Pilgrimage of Grace takes SA’s two oldest churches on journey of reconciliation

Rev Martin Abrahams president of the Moravian Church of SA embraces Rev Nelis Janse van Rensburg moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church during a reconciliation service at Genadendal on Heritage Day (PHOTO: Helene Meissenheimer, Kerkbode)

Representatives of South Africa’s two oldest church denominations walked a path of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation during a so-called Pilgrimage of Grace from September 23 to 25..

Sixty pilgrims, mainly from the two church families, participated in the initiative, organised by the South African Christian Leadership Initiative (SACLI).

The pilgrimage from the 23rd to the 25th of September started in the first church of colour in South Africa, the Moravian Hill Church in District Six, Cape Town, which was closed down by the government in the 1970s when 60 000 residents were forcibly removed from the area under apartheid laws.

Other stops included the small Eastern Cape village of Genadendal, where a historic Moravian mission to the Khoi people began in 1737 – and the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Augulhas, where the pilgrimage ended.

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A high point of the journey was a two and a half hour service in a packed church at Genadendal, where speakers included the vice-president of the Moravian Church of Western Cape, Rev Martin Abrahams, the Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, Ds Nelis Janse van Rensburg and Sacli’s Rev Edwin Arrison.

The congregation at the Genadendal service (PHOTO: Helene Meissenheimer, Kerkbode)

In a report published in Christianity Today, Dr Johannes Reimer, a German theologian and leader of the Peace and Reconciliation Network of the World Evangelical Alliance, wrote the following:

This milestone event started with an introduction to the history of the relationship of the two churches by the vice-president of the Moravian Church of Western Cape, Rev Martin Abrahams. While he introduced the historic problem, a dove flew into the church building and sat down on the gallery above the pulpit. As soon as Abrahams invited the gathered community to participate in prayers and support for the reconciliatory act, the dove flew over the sanctuary. It was an amazing picture.

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We sang together before moderator of the DRC, pastor N Janse van Rensburg, read from the Scriptures and confessed the sins of the DRC to the Moravians and God. He especially underlined the fact that the DRC hindered the mostly indigenous Moravian Church to develop.

“My church stood in the way of God’s mission to African native tribes,” he said.

“We have sinned against God and people – please forgive us.”

Van Rensburg spoke in a deeply moving manner and his tears caused most of us to well up. And while he made his confession, the dove returned to the front of the church and posted itself again above the pulpit, as if the Holy Spirit was sending it to witness to this historic confession.

His confession was followed by a response of the Moravian leadership. Not only did they forgive the DRC, but they also pointed to their own sin, especially towards the neglected acknowledgment of the women in their church. And again, a plea for forgiveness reached the women, and reconciliation between men and women in the leadership of the Moravian Church was established by naming some of the most extraordinary female leaders among the Moravians and honouring their contribution to both the mission among the Khoi in the early days and the struggle against the Apartheid system in South Africa in the 20th century.

At the end of the service both churches committed to working together for the building up of God´s kingdom in South Africa beyond any racial, ethnic or cultural divides.

“We will work together for a nation in which God’s mission embraces all people,” underlined the DRC bishop.

I need to confess, seldom have I participated in such a spiritually loaded service. God was present in this old church in every word, in every piece of music and singing and in every prayer. Our pilgrimage has led us to a place of God’s divine presence. We, the pilgrims were witnessing God in action.

The DRC publication Kerkbode recently posted the video clip below which captures some of the service at Genadendal and various perspectives of the pilgrimage.

Kerkbode also reported that one of the pilgrims, Rev Nioma Venter, said that at Cape Agulhas their groups stood around a rock depiction of Africa while people from different countries confessed about  injustices and atrocities that had happened due to colonialism and xenophobia in Africa.

“… the whole weekend was aimed at preparing the territory so that we pray for the countries in Africa for 54 days for healing and the Lord’s favour,” she said. A SACLI prayer initiative was also launched during the stop at Cape Agulhas, called 54 Days of Prayer for Africa , during which a country in Africa is prayed for alphabetically every day.

The end of the journey at Cape Agulhas (PHOTO: Dr Melinda de Klerk Ferreira/Kerkbode)

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  1. By dying to our “rights: and letting go of “injustices: we allow the King of kings to have his way in our lives. Motivated only by love, the Body of Christ will move as one unity with the King to shower this world with all the many gifts He desires to give……gifts of healing . gifts of mercy, gifts of languages. gifts of all kinds of signs and wonders to draw this dying world to himself. This is the dream of the father. (Mary Trask)
    He asks if we will Dream with Him and see what He would see?
    Again thank you for the testimony . The Lord is doing a Holy work and restoring and reconciling.

  2. What a beautiful ” Real Story ” Thank You Our Father in Heaven in Jesus Name !!!