Getting the word of the Lord to the far flung corners of the hinterland was a daunting task in the early 1800s. Scottish clergy arrived to preach to Dutch farmers of the interior, but a true Anglican service was a rarity and, when these services were held, they scared the locals! This is according to The South African Letters of Thomas Pringle, edited by Randolph Vigne. A letter, thought to have been written by Pringle from Graaff-Reinet in August, 1825, states that Rev Wright from Wynberg had braved a trip into the interior to preach in this largely Dutch-speaking town, but that his visit had a rather overwhelming effect on local residents. The old Dutch inhabitants of the town “were a little startled” by the appearance of an English clergyman with a white surplice, in their Presbyterian pulpit, stated the writer. Also, the formalities of the English service, the kneeling, etc, were all very strange to them, but this was not surprising as such rituals had not been seen in this part of the Colony for at least the last 20 years. People discussed the service for several days, fervently asking each other “whether this service and dress did not retain some of the ‘airs of Antichrist’ and ‘rags of Rome’!” However, after witnessing the service for three successive Sundays, observing the impressive earnestness of the preacher, and the devout solemnity of their English counterparts, and also after ascertaining from their own worthy zealous Presbyterian clergyman that “the Church of England liturgy was the work of excellent, sound and pious men”, the prejudices of even the most stern seemed to relax. The white surplice lost its horrors, no chairs were hurled at the missionary and it was generally agreed that despite the man’s peculiar dress, all was fine. In the end the service was merely written off as “the manner of the English church” and in time forgotten.
© Rose’s Roundup, October 2011 (No 213)
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