Monday, March 10, 2008

James Buys' funeral

Just came home driving from Cape Town to Johannesburg, from the funeral of our respected colleague, James Buys. This was quite an experience. Our church council in Riverlea has to be acknowledged with gratitude for the foresight in making this possible. Indeed, this experience have opened up so many insights in terms of the role of pastors, ministers and churchleaders, but at the heart, it was about the essence of the church.

We arrived there at about 9 o'clock and the quaint churchbuilding in a little Wynberg town, was already packed to capacity. Mourners and family members were lining up, respectfully, to show their last respects and to support the grieving family. I have to say: the family remains an impressive inspirational imprint as they are dealing with a tragedy that still perplexes many of us. An answer to this enigma, could be found maybe in the strong presence of the mother of James, as she is referred to by speakers, Ma Elsa Buys. The role but also lasting impact of strong women of this ilk, has yet to be recorded and acknowledged properly in the church, in the way God has raised up leaders of the quality of Buys. Their presence were felt on Saturday, his wife and three daughters, his sister Miranda and countless other unknown women who stood by the side of the family, of vulnerable, grieving ministers and of a grieving church.

The ritual of mourners lining up to 'see' and sometimes 'touch' the deceased could have a very profound role in gaining closure. Others made a choice to remember Buys, as we knew him, standing tall, giving leadership and direction; cracking a joke or making music. The minister of the combined NG Kerk-URCSA congregation, Dr Danie Nel, then announced another an open invitation to people who sense the need for professional counseling in Depression, but also dealing with Trauma to contact their churchoffice, but also the good the Premier of the Western Cape Ebraim Rasool has made available R 25 000 for buying in more specialized therapeutic services.

Rev Mbenenge, shared the word, using the text in Isaiah 54:7, telling us that James asked him already in 2000 to conduct his funeral service. On this unusual request he responded by saying that James, being much younger than him, would most probably outlive him. These two then agreed that whosoever would depart firstly, would be laid to rest by the other. In 2006 at the funeral of another respected church leader in our church. Oom Themba Nyatyowa, James repeated this request and Rev Mbenengwe recalls, 'this time I sensed that he was serious. I could see it in his body language'. He however reiterated, that the people of God, even in the midst of uncertainty about the future, in the midst of difficulties and a sense of being abandoned by God, may remember the promise: I will never forsake you. This promise is possible because of God's covenant. Yes, its possible to feel the pain now, hence we need to 'let pain be our friend'. Miranda Scheepers (Buys), then had a short word of gratitude and repeated a confession of faith that in the midst of it all, ' His (Gods) promises would remain true.

The family then went to the crematorium for the private cremation, whilst the rest of the mourners remained behind for a time of fellowship and re-membering. From the crowds of people present, it was evident that even in his death, James made a profound contribution to our relationships with one another, but also reminding us of our calling. At another memorial service, in Riverlea, James' hometown, this message was articulated by Eddie Makue, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, when he read letter from Derrick Marco, stating, 'you have brought us to a rude awakening... we need to question, what is the meaning of life...You remind us of people who question the meaning of life...those on the periphery of life, asking, what is the meaning of life...Many in SA, in URCSA, in the Reformed community, any church, are lonely and the question is: what are we as church, as believers offering to them?' You could see many circles of conversation, of reflection of re-membering under the trees, inside and outside the buildings of the Simon van der Stel Laerskool.

After this, a small delegation, with prof. Thias Kgatla went to the humble churchoffices on the 'coloured side of the railway line', which was the scene of the unfortunate suicide. A small cleansing ritual of sorts, were performed, where Rev A Rust re-membered the circumstances surrounding the suicide and Dr Mazamisa, prayed the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ over this place, family and congregation. The processes of healing and cleansing, seemingly will, however, continue as we reflect and re-member, as we wrestle through this 'rude awakening'. The realization that the sickness of Depression could bring down a leader is such huge stature and respect, calls for softer hands and hearts, but, maybe also strong heads, challenging outdated expectations and theologies around the identity and role of ministers, about the pastoral accompaniment of leaders, but at a deeper level our ecclesiology, what is the essence of being church. This funeral, indeed, was quite an experience, an experience where we were consoled, but also were re-formed... where we are re-formed. As we drove away from the little office, we sensed that this is not a closure, but maybe an opening up... a journey much longer then the distance between Cape Town and Johannesburg..or even Mara (Buysdorp).
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