Fear, Intolerance, Justice & Hope

Cliff Buckwalter
Christ Episcopal Church, Reading
July 2016

With all that’s happening in the United States presently, I’m reminded of very similar circumstances during the time I spent in South Africa preceding that country’s first free and truly democratic election in 1994.

When I went to South Africa with my ex-wife and two children in December of 1989, I was unprepared for how successfully the apartheid government had manipulated the fears of their citizenry. With few exceptions, the National Party (NP) controlled the media as well as the courts, government, military, police, commerce, etc. For those in the NP, the white supremacist Conservative Party (CP) and the even more radical Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), black lives mattered little or not at all making South Africa an international pariah. And yet, in the context of South Africa’s total population, these unapologetic racists were relatively few in number. So how did they do it? How did so few control so many? By nurturing racial bigotry, controlling information and keeping people separated. In this manner, they created a country run on fear and constantly on the edge of violence.

It must be understood that following the release of political prisoners, the unbanning of political parties and culminating with the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, expectations and hopes of a bright future for South Africa were exuberantly alive in the heart of nearly every native born South African I met. Though I spent the majority of my time in Soweto, this was apparent regardless of race. Most black, so-called colored, asian, indian, and – yes, indeed – even most white South Africans were excited with anticipation of a new inclusive dispensation. I was witness to this outpouring of hope, joy and forgiveness joining the very racially diverse crowd of people celebrating Madiba’s release at his humble home in Orlando West, Soweto on Feb. 13, 1990.

But the years between 1990 and 1994 were not filled with those happy feelings of hope within South Africa. In fact, apartheid’s bloodiest years occurred in ’91 and ’92 during the political negotiations eventually leading to the formation of the Government of National Unity. The NP – fearing that it would not only lose political control of the country but also face a deadly racial uprising - formulated one final, despicable but effective lie. Black-on-black violence. How could the people of South Africa and global leaders support a new government with these people in charge?!

On nearly a daily basis, South African news media was filled with stories of one group of blacks killing and maiming another group of blacks. Often reports described Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters attacking African National Congress (ANC) supporters or vice versa. At that time, the IFP was a political party predominately black and Zulu speaking while the ANC was a political party predominately black and Xhosa speaking. Though the violence, sadly, was all too real, the reasons behind the violence as described by the media were completely false. The truth is that the military and police were supplying weapons and training to groups of black men for the purpose of mercilessly attacking (usually) unarmed groups of black men, women, children and elderly folk. And it wasn’t politically motivated – at least not by any of the black political parties.

How could the military and police really achieve such a thing?! Why would any black man take up a weapon and kill someone of his own race? It was very common for black South African men to travel great distances from their homes in order to earn a living in the mines around Johannesburg. They would generally find accommodation in one of the hostels owned by the mining company. The majority of this labor force came from Zululand. A bonus for the NP was the fact that in the early history of South Africa, Zulus and Xhosas had difficulty getting along.

Equipped with easy-to-come-by information – names, addresses, ages, etc. - the military and police would intimidate these displaced men in the hostels with threats to the lives of their wives, children and other family members back in Zululand. They would also try to stir up the old animosities by playing on tribal intolerance. The reliable recipe of capitalizing on fear and keeping people apart continued to work well for the NP.

It was a heart breaking time to be in South Africa. So many dead. And the truth, known by most everyone living in the black townships, deliberately being hidden by those controlling the media. Strangely though - perhaps due to the sheer shamelessness of the SA military and police - no attempt was made to disguise the delivery of weapons to the men in the hostels. I saw this for myself in broad daylight. I suppose there’s no need to be covert when you dictate the news.

Without a doubt the tragic loss of so many innocent lives, the unceasing, relentless fear of attack and the hopelessness of ever realizing a just outcome brought the country to the very brink of a violent civil war. And, I’m convinced - without the leadership of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Thambo, Walter Sisulu, Desmond Tutu and many others - South Africa would have become ensnared in such a war.

But they escaped.

They didn’t escape by loading up the guns and firing back and it’s not because there weren’t any guns around. It’s a safe bet that there’s at least as many or more guns per capita in South Africa as there are here in the USA.

They didn’t escape because they were too afraid or ill-equipped to fight back. I attended rallies where people cried out to ANC leaders for permission to get their weapons out of hiding and strike back.

They didn’t escape because the NP, military, police and media suddenly had a huge change of heart and repented. No apologies were offered. No reasonable act of atonement was made.

They escaped because when their leaders told them to hold on, to not strike back, to throw their guns away – the people listened and, in the midst of their own heartache and loss, they obeyed. Eventually, a bright, new future came to South Africa. The election in 1994 and the difficult but vital work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begun 20 years ago helped to restore the basic human need for justice and respect. In so doing, the ‘rainbow nation’ as coined by Bishop Desmond Tutu once again begins to hope.

I wonder if we’ll find a way out of all this fear and intolerance together. Certainly there’s a real need for each of us to examine ourselves and weigh our own motives as there is the need for honest answers regarding the proper use of force by those in authority. No police agency should be motivated by any type of bigotry – but then neither should any one of us! And if each of us arrives at the conclusion that the only way we can protect ourselves and our families is by buying a weapon and being constantly suspicious of one another than I doubt we will succeed.

