Stories and Traveltips

ID #5022

Services at Commemoration Methodist Church, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape.

“Commem” is a beautiful church in the centre of Grahamstown.  The congregation and, in particular, the girls from Victoria Girls High School (VG), sit downstairs. Boys from various boarding schools use the upstairs balcony, which is built in a U shape. It became something of a tradition to “leave one’s mark” by carving one’s name into the back of the solid wooden railing. Over time, it came to resemble a frieze.

The pulpit is at the apex of the “U”. In true Calvinist tradition, it is high, allowing the minister to peer down on the hapless sinners below. Directly in front of the pulpit, at the base of the “U” is an electric clock that preachers use to time their sermons since it would not do for them to be constantly looking at their watches! Sermons started at 19h00 and usually finished punctually at 19h45.

Boarders at Graeme College attended church twice on Sundays. We looked forward to the evening service for several reasons. One was the sermons by the late Reverend Arthur Weston. A Welshman, he spoke beautifully. He also attended our rugby matches “religiously”. He always seemed to be “on our side”. Another was the opportunity to meet the girls from VG on the pavement outside for a few minutes each week. In addition, we were able to enjoy hot coffee and “rock of ages” (a type of biscuit) back at the hostel before going to bed.

On one occasion, Reverend Weston notified the congregation that he was going on sabbatical for a few weeks. A minister with a habit of overrunning his allotted time was to take his place in the interim. “Vulture” as he was unkindly called, was tall and angular, with a pronounced Adams Apple. He was well-meaning but absent-minded. 

The message was grimly received by the boarders for it meant that we would arrive back at the hostel after boarders who had attended other churches had demolished the coffee and rusks. Some decided to remedy the situation. For weeks they carved a hole through the balcony behind the clock until they were able to adjust the position of the hands at will.

The fateful evening of Vulture’s first sermon duly arrived. We sat apprehensively through the first and second lessons after which Vulture entered the pulpit. He checked the time on the clock, not noticing the activity behind the balcony. After starting his sermon, the hands of the clock moved rapidly. Warming to his task, he glanced at the clock. His face went pale, he gulped, his Adams Apple went up and down and he exclaimed: “My! How the time has flown” and rapidly concluded at what he thought was 19h45.  Outside on the pavement several parishioners remarked on Vulture’s brevity. We met the VG girls briefly before they were frog-marched back to school. Then we raced back to the hostel, arriving in time to enjoy the coffee and rusks at our leisure before the arrival of boarders who had attended churches other than Commem! ASService

Incidentally, Vulture’s sermons were remarkably punctual thereafter!

Alan McIver

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Last update: 2014-02-28 22:26
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.3

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