African Independent Churches [AIC] Continued: Pentecostal, Apostolic and Charismatic Churches
In previous posts I looked at the difference between the Ethiopian Church in SA and Christian Zionism. But who are the many independent churches? Those who worship in small groups in so many of our parks and open spaces, be they high places like Melville Koppies or Yeoville or by water like at Delta Park?
Jozi-ites are all familiar with worshippers walking to their church gatherings on a Sunday (and sometimes for an all-night session on a Saturday evening) – dressed in starched white robes with coloured sashes and belts, often carrying staffs and drums. Here at Liz at Lancaster we can hear the drums and chanting from Delta Park on a clear winter’s afternoon. It is these groups who worship in the Pentecostal and Charismatic tradition. Many people seem to see these church groups as Zionist which is not really correct. While they is quite a lot in common with Christian Zionism there is no organizational affiliation.
History of Pentecostalism in South Africa
Missionaries from the American Pentecostal and Apostolic churches first brought Pentecostalism to South Africa in 1908. Initially fairly racially integrated, increasing segregation led to the breakaway of separate independent Zionist and Apostolic churches. These secessions marked the beginning of the independent African Pentecostal churches, which mushroomed from some 30 churches in 1913 to 3,000 by 1970, and to over 6,000 by 1990. Many people who believed in communication through the ancestors, were instantly attracted to Pentecostalism which was based on the Book of Acts (Chapter 2). This text records Christ’s disciples being baptized in the Holy Spirit with the accompanying speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing as signs of the baptism.
Two different Pentecostal traditions: Larger congregations, indoors, and more structured service; and smaller congregations, outdoors and more participatory worship
This Pentecostal tradition seems to have taken a couple of different directions – the larger congregations who meet indoors in buildings and follow a more structured order of service; and the smaller groups who meet outside in open spaces or informally in houses.
First Morian Episcopal Apostolic Church In Zion
Catherine Mahlangu who many of you will know from Liz at Lancaster, is a Church Elder in the First Morian Episcopal Apostolic Church In Zion – a Pentecostal church whose services take place in a building with a formal hierarchy of church members including an Archbishop and bishops. Catherine leaves on Sundays in her crisp starched uniform: white shirt with blue collar; blue skirt; sunflower-and-blue sash; and white jacket. She says that fasting is common practice (as a cleansing and purification process), men and women sit separately and all church goers take off their shoes on entering the church. There are many practices which parallel the Zionist practices – faith healing, the importance of prophecy and dietary taboos of pork , alcohol and tobacco. In the Pentecostal tradition, speaking in tongues is a central part of their worshipping practice.
Smaller groups who worship outdoors or in houses
There are thousands of smaller groups (anywhere from single figures to about 50 congregants) who meet over weekends to worship. While there is always a Church elder who usually leads with a prayer and a sermon, the services are more participatory and physically active with a lot of dancing and movement. All members have a turn in reading the scriptures and everyone dances and sings with a lot of walking , running and wheeling in two concentric circles, usually with the women in the middle. Many of the outdoor circular spaces in Delta Park and at Melville Koppies have been concreted and sometimes surrounded by stones. Repetitive drumbeat and circular whirling, along with the chanting induce an almost trance-like state. The group leader may lay hands on a congregant who is either sick or needs to be exorcised of evil spirits. There is often quite a crossover between Christian practice and biblical reliance, with more indigenous traditions.
Worshipping at Melville Koppies West are 23 church groups who are registered with the African Independent Church [AIC] committee. The names of the groups tend to have ‘apostle’, ‘Zion’ or ‘Africa’ in the names, e.g. ‘Apostolic Church in Africa, ‘New Gospel Church of Zion in Africa’, The Holy Apostolic Church in Zion’, ‘Jerusalem Church of God in Zion’. Membership of the churches range from 7 to 50 per group with a total of over 500 members. The leaders or Bishops and the members come from the surrounding suburbs and from other areas such as Randburg, Vosloorus, Maraisburg and Edenvale.