As Americans we don’t much care for the connotation of words like heed, submission, and obedience. Who knows better than ourselves what’s best for us? And if my opinion happens to conflict with yours why should either of us seek common ground? Why not just arm ourselves, let our fears and prejudice overwhelm us and then one day, explode! Why not stoke our fears and prejudice by believing in the banal rantings of those who say, “Look there! Those people are the real problem! Let’s build a wall!” Let’s justify our intolerance and separate ourselves from one another and let the fear take over. But if that’s the way you want to go, please realize - it’s all been done before. And it ends badly.

If we really want a way out of all this fear and intolerance, maybe we ought to – at least for a moment - look within ourselves before doing anything else.

[A member of Christ Church, Reading, Cliff Buckwalter, [email protected], is a carpenter and serves as property manager at the church. During the early 1990s he successfully developed a skills-based curriculum for young black people (teens and early 20's) with learning disabilities in Soweto, South Africa.]

Diversity at Christ Episcopal Church Reading

[Reading Eagle, Bruce Posten] Christ Church, Reading, features prominently in a story, Church Pews Slowly Open Up for Diversity, that begins on the Dec. 26 front page.

Rector John Francis says that when he was called to the church ten years ago, the nonwhite membership was five to ten percent at most – now 40%, mostly Latino and African American. Read on. [Note: the continuation link is at the top of the newspaper page.]

Reading, Christ Church: Social Ministries

SPARK - Support for Parents and resources for kids
    -  includes healthy nutrition food pantry
    - Angel Tree at Christmas
    - Thanksgiving turkey dinner basket distribution
    - medical / dental screenings as available provided by local clinics
    - clothing and household goods support from our rummage room
Narcotics Anonymous meets at Christ Church 3 x /wk.
Various Committees serve each month at the local shelter:  Opportunity House
Episcopal Church Women - rummage sales and events - all money collected goes to mission projects
Berks Women in Crisis CampPeaceworks - volunteers and scholarships
SHARE:  Salvation Army Home Heating Oil Assistance Program
Kajo Keji collections and donations
Joyful Noise Collections each month for different mission needs
Donations of goods to Hope Rescue Mission
Vacation Bible school offered each year - open to the public
Kristallnacht - interfaith Community Service held at Christ Church
Labyrinth - ministry at Christ Church, and loaned to other churches as requested
Sacred Circle service of Unity with/for all indigenous peoples
Healing Ministry:  every Wednesday and the 3rd Sun of each Month
Prayer Group Ministry
Bible Study and Holy Eucharist at a local Assisted Living Facility
Thurs. Morning laity-led Morning Prayer
Sponsored engineering congregants to rebuild Haiti and restore clean water following disaster
Inner city kids to Wildwood, NJ for a week-end at the beach in conjunction with St. Simeon by the Sea Episcopal Church

Sermon preached by Bishop Paul Marshall at the Marriage of Andrew Reinholz and Kimberly Rowles. 1/14/12

Christ Church, Reading
(c) Paul V. Marshall
Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7; Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 7:21,24-29

We are all here to express in one way or another our love for Kim and Andrew, our joy in their happiness, and our hopes for their long and happy future.

And to have a party. That, it turns out, is the very biblical thing to do.

At the same time, the bride and groom are trying to express something to us. I don’t think I have ever seen a couple put as much time and care into the choice of scripture lessons, thus our attentively reflecting together on the texts they have chosen is a way of honoring Kim and Andrew, giving their choices serious attention.

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Diocesan Life for September 2011

Download the September issue of Diocesan Life as a .pdf
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James K. Wilson named organist/choirmaster at Christ Church Reading

James Wilson After twelve years of very fruitful ministry as the Choir Director/Assistant Organist, working side by side with Organist Bruce Bengtson, James K. Wilson has accepted the rector’s call for him to serve as the Organist/Choirmaster of the Christ Church music ministry in Reading.

Jim earned a Master of Music with Distinction in Sacred Music from Westminster Choir College, Princeton, N.J. From West Chester University, Jim earned Master of Music and Bachelor of Science degrees in Music Education. Prior to coming to Christ Church as Choir Director/Assistant Organist in 1999, Jim served as Organist at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Berwyn, Pa from 1987-1994. From 1992-2003, Jim was a director of Berks Classical Children’s Chorus.

Since 1981, Jim has maintained his full-time career position as the Vocal/Choral Music Teacher at Schuylkill Elementary School in Phoenixville, PA. Juggling both positions was an important consideration in discussions conducted by Jim and the rector, along with Bruce Bengtson. All three ministers felt the situation was a good fit and that the congregation of Christ Church would be very supportive of the talented music minister they have appreciated, loved, and respected over the past years.

