Worship Service, Saturday 3rd August 2013, 11.15am
Pastor: Jimmy Botha
Many moons ago, in the Martinmas term of academic year 1990-91 to be precise, I attended a Greek translation class led by a man who performed a kind of semi-striptease during every lesson. I’m sure it was subconsciously done on his part, but everyone giggled about it, and for the life of me it’s all I can remember of his class now; the author and the text we were translating elude me entirely.
He’d start off fully dressed, with either an anorak or an academic gown as the outer layer, which would last about five minutes. Then off would come the sports jacket, sometimes there would be a sweater too, the tie would be loosened, the cuffs unbuttoned, the sleeves rolled up and the wristwatch unbuckled, and all this would take until about twenty-five past the hour. Thus unencumbered, he would teach for about ten minutes before reversing the process, so that by five to he would be fully dressed again and as soon as the chapel clock began to strike he’d be out the door with never a backward glance.
What made me think of him today after all this time was the preacher at the Seventh Day Adventist Church this morning taking off his jacket and then his shoes during the sermon. I didn’t notice what he did with his socks, belt, etc, because I was too far back to get a clear view. He didn’t have it down to the same fine art as the Classics chap, but he was gearing up for something a lot more exciting than just putting everything back on again, because there were to be two baptisms by total immersion and it was going to involve Pastor Jimmy Botha getting down into the pool with the initiates. Once he did, he stayed in there for a good twenty minutes, if not longer—right through the children’s address and a hymn as well as the dunking—and from where I was sitting he could barely be seen, but apparently the water was nice and warm so I guess he felt comfortable enough.
A few weeks ago, when I attended the Christian Science church, I remarked that it was a denomination unusual in having been founded by a woman. Well, here’s another one, and of roughly contemporaneous origin. Seventh Day Adventism is the legacy of Ellen G White, whose visions and voluminous writings underpin the doctrines of what is now a vastly wealthy worldwide church. Bearing in mind everything I’ve read online about the cult-like characteristics of the SDA church, much of it written by disgruntled former members, I have to say that their website looks straightforwardly Christian enough, and that there was nothing about today’s service that seemed deviant or sinister. But one man’s orthodoxy is another man’s heresy.
Worshipping on a Saturday is one thing that sets them apart, and keeping the true Sabbath is considered essential to salvation, nor do they defile their bodies with drugs, alcohol or unclean foods, and the two teenage boys baptised this morning promised to uphold both these beliefs, among others, as they entered into their adult lives as church members. They seemed willing enough to take the step, and good for them. One of them also sang a solo in a rather lovely baritone voice that he was clearly only just getting used to, and not a hint of nerves.
There was lots and lots of singing – no fewer than twenty hymns in all, including the young lad’s solo, a really rather good a capella quintet and a badly discordant quartet (a shame, because their hymn was And can it be that I should gain, one of the few today I’d ever heard before, and the treble line was woeful). So out of the twenty, there were seventeen hymns for the congregation to sing, some of which they knew better than others. The hymn books used were the Seventh Day Adventist Hymnal and Songs of Fellowship, and most of the songs fit a genre I’m slightly unsure how to name—think old-school Gospel Halls or those missionaries you used to see at the seaside sometimes (do they still do that?) and you’d be on the right track.
We were told that the sermon would be “technical and theological”. I’ve nothing SDA to compare it against, but it wasn’t very technical by the standards of some other denominations I’ve encountered this year, basically describing (with reference to Hebrews 9 and 10 and Jeremiah 31) how the old, flawed system of temple sacrifices was superseded by the new paradigm of salvation through Christ’s sacrifice. The take-home point was summed up thus: “Aren’t you glad that God can forget stuff?” i.e. he forgets about sin.
It went on a bit. All that singing takes time, of course, and I’m assuming that they don’t have a baptism every week, but we were hitting the hour-and-three-quarter mark by the time the service ended. But I’ve sat through a lot worse and a whole lot longer. And since I’ve observed the “true” Sabbath this week, I’m giving myself a rare church-free Sunday tomorrow.