The Death of Constance Oosthuizen

This certainly is an emotional week for me – a week during which I have had many childhood memories come flooding back, a week of reconnecting with many friends from our youth camp days (isn’t social media a wonderful modern tool?), a week of chats with family members, whom I don’t often hear from and a week of deep personal reflection.

Sister Connie, as I had known her for almost all of my life (for nearly sixty years) has died.  She was a constant given in my life.  Even when we didn’t have regular contact, I always knew we would pick up where we had left off.  She would remember stories of when she was our Deaconess and I would remember stories from our Sunday School Anniversaries and Youth Camps (in the 1960s and 70s) and we would share, laugh, joke and even cry together.  And, now she is gone!  The sadness I feel is exacerbated by the reality that I shall be unable to attend her funeral because I am serving in Canada for a few years.  Connie was not family (not by blood, anyway) but she was ‘family’ nonetheless!  Reading all the tributes and comments on my Facebook posts, reminded me that she was ‘family’ to thousands of people.  Constance will live on in our memories because she lived so vividly in her lifetime.

I have entitled this blog post ‘Milestones’ because there are so many this year.  Constance Oosthuizen became the first woman to be ordained to Word and Sacrament in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in 1976 – 40 years ago!  Fifteen years ago, whilst Connie was serving at the Umkomaas Methodist Church (already in her retirement years), we held a service of thanksgiving and presented the Rev Constance Oosthuizen with a commemorative medallion, marking the milestone of 25 years of women in the ordained ministry. This photo was taken on that occasion – here Connie is with my late Mother.

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Constance Oosthuizen & Kathleen Forster

As I am serving in the United Church of Canada at present, it is quite remarkable to note that this year commemorates 80 years of women in the ordained ministry here.  Various celebrations have taken place at Conferences and Presbyteries, paying tribute to the pioneers, especially to the Rev Lydia Gruchy, the first woman to be ordained in the UCC in 1936.

Another painful situation this week, here in Canada, is the interview between a UCC Committee and Gretta Vosper, discerning her suitability to continue serving as a minister in the UCC.  Gretta has declared herself to be an atheist although she has continued to be a ‘minister’ in her UCC congregation for approximately thirteen years.  She has been asked to answer her ordination questions again, all of whom she replies ‘no’ to this time.  She has written a response article to the Committee (and has published it on her blog for all who wish to read it), explaining her decision and giving commentary on her response to every question.  Juxtaposing Constance’s passionate life of witness and service to God with Gretta’s academic denial of God’s existence, within the same week, is a painful and disturbing experience for me.  Everything Constance did was a response to her love for God and her service to others.  Everything Gretta seems to do focuses on her humanist views of life and her dependence on her own strength and skills.

A personal milestone for me is that in June I turned 65 (retirement age).  I knew that Sister Connie would one day die but now that she has died, I am reminded of my own frailty, my own vulnerability to aging and, eventually, of my own death.  I am reminded of the people I care about deeply and I am reminded of the God, in whom I strongly believe and wish to serve more passionately.



First Impressions

Prayer Table Cloth

Theme: “Transformation”
This newsy letter (on the Internet it might also be called a blog) is an attempt to share something of my impressions of the workings of the United Church of Canada with members and friends in the St. Andrew’s United Church. Most of you are very aware that I have only been here for eight months now and so, everything that I have experienced in Canada, since the end of October 2013, has been new and, may I add, very exciting. The Church Structures, with which I was most familiar before coming to Canada, are quite different and I am, therefore, very grateful for the new insights I have received through these two key gatherings in our United Church – both of them held in our Swan River Valley!

For the Presbytery Meetings we met in the Bowsman Legion Hall, most appropriately decorated, making everyone feel right at home. The meeting area was separated from the dining area by screens, which were covered with colourful banners – some from St. Andrew’s, which made me feel really pleased because we were well-represented. I could go through the agenda for the meetings but I don’t think anyone is really interested in hearing that. I would rather share with you some of my thoughts, opinions and perspectives – these coming from someone who is experiencing Northland Presbytery Meetings for the first time.

There was a good mix between business and worship – reminding us throughout our time together that we were about God’s business. Kevin and I were privileged to lead the devotions on the Saturday morning and blending story with biblical reflection gave everyone an opportunity to prepare for the day’s business. One of the significant topics on the agenda was a Report on the National Comprehensive Review Task Group’s work, which has been conducted across the whole of Canada. Mark Hammond prepared this report very well and engaged the delegates in constructive conversations regarding the future of the United Church of Canada. Change is coming but we do not yet know exactly what this change will look like. The Church (and not only the UCC) has changed and so some of the questions now revolve around how we can be and do church differently. We committed ourselves to continue to journey along together – pursuing our quest for guidance and direction. One of the ways we do this is through on-line discussions, listening and engaging panelists and participating in webinars – here are some links for those who have access to the Internet:

The Conference President, Rev Cheryl Kinney Matheson, preached at the United Valley-Wide service on the Sunday, which many of you attended. After sharing in lunch and fellowship we headed off home with renewed vigour and full of enthusiasm for God’s work among God’s people.