Christ Church Reading celebrates 40th anniversary of Organist Bruce Bengtson’s ministry upon his retirement

[By John Francis]

Bruce Bengston 7-11 004 On Sunday, July 31, Assistant Bishop Jack Croneberger led the Holy Eucharist and festive celebration of Bruce Bengtson’s 40th anniversary as organist of Christ Church, Reading, upon the day of his retirement. Retired rector Walter Krieger joined current rector John Francis and assistant rector Doug Moyer in thanking Bruce and Ruth Anne Bengtson for their incredible talent, hard work, and joyful dedication to the mission and ministry of Christ Church. His son Keith represented Charles Sutton, Father Krieger’s predecessor. Bruce served under all three rectors during his tenure.
The service was filled with beautiful hymns, which included Glorious things of thee are spoken, Austria, and Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, Cwm Rhondda, one of the first Bruce had ever played, and an anthem based on Psalm 150 by Cesar Franck. The service began with a congregational favorite prelude played by Bruce, Prelude on Brother James` Air by Searle Wright, who was one of Bruce Bengtson’s professors at Union, and ended with a postlude favorite of the congregation played by Bruce, as only he could do, the Toccata from Organ Symphony V. Father Francis’ sermon reviewed the incredible blessing Bruce’s extensive and very generous ministry has been for Christ Church and for him personally and how much he will be missed. Bruce and Ruth Anne are looking forward to a well-earned and very enjoyable retirement together.          
Following the service, the parish put on a delicious hors d’oeuvre reception in the parish hall for the entire congregation. Then, parish members and friends of Bruce and Ruth Anne attended a lavish by invitation luncheon at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading. Speakers included James Wilson, the newly appointed organist and choirmaster of Christ Church, choir member and soprano soloist extraordinaire Runette Gabrielle, Bishop Jack, a colleague and fellow class member of Bruce and Ruth Anne at Union Theological Seminary, where the Bengtson’s first met, Dr. Francis Williamson, who taught at Albright College, and the Bengtson’s children Matt Bengtson and Sallie Mercer. Ruth Anne had put together a wonderful photographic presentation of Bruce’s career, which was presented on power point. The Christ Church Choir, led by Jim Wilson, offered a joyful rendition of, “We are the very Model of Today’s Episcopalian.”

EfM groups in Bethlehem and Reading to begin in September

At the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Beginning September, a morning group meets on Wednesdays, 9:45am – 12:15pm and Wednesday evenings (time to be determined).  Contact Cathy Bailey [email protected] or 610-442-1189 for more information.
At Christ Church Reading
An EfM group will meet on Thursdays from 5:30 to 8 p.m., with classes to begin in September, if there is a minimum of six students attending. The classes run 34 weeks. For more information, please contact Connie Fegley of Christ Church, who is one of the co-mentors of the program. Email Connie at [email protected] for more information.

EfM is a four-year program through the University of the South's College of Theology at Sewanee. The first year covers the Old Testament; the second is on the New Testament; the third year centers on Church History up to the mid-1770s, and year four picks up there to the present. It is a most special lay ministry program, and is open to all.

Among EfM graduates from Christ Church are: Joey Lawson and Kip Frasso, from the most recent class, and Sarah Auchenbach, Heather Boggs, Robin Caccese, Anita, Midge Pendergast; and from St. Alban's, Beth Ann Crippen. Christ Church's Rich Kasting, Terry Rowles and David Thun, and Jennifer Ross of St.Marys, Reading, recent class members. The Rev. Dolores Evans is an EfM graduate and co-mentor of Christ Church's EfM group. This program is open to those both in Berks and other counties.

Diocesan Life for December 2010 and January 2011

Attached is the latest Diocesan Life for December, 2010 and January 2011. Remember, we love to get stories and pictures! If you have something you want featured, please contact Kat Lehman to discuss publication. Diocesan Life deadlines are posted on the calendar as well so you know when to get the stories in. For February's issue, we need the stories by January 4th. The attached file is 3 MB in .pdf format.

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Acolyte Festival, Christ Church Reading to the National Cathedral

By David Feick
Verger, Christ Church, Reading

  On Friday afternoon, October 8, about 5:30 p.m., seven of our acolytes and six adults squeezed into a 15-passenger van and headed for the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  Attending this event, the 31st annual Acolyte Festival, was the third time for Christ Church and was organized by the Verger, David Feick and his wife, Judith. In the past, several of the acolytes were at the 26th and the 27th annual festivals. The van was driven by Greg Allison and, along with David and Judith, included adult passengers Jim and Vickie Wilson and June Tull. Our team of acolytes was (oldest to youngest) Abigail Tull, Erica Allen, Milah Allison, Jonathan Allen, Bailey Allison and Veronica and Jacqueline Wilson. For Abigail this was her third time attending and for Erica and Milah, this was their second time.

Acolyte festival Reading

The group arrived at the Hotel, a Marriott Residence Inn, about 9:00 p.m. and following Evening Prayer, enjoyed some pizza. After a good night’s rest and a Marriott complementary buffet breakfast, the group left for the Cathedral, about ten minutes away, at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning. The van was packed and, in addition to personal luggage, the paraphernalia included two suitcases for banners, stands, crosses, torches and vestments. There was no room to spare! In addition to his excellent driving, Greg was the one who saw to it that everything fit.



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