#247 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 14

Edendale is the township to Martizburg. Sprawling with settlements and (finally) a large shopping complex, it is a community which, due to its large black community, under Apartheid was feared by the whites. Yet is also the home of, what may be seen, as the beginning of the Mandela story. Edendale Evangelical Church meets in the assembly hall of a local school – the last place Mandela publicly spoke before being arrested and taken to Robben Island for his anti apartheid activism. It isn’t anything special. No different to the schools in Sweetwaters. If one didn’t notice the statue outside, it would be no different to any other township building.  Yet the raw throb of voices in harmonious unity which penetrate through the brick walls sings of a joyful celebration.

Music is an intrinsic part of Zulu culture, and it is more rewarding than surprising when rich four-part harmonies meet together in a fantastic web of choral singing. However, Edendale Evangelical Church isn’t too dissimilar to my experience of Nigerian churches. The keyboardist tends to love drum rolls a bit too much, the Mother’s pick the key and wait for the keyboardist to catch up by the chorus, timing may not always be their strong point, yet, the  passion is just perfect. It is raw, voices are ripping, swooping and swirling in the color of jubilant praise, and most importantly, there is a freedom.

Churches in the UK are either stifled by choral music, perfect timings,  finite endings or silence. The choir, or the band are the leaders, and spontaneous songs are battened down just in case we don’t have the words printed on acetate or ready to go onto the screen.  Yet in Edendale Evangelical, even when the pastor stood up ready to address the congregation, if one old mama in the back felt like a reprise of verse 3, plus the chorus and of course the bridge, then that is where the church went.

Pronouncing the words was difficult, but the spirit of worship was not hard to catch. There was a freedom in the place which transcended ‘religion’, running to schedule or being orderly. Sure, arriving at 9am and leaving at 12.30-1pm has its drawbacks, but the ability to come together in fellowship, allow people to express themselves, cry, rage, give thanks – that’s a beautiful thing. Edendale Evangelical Church is rooted on the foundations of South Africa’s fight for political freedom, and man’s desire for spiritual.


Prayer for Day 14: For a spirit of freedom to be among places of worship the world over, especially in the UK.

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