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The Ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Amanzimtoti

At the entrance to our church building are two marble stones.  These stones give clues about the establishment of this congregation but reveal little of the story and the people that ministered to extend the Kingdom of God on the upper South Coast and in particular among the employees of the AECI/Kynoch factory and the early settlers of Amanzimtoti and Kingsburgh.

22 June 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of this congregation that started out with the name Umbogintwini Presbyterian Church.  We give thanks and glory to God for this work which is, as all church history, a continuation of the story that started with the Acts of the Apostles.  Like the apostle Luke, we too can say that “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for the sometime past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4).  This history is not intended to be comprehensive but rather to highlight the origins of the congregation and point out some highlights leading to the present time.

It is also pertinent to ask what the next 50 years will look like.  The world around us has changed fundamentally and we will see enormous changes in the next 50 years.  We need to be prudent… EX PRAETERITO / PRAESENS PRUDENTER AGIT / NE FUTURA ACTION DETURPET – “From the experience of the past, the present acts prudently, lest it imperil the future”.  Any caption of a ship must think 2 nautical miles ahead, for that is how long it takes to turn or stop a large ship.  Likewise the church must think at least 20 years ahead and take note of how the world is changing.   Only a few years ago we could not possibly have imagined how the world would have changed due to the advancement of technology and information.  We live in a world where we still need to be relative and effective. As bearers of the gospel.  It will take exceptional vision, hard work, endurance, opposition and persecution (from within and without the church) to take up your cross and follow Jesus to 2059.  The battle ground will be for the truth, the Word of God, the Deity of Christ Jesus, the Kingdom of God, the uniqueness of salvation in Christ, the relevance of, and commitment to the church.  Let us dream together of what the church would look like in 50 years… when we are no longer here but our children and grandchildren must carry the faith forward.

In April of 1956, a group of Christians got together and formed the A.E.C.I. Factory Lunchtime Fellowship which met regularly once a week.  This eventually developed to holding these meetings in the old Bjorseth grocery store opposite the old Post Office outside the factory gates in Umgogintwini.  This shop is now the Jaret’s paint and hardware store.  The old post office building is still there as well.  Off-duty shift workers and the wives of staff members could share in the meetings.  To kindle and maintain interest, celebrities were invited to address the meetings.  Among these people of merit was the Rev. Dr Andre de Villiers, senior minister of the Frere Road Presbyterian Church.  Such was the impact he made with those present, the a few Presbyterians in the group began attending services at his Church in Glenwood, Durban.  

It was at this time that it was realized that there was a need for services to be held in our community at Umbogintwini.  Plans were set in motion to make real the vision for a local Presbyterian congregation at Umbogintwini.  Dr Tormod NMacleoad, (the factory resident doctor) and Mr Colin Cumming and his very talented and hardworking wife, Mary approached Rev. Dr de Villiers to consider holding Sunday services fortnightly in the old wood and iron hall of the old Umbogintwini Club.  This hall was to become sentimentally known to the worshippers as “the tin tabernacle”

Rev de Villiers responded by agreeing to the request on the one condition that a congregation with a minimum of 20 people should be gathered together for these services. Taking up this challenge, Mary Cumming spent many tiresome hours canvassing residents from Isipingo to Illovo to attend.  Colin also after work rolled up his sleeves and this husband and wife team began to bring in those early members.  Dr Macleod was also hard at work! He scanned his patients’ medical files to read the little line which asked the patients religion to find all the Presbyterians.  

The response was overwhelming.  At the first service, there were no less than 40 people present who were willing to commit themselves to keep the small flame of Presbyterianism burning!  That fist service was held at 16:45, Sunday afternoon in August 1957.  The Spirit of God dwelt and moved within this community and the congregation was experiencing a full commitment by having their own new congregation, a Presbyterian congregation.

When the new Umbogintwini Club was built, the Church moved to the Jubilee Hall and on 22 June 1959 the very first congregational meeting was held with 29 members in attendance and 6 apologies.  The first committee of Management was elected.  The Chairman was Dr Macleod with Colin Cumming as the first Treasurer, D G Kinnear as Secretary and members Mary Cumming.  A F Strangman, L Dummett, and D Grant.  At the first Communion, there were 22 communicant members on the roll and 25 adherents.  And so the Umgogintwini Presbyterian Church was born!

Within a few months of a committee was formed to investigate, prepare and organize for the building of the Church building where the congregation now worships.  It was the Lord who led this small band of pioneers from their small beginnings, their enthusiasm, their hard work and most of all their insatiable hunger to serve their Lord and Master Jesus Christ.  

On Sunday 4 September 1960, Umbogintwini Presbyterian Church, held its last service in the Jubilee Hall.  One week later, on 11 September 1960, the Rev. Harold Munro conducted the dedication service of the new renamed McDonald Memorial Presbyterian Church.  Mr and Mrs McDonald, who were acquaintances of the Rev. Dr Andre de Villiers, donated about £400 towards the building of the church.  He was a successful entrepreneur in the shipping business from Cape Town.  Over the next 7 years, the congregation continued to function as a preaching station of Frere Road Presbyterian Church.  

