Project Canterbury

Dawn in Swaziland

By Christopher Charles Watts, M.A.
Archdeacon of Swaziland

London: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1922.

Chapter VII. The village church

How many times as he rode slowly along the last ten miles of some long and solitary journey in the bushveld of Swaziland has the writer's mind turned to the old Norman church of his village home in England. In the early hours of the morning, when the air is cool, nature seems to be awake and there is always something of interest--a buck, or bird, or strange plant, or insect to be seen along the track. But as the mid-day heat comes on, the mind of the rider seems to turn in upon itself and, ceasing to take interest in the things around, to find a pleasing distraction from the tedium of the track by letting the imagination wander far away to other scenes and other days.

Sunday morning has come in England, and there in that little quiet village in the peaceful Midlands--rich with green, luscious grass, with its huge, well-fed cattle, its sleek and ponderous draft-horses, its fat and heavy sheep--far from the problems and ugly sights of ungainly towns, the joyous old bells are clashing out their call to church.

Two narrow country roads converge upon an open stretch of grass, through which there runs an avenue of ancient chestnut trees. By them we enter through the churchyard gate, and, passing, the monuments erected by loving hands in days gone by to those whose surnames have been household words in the village since the days of Doomsday Book, we pass into the ancient church. For 800 years this place has been the house of God. The walls in places are six feet thick; the rafters are blackened by extreme old age; the arch is solidly built of stone. One's thoughts go forward as well as back, and call up in imagination as many future generations within its ancient walls in years to come as it has known before in the long centuries of its existence. In this ancient church the baron and his wife took the Sacrament together before he started on the First Crusade. Here, kneeling at God's table, Norman and Saxon learned that they were brothers. In this churchyard the archer, back from the wars, told the gossips of the village of the plunder gained in France. Here a Te Deum was sung for Cressy and for Agincourt. Here men flocked to give thanks for the victories of Marlborough, and here, too, some mourners crept in to bewail the valiant dead amidst the song of victory and triumph. Here men knelt to thank God for Trafalgar and for Nelson. Here as they prayed they remembered that thirty of their village folk had fought at Waterloo. How many hearts have turned, as does the writer's to-day, with gratitude and affection to that ancient place--by how many and by what strong cords does it hold them. In wild and stormy times such as these the courage and faith of the ancient builders seem to calm and strengthen the soul, and this ancient symbol of the endurance and strength of God through all the ages conveys a message that is needed.

And as one comes to some little missionary church, built of sods plastered over with mud, and with its crooked roof of grass supported upon the rough trunk of a tree, one understands better than those at home the beginning of these things. One understands better still when one is present at a mission station where the European worker, assisted by unskilled natives, has struggled to raise a church of stone. How glad was the worker when the rough and clumsy work, which had cost so much honest labour, was finished and stood firm--a house of God for all time. Then came the feast of dedication, a real feast of good things, so far as the natives are concerned, when a beast was killed and great rejoicings were held. These scenes, oft repeated, bring vividly to the mind the condition of things and the temper of our own church-builders in the early Middle Ages.

Sixteen years ago, when Mbabane was but a collection of huts tenanted by a troop of S.A.C., and a few bachelor officials of the newly formed Swaziland Administration, and possessed only one or two iron shanties for traders, the little Church of the Trans figuration was altered from a dwelling house to a church in memory of one who had given her life whilst nursing another. And what a world of good has sprung from a husband's memorial of his wife! As the years pass by little parties have gathered within its walls for marriage, for baptism, and to pay their last tribute of prayer for their dead, and many souls have been fed with the Bread of Life from the table of the Lord spread there Sunday by Sunday. Several generations of children have grown up at the school to whom the little wood and iron church--in many cases the only one they know--has been the centre of their life. Over 150, of whom more than thirty were adults, have been confirmed within its walls. What would Mbabane have been without its church?

And it has grown with the place. It has been supplied with a new chancel, and seats for the children of the school have been provided. The sanctuary has been beautifully fitted in light oak, in memory of the first head-mistress of the school and of Mr. Edward Walters, one of the churchwardens. It contains also a beautiful carved oak memorial to our dead, with twenty-two names inscribed.

And from time to time how crowded has it been, e.g., when war broke out, on each day of national intercession, and on each 4th day of August. When our armies were beaten back in March, 1918, within three hours of the receipt of the bad news the little church was crowded to the doors for a service of intercession. On the deaths of Lord Roberts, of Lord Kitchener, of General Botha, and on many other occasions, the church has afforded an opportunity for the expression of the feelings of the people of Mbabane.

It was good to see it half full of soldiers in their uniforms, freshly come from war, and with their honours thick upon them, who assembled to do honour to their fallen comrades at the dedication of the Swaziland roll of honour. It was good to see the people gather in the church on Good Friday and to meet their risen Lord on Easter Day. Those glorious old churches in England are prayers in stone; ours, out in these far-away corners of the Empire, represent the same ideals.

On 3rd July, 1921, the Bishop of Zululand consecrated the Memorial church of St. George at Bremersdorp, the old Boer capital of Swaziland. A step forward was thereby taken which crowns the labours of a former generation, and will long be remembered with gratitude. It is the first permanent stone church in the territory, and will stand out to future generations as a sign that its builders planned to offer of their best to Almighty God in gratitude for His mercies during the Great War, and in per petual memory of those from Swaziland who gave their lives. It stands as a sign that they desire that those who come after them and fill their places should learn from the landmark which they have left behind that reverence for God which alone can make men great.

Before the Boer War, the Rev. W. Swinnerton, who was working at the Usutu Mission station, had planned to build a church in Bremersdorp, and had collected over £400 for the purpose. But when, during that war, Bremersdorp was burned, and the capital of the territory was moved to Mbabane, the plan fell into abeyance.

After the Great War the opportunity came. The European population of Swaziland felt that as an act of thanksgiving to Almighty God, a worthy memorial of the dead should be erected. The fund in hand for Bremersdorp grew and grew. A hand some stone church, so designed that it might form the chancel of a larger church in days to come, has been erected. It is a building which, by its solidity and proportions, may in some slight degree teach men the dignity and reverence which should accompany the worship of God, and which should inspire future generations with the great ideals which led those whose names are commemorated there to sacrifice their lives.

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