Theme: “Forward in Faith … now for something completely (somewhat) different.”
Many months of diligent and careful planning and preparation finally culminated in the Conference being held in May 2014, right here on our doorstep – in the transformed Hockey Arena. The planning team did a most splendid job and the delegates were well-cared for – ranging from food, billets, enjoying the surroundings in the hall (comfortable reading and resting areas and pleasing decorations in the arena), transport, first aid, endless cups of coffee/tea, cookies and book tables. (I am sure there was much more but rest assured, the team looked after each delegate.)

The Conference was professionally run with great sound and visual equipment. Large screens ensured that everyone could see what was happening at any given moment. The keynote speaker, Bruce Reyes-Chow, presented three inspiring and challenging messages. We hope to makes these addresses availabe to interested persons in the very near future. He talked about modern technology and how we can best use it to benefit the ministry of the Church. Bruce also put our technical gadgets and programmes into perspective. He addressed racism and encouraged us not to put our heads in the sand. In his final talk he asked: ‘Where are we going?’ He reminded us that if we disconnect from the next generation, there shall not be a church when we are gone. We were encouraged to articulate our beautifully complex faith in Christ and to uphold our ideals and convictions.

The worship times during the Conference were special. The delegates who joined the Moderator, Rev Gary Paterson, at Green Belt in England last year in August (see shared something of their worship experiences during the Conference. The photo at the beginning of this post, of the various types of ribbons, woven into the table cloth, is one example of a time of intercessory prayer, during which everyone could choose to pray for someone whilst weaving a ribbon into the prayer table cloth. There were many examples of doing things differently AND being inspired through them.

The part the youth played was exhiliarating. Young people paid attention! A quiz was held at the end of Conference and the young people had remembered details, which Bruce had mentioned in his addresses and which most adults did not even recall hearing. The young people were placed at tables with adult delegates and they were a breath of fresh air – eventually. Making conversation with them initially, was not an easy task.

Meals were served in the Veteran’s Hall and the brisk walks between the venues were a gift to us, who sat for long peiods of time during these three days. Everyone commented on the quality of the food and most people found something that they enjoyed eating at every meal. All of us who hosted delegates in our homes were richer at the end of the Conference because they had brought additional insights and experiences into our lives.

One of the most moving ceremonies during the Conference was the Liturgy of Apology to Deaconesses, which was prepared by the staff of the Centre for Christian Studies. In years gone by, women were denied ministry when they chose to be married. That meant many women had to resign and give up their call.

The Conference took a very bold step by electing a young man, Joey Dearborn (a lay person from Agassiz Presbytery), who is in his early twenties, to be the President-elect of the Conference. Retiring ministers were honoured at a supper and a programme of entertainment on Saturday evening. More information is available on the Conference website:

The Mission and Service fund-raiser was a resounding success, giving several delegates an opportunity to take part – they had to compete on a topic, without repeating themselves, deviating from the subject or hesitating. Northland delegates did well but were finally outdone! The target sum was exceeded!

What made this Conference more unusual than most, was that there were few proposals and none of them drew much debate. This allowed for more times of worship and table discussions. I got to know some people from around our Conference and look forward to future connections with them.

Please know that any of the elected representatives to both Presbytery and Conference Meetings are willing to share information with members of the congregation. May God bless us as we continue to search for meaningful ways to serve others in Christ’s name.


Swan River 2014 – ice breaking up!



Standing on the banks of the Swan River, looking at this impressive sight was something very new for me.  The huge blocks of ice knocked against one another as they were being swept along by the raging river.

We have now passed the 6-month mark!  We look forward to doing some relfections on our time here when we are in South Africa in June.

Spring comes slowly to Manitoba and we still don’t see many flowers or new leaves on the trees but the buds are visible.


The slow Canadian snow melt-down to Spring


Monday, 10th March 2014, was a simply magnificent day in Swan River – reaching up to 6 degrees Celsius.

After four months of snow on the ground, it was wonderful to again see earth beneath our feet in the park.

The past month has sped past and both Kevin and I have now obtained our Manitoba Driver’s Licenses.  Both first time round (what a relief that was).  Some other South Africans (even a doctor) have been known to fail the first time.  We did everything by the book!  😉

My courses are keeping me very busy but I am grateful to be reaching the end of two of them – two practical projects lie ahead: one for United Church of Canada (UCC) History & Theology and one for UCC Worship.  I have the UCC Faith Formation Course and the Webinar on Racial Justice to complete in April.  The last course (UCC Polity) can only be completed in February 2015 as that’s when it will again be offered.  I shall need to go to St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon for that one as it is not an on-line course. Perhaps that is a good thing because the UCC Manual has just been edited and updated.  All the other courses are presented on-line so I do save some time by not having to travel.

