emerged, however, was the University Christian Movement, which became itself another undenominational body like the SCA, the only difference being that it was non-racial.

Unlike the ASF and NCFS, however, the UCM was not a student-controlled body. It had offices and a paid permanent staff. This proved to be its downfall, as the permanent staff used it to push their own theological fads. The ASF survived because it was a student controlled body, with students arranging the conferences, inviting the speakers, and avoiding the trap of paid officvers and a bureaucracy.

Continued at Notes from underground: Anglican Students Federation -- 60th Anniversary (Part 2: 1963/64).

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