St. Peter – How it started

about 1125 years of St. Peter’s congregation: Who really knows today how it all started off? Exact information is available from the Festschrift published on the occasion of the congregation’s centenary.

Nevertheless, let’s have in this booklet too a brief summary of the past events. Sometimes we feel we need some reassurance of our love, but only he can really love who can also let go. It is in this sense that we remember the past today: We express all our love for this congregation, but thereby wealso release it into whatever may still come. We cannot press it into a final form. “What we shall be has not yet been disclosed” (1 John 3,2).

The history of our congregation – and here it is a pleasure to be able to add some comment beyond the 1989 Festschrift – has its beginning with all the people who already had found their roots in this country, and with all those who joined them later.

The first Germans already arrived at the Cape in the 17th century, with Jan van Riebeeck. When later in the newly founded capital of Transvaal, Pretoria, many flocked together who expected a better life from the gold findings in the Eastern Transvaal and on the Witwatersrand, Mr Knothe of the Berlin Mission felt responsible to look after their spiritual needs. It was at the time when he advocated a beginning of mission work in Pretoria. His emphasis lay on education of different skills and medical care for the black population. For this purpose, missionary Friedrich Grünberger was sent by the Berlin Mission in 1886, to assist him.

Knothe’s justification in asking for a colleague was his involvement in the spiritual care of the growing number of German immigrants. One can imagine the conflicts from Knothe’s ideals of an upright Christian life. But eventually general respect prevailed for these foreign missionaries who managed to establish a name for themselves by their homeopathic methods of treatment und were recognized in all parts of the population, right up to President Kruger.

In 1866, at the southern edge of the settlement of Pretoria – where today the Burgerspark is situated – there was a Berlin Mission station consisting of six plots. On this area there was a tiny chapel constructed from logs and branches, topped by a grass roof. Next to it there was a pathetic mission house, with an external cooking site. Many blacks who had turned Christian had come to settle in this area, and there was no more space for those who kept on coming. That was the reason for the missionary congregation moving to the “Schulplatz” (school place) next to Boom Street. Missionary house and church remained at their Burgerspark location.

about 2The fact that eventually in 1889 a “German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation” was founded, should also be seen in context with all the associations formed by Germans to promote sport, culture and social involvement. Why shouldn’t they also pursue common spiritual aims in a formally constituted manner? It turned out that all the “German” organizations established close interaction with the congregation. And, of course, Friedrich Grünberger had – like his predecessor Knothe – recognized and accepted his task of looking after the local Germans, in addition to his missionary duties. Grünberger himself reported that since 1872 he had been giving sermons in German for this group, at the small missionary church. Attendance at these services was not always overwhelming. And, as Grünberger was to write to Berlin later: since almost all the drinking places in town were being run by Germans, they were contributing to the intoxication of blacks by illegal liquor sales and thereby counteracting the mission’s efforts.

The congregation did not grow significantly, in spite of increasing numbers of German immigrants and arrivals from other Germanspeaking congregations, since many people shied away from sharing the House of God with the missionary congregation with its different roots. The Catholic Church had stationed two priests in Pretoria, to operate among the Lutheran population.

For whatever reasons eventually prevailed upon Grünberger – he finally requested to be released as “Stationsmissionar” in order to work fully as pastor among the Germans. It was amazing how quickly after that a new church building was erected. Pastor Grünberger had donated a plot – his own property – to the newly founded congregation. That was on the corner of Skinner and van der Walt Streets. That is where our present-day church is still situated, although it is now a new construction, consecrated in 1965. Thus in 2015 St. Peter’s will have reason for another anniversary celebration, this time 50 years. And quite a different one from this year’s …

The congregation established in 1889 has been a community of the Lutheran denomination. Right up till today this has influenced its liturgy, devoutness, traditions, and of course its style of preaching sermons. While at the beginning of the 20th century it was still a member of the Preussische Landeskirche (in Germany), it has meanwhile joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. The history of the congregation was also influenced by the various historical circumstances. Although this might be a rewarding task it would here lead too far to outline the full course of South African history and correlate it with the history of our congregation.

Naturally, historical events have also influenced the people whose home was in this congregation. Joy and sorrow, rising and decreasing membership numbers,
financial problems have been regular topics over the years.

Since the 1989 Festschrift only describes what happened in the 100 years leading up to that year, we are still short of a review of the last 25 years of St. Peter’s history. That, too, will be a necessary and rewarding task. And the people best qualified for the job are among those who have cared for and carried the congregation during those years.

It remains for the present summary of a summary to put together a few observations and questions, as follows. In the 1989 Festschrift one section was given the heading “Mission precedes church”, which probably refers to Grünberger’s decision to devote his future to the “Germans”. Whichever comes first – isn’t it the function of the church in any case to do mission work in order to qualify as a church? The reader will have become aware of the obstacles that kept the original mission congregation and the more recently arrived immigrants from becoming one congregation. Is it possible that – with the help of God – people of different roots cannot become one congregation? What are we offering to people today? What is it that we can give to people for their lives? How can we uplift and strengthen them so that they won’t be excluded from certain areas of life? Do we look for them, or do they have to find us? What are our competencies which will gain us respect, so that we may also make significant contributions – for the sake of God our Lord?

4th Sunday of Lent - Laetare

John 12;24

Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.


Image and Bible‘ that’s the theme of one of the years preparing for the Reformation Jubilee in 2017. You will not see biblical images, but lots of photographs of congregational events, which are influenced by the Bible, if you look here.

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