We talk about the weather very much here!  Those of you who follow my Facebook posts will know how often I refer to the temperatures and the snow.  The hope for Spring is high – a very different experience for us.  The sudden milder temperatures affect me more than I can say – I felt quite elated yesterday: just walking in the park, measuring how deep the snow is (about 40 cms) taking photos at the museum, soaking up the sunshine and admiring the bright blue skies.  But how weird to wake up to snow again this morning!

The ministry at St. Andrew’s United Church is running smoothly.  We have some dedicated leaders and some very creative people. Worship attendance is not very good at present but March is a month when several families are holidaying in California or other warmer destinations down south.  Lent has started on a very low key but we shall persevere.  Both Kevin and I now lead Bible Studies in Swan River – me on a Wedneday morning and Kevin on a Thursday afternoon.  We have small groups but we trust they will grow.

A really wonderful blessing is that Miriam’s Circle is attracting quite a number of women – we have had some excellent gatherings and the group members are taking turns to lead.  Our next Miriam’s Circle is on Sunday, 16th March, when the full moon rises on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.

Some of you will be reading the excerpts I am sharing on Facebook from the Lenten Devotional Booklet I am using this year.  It is quite different and I am enjoying the simplicity of the prayers and comments,.  The author is a member of the United Church of Canada.  For your information:  “Confronted by Jesus – Daily Reflections for Lent” by Debbie McMillan.

Until a next time.

Our vehicle!


Our vehicle!

Dodge Caravan and my Driver’s License saga …
It is now almost three months since we arrived in Swan River.
It has certainly taken some getting used to the long cold months with regular snow falls. (It is snowing again today.) The 90 day period of grace to obtain my Manitoba driver’s license expires at the end of January and I discovered some more obstacles in my way this past week. I sailed through the Manitoba road and traffic knowledge test with 100% (the equivalent of a learner’s license) and when I went to book my road test, I was told I need a letter from the South African Road & Traffic Authorities, validating my South African Driver’s License. Since then I discovered that I have to collect this letter in person in Pretoria (South Africa). I am beginning to wonder whether they actually want me here in Canada! 😉
I can obviously use my learner’s license and then only drive with a fully licensed driver in the passenger seat but not only will this be inconvenient for my ministry, I shall then have to go into the Manitoba driver training programme and wait at least 9 months before taking my road test – this after 40 years of safe driving!
We cannot but be saddened that the careless South African drivers, who have certainly made a name for themselves here in the Great White North, and all those who forge and falsify SA driver’s licenses now make it difficult for everyone else to be trusted in other countries.
I view this as one more hurdle to overcome and I am bending over backwards to try and satisfy the Manitoba road and traffic authorities that my SA driver’s license is indeed authentic. I trust that a friend in Pretoria can collect the letter for me so I have sent her a letter of permission from me. Hold thumbs everyone!
I hope to soon have a happy consluion to add!

Our first two months in Canada



We live about a ten minute walk away from the banks of the beautiful Swan River.  At the end of October the temperature was already very cold but we had no idea how cold it really gets here. Our South African experience does not include -20 degrees Celsius or even colder temperatures.  Going for a walk in these temperatures is a challenge in itself but trying to negotiate one’s way through thick snow and slippery ice adds another dimension to the outing. We have learnt to walk on crunchy snow rather than on slippery ice – it is safer.  Although the snow only came after we had been here for almost two weeks, we did not have enough time to get fully oriented with the town,  I still get horribly lost and there are few landmarks, which help me get my bearings.  At least I now know my way from home to the church office and back!  😉

The church routine is very similar to ministry in South Africa but there are many differences. The services are very liturgical and although I do enjoy some liturgy, I hope to explore some more creative liturgies in the New Year.  This will be a very different Christmas for us with ONLY a service on Christmas Eve (at 8:00pm) – no Christmas morning worship service.  So, Kevin and I are going to the Anglicans down the road – they have a service at 11:00am.  Many people are also away for Christmas and some do get visitors here in Swan River.

A trip to Winnipeg takes us about 6 to 7 hours – because of speed limits and comfort stops along the way.  People routinely need to go to the city and this is a very different experience for us. Driving very long distances is an almost everyday undertaking for most Canadians.  We are still looking for a suitable vehicle and are immensely grateful to a retired minister in our congregation who is loaning us a spare vehicle of theirs in the time being.

Items of clothing, which we had to acquire for winter, include thermal underwear, scarves, hats, gloves or mitts, warm socks and jackets/coats.  Many Canadian people seem to have spare items in their closets so we have been very fortunate to receive warm jackets and gloves to assist us through this first winter, which is apparently rather cold already for this time of the year.  We had been warned that January and February are really cold (descending to minus 40 degrees Celsius) but we have measured -35 already in December.

The snow is beautiful and I don’t think I could ever tire of its attraction.  When the sun shines, which it often does in Manitoba, the snow glistens and sparkles and when it is really cold there are even sparkles in the air as the sun shines on the tiny icy particles.  We look forward to the trees having hoar frost on them – watch out for my photos when it happens!