Immanuel Congregation Pietermaritzburg started off as a German congregation for FELSISA members (primarily from Kirchdorf and Shelley Beach) who settled in this town around the 70’s and 80’s.
This being a very English city, the congregation soon realised that in order to grow it needed to adapt to English and build a new church.
This was accomplished in 1999 when a large and derelict piece of ground, which originally contained three empty underground reservoirs that provided water to the city one hundred years ago, was turned into a beautifully restored property with a church on it… and an awesome pipe organ.
It was amazing to see how our sister congregations from the FELSISA rolled up their sleeves and helped us with capital and sweat.
And today there is enough room on the property to build a community hall and even simplexes for the aged in the future.
Once we were settled, the next phase was adapting to the changing South African demographics leading to a more mixed representation of all races. Today we are happy to have in our midst amongst some locals, a number of Zimbabweans, who are all very active and dedicated members. Two are in the teaching profession.
Embracing rather than resisting has lead to greater mission opportunities for this city congregation, and we can see God’s hand in this.
A city congregation does not come without it’s own challenges. We do have the less fortunate with us, outright beggars who can at times be very persistent and even disruptive. But then again those were also the closest followers of Jesus, and He always welcomed the “tax collectors and sinners.” We built a fence around our property to keep the wandering cattle out. But when it comes to those who wish to listen to God’s Word (or are simply in need), the doors of Immanuel will always be open. Our motto is: “Christ with us. Christ for all.”
Dealing with some of the challenges, the church council has put forward a set of guidelines on how to provide help to those in need. Instead of making distributions on a Sunday morning, non-perishable food and clothing is collected in a “care box,” but these items, including money, are to be distributed to them during the week. This highlights that the Sunday service is to serve primarily our spirituals needs, through Word and Sacrament, and it preserves the dignity of those in need as items are distributed privately. The congregation also has a “Helping Hand Fund,” managed by the church council.
The church council is currently also discussing various options, including purchasing a house nearby, to provide affordable accommodation to the poorer congregation members. One current member has offered their granny flat as accommodation for a needy member.
When our church was built we never dreamed that one day we would have a bishop with us and we could refer to our small church as a “cathedral.” Bishop Dr Reinstorf has been instrumental in leading us with a clear growth strategy. No doubt his experiences from his travels and overseas mission work like the recent one in Mozambique (where I was born and grew up) has opened our eyes to these opportunities.
We celebrate 26 years as a congregation in November 2016.
Eric Schulz, Pietermaritzburg