Rev Dr Andre de Villiers and the Frere Road Session had oversight of the work.  During this time lay preachers and students for the ministry helped with the work.  Among them were Gordon Melrose, Jimmy Stevenson and Louis van Blommestein.

On 6 February 1967, the first Session was elected and inducted by Rev. Dr A de Villiers.  Colin Cumming was inducted and H W Duncan, G F Sheares, and H (Sid) Wheelock were ordained and inducted.  

The beloved Dr. McLeod, to whom the Church Hall is dedicated, passed away in Kenya.  In 1965, after his earthly remains were brought home, the funeral serve was conducted in the church.  It was probably the largest service ever held at his building, with people sitting outside on the lawn and into the road.   One of the marble foundation stones is also in dedication the the work and ministry of Dr McLeod.  These stones testify to us that the church of Jesus Christ is not built with bricks or stones but living stones of flesh and blood that dedicate themselves as living sacrifices into the service of God.  In 1998 a bell was donated by Collin and Mary Cumming and placed in the bell tower.  It is interesting to know that at some early stage 2 large speakers were in the bell tower and an LP record player used to play the bell chimes.  

The manse, which was originally proposed for a different site, was eventually built next to the church in 1972.  On 12 July 1981, the congregation met with 57 members in attendance to approve the building of the secretary’s office and a minister’s counselling study, these were completed in 1982.  

In 1982 the plans were approved to build a store room and roof at the vestibule.  The store room was completed in 1992 and the roof at the vestibule was only erected in 2006.  In 1992 the signboard and its housing was erected.  John Newby and Dirk van Wyk put their efforts into building our precious memorial wall in 1994, which was dedicated and the stone unveiled by the Presbytery Moderator Rev Dirk Gevers.  

In 1999 John Newby blessed us with a new vestry on the south side of the church and extended the church sanctuary into the old vestry thereby creating much needed space in front of the church.  At one stage in the early 1980’s the orientation of the pews were changed to face toward the manse.  This was changed back again to the way it now stands.

In 2005 the congregation decided unanimously to rename the congregation to Amanzimtoti Uniting Presbyterian Church in order to better identify with the community in which God has placed us and where we are continuing to minister to extend the Kingdom of God.  

The Resident Ministers of the congregation were Rev. Dr Alan Maker – March 1967 to December 1970, Rev (ted) E W Barber – January 1971 to December 1973, Rev. Dr James Elias – July 1974 to January 1982, Rev. James Gray – March 1982 to November 1990.  (During the ministry of Rev. Dr James Elias and Rev. James Gray St. Andres, Umzinto, was a preaching station under the care of the Session of McDonald Memorial).  Rev. John Comninos – October 1991 to June 1994, Rev. Peter Chapman – December 1994 to December 1999, and  Rev Brian J van Niekerk - October 2000 to May 2013 and Rev Boet van Schalkwyk June 2013 to present.

In 1981, the Rev. Dr James Elias mentored Elijah Mzinyathi to prepare himself for the ordained ministry of the Word and Sacrament at FedSem (Federal Seminary where the Rev. Ian Thomson served as principal and later became the pastor of Pinetown Presbyterian Church until his retirement).  Rev. Mzinyathi was the local postman in those days with our own Iris Wesselink the lady behind the counter.  He is currently Minister in Pietermaritzburg.  He regularly still visits the congregation over Christmas while visiting his family.

From 1987 to 1988 Rev. Dr Jerry Pillay did his probation in the congregation under the supervision of Rev. James Gray.  Jerry was appointed General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in September 2008.  From 2003 to 2006 the Rev. Dan Budhram served on our Session while he prepared himself to enter the ordained ministry of the word and sacrament.  He is now the Minister of Merebank Presbyterian Church.  

From 1998 to 2004, the congregation pioneered a transitional congregation which grew out of the ministry to Leisure Lodge retirement home in Illovo Beach.  The bulk of the congregation was made up of Leisure Lodge residents and member of McDonald Memorial that resided in the Illovo Beach and Winklespruit area.  Worship services were held in the Rehoboth Christian School, Illovo Beach after the conclusion of worship at McDonald Memorial.  With the sale and demolishing of Leisure Lodge the few remaining residents and staff were place in Poinsettia Park near the church in Athlone Park.  The remaining members transferred back to McDonald Memorial or their former congregations in the case of those who helped with this ministry from other local churches.   The Poinsettia Park tea and devotional group that was established to minister to the Presbyterian members and friends in Poinsettia Park in some ways built on the ministry that started in Leisure Lodge.  This tea and devotional group at Poinsettia Park is much blessed by God and those that make up the group.  Although so much of our congregation’s history has been immortalized in brick and mortar, we need to remember that the buildings are just brick and mortar.  These things may serve as memorials to the people who built them but are also only temporary in the larger scheme of God’s creation.  The church is not built with bricks and mortar but with living stones.  1 Peter 2:5 “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.

Today the congregation is built up of living stones from Isipingo in the North to Umgababa in the South.  We are the living stones of this congregation with those who have passed on to higher service in our eternal home with Christ Jesus our Saviour.  

Praise be to God!  SOLI DEO GLORIA.

Message John Newby Message Charles & May Cameron Message Alan Maker Rev Dr.James Elias