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Proud of the own church tradition

Participants of the conference in Cape Town; Photo: Uli Baege / UEM

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Under the title „Respice and prospice – Looking back and looking forward“ the Rhenish Church in South Africa had invited to a conference from 27 to 28 October 2015 in Cape Town. The topic of this conference: trace the common, Rhenish roots, as well as the significance of the heritage of the first Rhenish missionaries for this communion. The first missionaries came to South Africa in 1829 and to China in 1847. Today the Rhenish Church in South Africa has got about 3.000 members in ten congregations.

Roughly 50 participants from the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland (EKiR), the Chinese Rhenish Church in Hong Kong (CRC), representatives from the United Evangelical Mission (UEM) and the Archives- and Museums Foundation of UEM, as well as guests from the United Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) had followed the invitation.

The history of missionary work was discussed in several talks. For instance the first missionary’s work and their relationship to the mission management in Germany were described. The chairperson of RCSA, Pastor Thomas Solomons, put it in a nutshell during his welcome speech: We have to look at our history anew, we are all connected with each other, even though we are different: the Rhenish Church and the UEM. 

In a joint <media 3470 - - "TEXT, Rhenish-Conference Elsiesrivier-Statement2015, Rhenish-Conference_Elsiesrivier-Statement2015.pdf, 90 KB">concluding paper</media> a research project was agreed upon.
A doctoral position at the Kirchliche Hochschule in Wuppertal and two master theses in the Cape region on the topic of:  On the history of the Rhenish Mission in South Africa from its beginnings up to the handover of the last Rhenish mis-sionary station in 1965. The UEM was asked to support the triennial research project.

The research project could ensure, that in South Africa the voices of those, who witnessed the work of the last missionaries themselves, are logged and con-served, the Rhenish identity being, so to say, scientifically recorded.
It should be explored as to why the Rhenish Mission at that time retreated from South Africa and handed over the missionary stations to the Herrenhuter Mis-sion/Moravian Church, partly against the will of the South Africans.

Particularly the Rhenish identity, the pride in our own tradition, became clear when the topic of this procedure, regarded broadly as injustice, came up. To be Rhenish provides a sense of identity. „Our small church is probably only still about, because we are so connected to our traditions and preserve it“, the 80-year-old Mr. Matroos said.

Voices of being left alone by the mission were raised. Barbara Rudolph of EKiR took this up conciliatorily in her prayer, which she composed along Genesis 50, Verse 20:  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (...) „It takes Time until we will have understood historical episodes. It is important to start now, and to record and collect loud as well as quiet voices, also those who cannot speak to us themselves, because they aren’t alive anymore. We, as a community of the here gathered churches in Rhenish tradition want to put this process into action, in it we are helped by the fact that three different perspec-tives, German, South African and perspectives from Hong Kong are on hand in the community of the UEM.”

At the close of the conference, Dr. Ki-Yan Mak, the chairperson of the CRC, pro-posed an invitation for a further meeting in two years time in Hong Kong. The Chinese Rhineland should be in the focus then.  As soon as possible a young adult from the RCSA, under the volunteer programme of UEM, should be sent to Hong Kong in order to push the mutual exchange.

2012 the first conference of the three Rhenish Churches was held in the Rhenish Church in Düsselorf by the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland (EKiR) and in Wuppertal by the UEM.

A particularly rememberable event for the participants, who had travelled from Hong Kong and Germany, was a trip to Wuppertal to the first missionary station of the Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft/ Rhenish Missionary Foundation (RMG), the predecessor of UEM.
1830 the missionary Johann Gottlieb Leipoldt moved to the valley, which lays in the Cedernberg Mountains, approximately 300 kilometres north of Cape Town There he built a church, managed a farm and a cobbler’s shop.
1965 the station was handed over to the Herrenhuter Mission/Moravian Church.

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