In Stellenbosch I expected the austere Dutch Reformed Church I was used to seeing as a kid, emphasis on the pulpit and perhaps the organ, clear glass and little other ornamentation. From the outside the Stellenbosch Moedergemeente Reformed Church fit my preconceptions. It had a tall steeple, tall windows, cruciform, and stone fence. It was white not brown but it fit the style.
As we walked toward the open door I could see this Church was different. The interior was filled with flecks of colored light and we could see an elaborate colored glass window. Inside a Deacon of the church, Pieter, a bearded Afrikaner, greeted us along with one of the churchwomen. They were there to answer questions and, perhaps politely inquire if we were church people.
The Deacon was a character. He gave us the history of the church, which was founded in 1686, 7 years after the town and 4 years after the town’s first winery. It burned in 1710. They moved to a new location and built a church in 1719 that’s the core of today’s church. It was extended three times in the 1800s. It is a contemporary of the Old Paramus Reformed Church in Ridgewood.
The Deacon smiled and said, “Not as austere as your typical Dutch Reformed.” Boy was he right, the windows was beautiful, and of modern design. The windows are colored glass set in concrete. It is a modern French method of making windows most often used in modern concrete churches. The church has a pamphlet describing the windows, the 1863 Gothic wooden pulpit, which certainly does place emphasis on the word. The organ is from 1953 but is in the mahogany organ case from the 1863 organ. The steeple has 6 bells. The clockwork strikes the soprano bell on the hour.
According to the Deacon the colored glass windows were a bit controversial, as was the pastor, who “liked his tipple now and then.” That did not set well with some of the conservative members of the parish. Pieter smiled and said “We are a re-Reformed Reformed Church. Pieter, himself, is a delight. He told us stories of Arch Bishop Tutu, who he knows, and some of which I retold in my post on Tutu’s visit to the Amsterdam. He is an admirer of Tutu, Mandella, Barak Obama and Jimmy Carter, who he sees as a true Christian living out the values he holds in faith.
Moedergemeente has served several different religious groups. The services started in Dutch and now are held in Afrikaans. It has served the English speaking population. For a while it also housed a French Huguenot congregation who came to South Africa to escape persecution. It also served German Lutherans. The Cemetery has inscriptions in all of those languages. The Cemetery has above ground crypts rather than the in ground graves in the cemetery that was moved to make way for my school. Pieter said that wealthy people used to be buried under the church itself but that project ended. He said “They learned where the term ‘stinking rich’ came from.”