From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 12:57:41


                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Despite rapid legislative change in South Africa, its 
Presbyterian congregations, black and white, are beginning to wrestle with 
what a future minus apartheid looks like -- not just in the political 
world, but in church pews. 
     Nationally, it looks like two of the country's four Presbyterian 
denominations may merge, creating a much larger denomination with a black 
     Locally, black and white congregations are grappling with what 
repentance and forgiveness mean and how to practice both.  
     "It's about time," says the Rev. Alastair Rodger, executive secretary 
of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (PCSA), a 90,000-member 
denomination, of a possible midyear union with the Reformed Presbyterian 
Church (RPC), a black communion. 
     "We should have been one church in the beginning," he said, adding 
that in some townships PCSA and RPC congregations worked side by side.  The 
two denominations even attempted merger once before but failed.  But not 
all congregations, he said, fared so well in cross-community relationships. 
"A black majority [church] ... is much more realistic," he said. 
     Last September's PCSA Assembly -- which has a 60/40 white/black ratio 
if members in Zambia and Zimbabwe are counted -- mandated that its churches 
hold a Sunday worship for collective repentance for apartheid and 
commitment to change.  But Rodger says more needs to happen with black and 
white congregations together, not separate from each other. 
     "There's something incomplete about saying, 'I'm sorry, Lord,' but not 
earthing that [confession]," he said, meaning there is a need for 
person-to-person confession.  Confession cannot be done "in isolation from 
people.  You need to look [them] in the eye and say, 'I need your 
forgiveness to know God has forgiven me.' ... 
     "I don't know that we got to that deeper level," Rodger said. 
     That deeper level means calling apartheid an evil, not an unfortunate 
mistake, Rodger says, and admitting that all whites benefited from it. 
"There hasn't been that thorough repentance and forgiveness process. ... 
There is a turning away from the past, but there hasn't been enough open 
acknowledgment at the local level," he said. 
     According to Rodger, "Be Real Weekends" are beginning now in some 
congregations and presbyteries, where blacks and whites come together 
seeking common ground.  But some people were always more open than others, 
said Rodger, who says apartheid law gradually broke down in some areas 
before it was abolished. 
     But in other places, change still comes hard. 
     "Stereotyping is still a problem.  And it applies equally to blacks 
and whites," said Rodger, adding that many blacks still have an 
understandable distrust and suspicion of whites.  Some whites still hold 
grudges because they, too, grieve family members and friends lost in 
     "But we've got to work through those things," he told the Presbyterian 
News Service.  "We've got a lot of work to do." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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