Spotlight: New Church Westville, South Africa

Photo taken earlier this year at joint service for school and church communities, celebrating the founding of Kainon School 94 years ago

From the Admin – As a pastor’s wife with international ties, I am keenly aware of the wondrous ways that the Lord is blessing and caring for His Church. I find it both inspiring and humbling to see our church communities around the world prosper and I wanted to share this heartening feeling with all our readers who may not be aware of what’s happening in Congregations outside their own. So for a few weeks (and periodically in the future) we will be featuring New Churches that we find particularly inspiring. Enjoy, Eden

From our Intern, Tykah – I have visited New Church Westville a number of times and recently interviewed the Head Pastor (and my brother-in-law) Malcolm Smith about it via videochat.

How long have you been in Westville?

I’ve been here as a pastor since early 2011. I started out as assistant to Derrick Lumsden and then became the Head Pastor in 2014. My dad, Lawson Smith, was pastor in Westville for 7 years in the 90s so, in total, I’ve lived in Westville for over a third of my life.

Joel Glenn just arrived in March to serve as Assistant Pastor. It’s great to have another full-time pastor to work with again (after his brother Coleman Glenn who had been the Associate Pastor here had to leave suddenly last year).

What’s the history of the congregation?

There have been New Church people in the Durban area since the 1850s. They built a small church in Durban in 1893 and then moved into a larger one in 1921. The school (known as Kainon School) was started in 1923. In 1971 the congregation moved out of Durban to a suburb known as Westville that, at the time, was not very developed. Many of the church members bought land and built houses in the area. A Pre-Primary school was started in 1989.

Various improvements were made to the campus over the years and then, in 2010-2011 there was a big building project to significantly improve and add on to the facilities to have space for more students and more programs. Those improvements were primarily for the school but also made it a more attractive environment for the church.

What sorts of programs do you run on a regular basis?

On Sundays we have one service that’s usually in the morning but is in the evening instead on the first Sunday of the month. We aim to have our services be family-friendly. The children have a talk sitting on the floor in the front of the church where the pastor shares a story with a message geared to their level. After the children’s part of the worship service, the children go out for Sunday School while the teens and adults listen to a sermon.

Just last year we started using a program called Godly Play during Sunday School time. It’s a program that was developed by an Episcopal priest named Jerome Berryman, based on principles from the Montessori education philosophy. Sunday School has gone through a number of different eras at New Church Westville, and we’re still figuring out how best to use and adapt the Godly Play program for our setting.

After church there is social time with tea and coffee served by volunteers and little things to eat. Most of the year people can socialize inside the church hall or outside on the patio, thanks to the warm sub-tropical climate.

Men’s Bible Study happening on the patio outside the Coffee Lounge

We also have a weekly youth program for the high schoolers, led by Joel, and a monthly men’s Bible study that happens once a month from 6:45 to 8am in the Coffee Lounge on campus. (South Africans are early risers.)

We’ve done the annual Journey campaigns produced by the General Church Office of Outreach for a bunch of years and those are well-attended and well-received. For the past few years we’ve been working (with some success) on encouraging groups to keep meeting throughout the year, not just for the few weeks of the campaign.

What are you currently focusing on as a congregation?

Just having our church and school on the same physical campus does not mean that people will automatically come from the school to join the church. We’ve put a lot of effort into making it as easy and natural as possible for church people to invite their friends from the school to church. In recent years we’ve been lucky to have a number of new people from the school try coming to church and keep coming.

As a church we also focus specifically on marriage and family ministry. There is always more that we hope to do but one thing that has worked particularly well has been hosting parenting events like one titled “How to Talk to Your Children About Sex” and another titled “Keeping Kids Safe Online: Spiritually, Emotionally, and Legally”.

What are some things that are unique or different about New Church Westville

Kainon School is an integral part of New Church Westville. It’s a reason for church families to move to the Durban area and to stay in Durban instead of moving to other parts of the country where they would likely be able to get higher paying jobs. The school also means that our church (which is tucked back in a rather quiet suburban corner) gets a lot of people coming onto the property–people with children in our school and also people from other schools coming to play sport at Kainon. Since the upgrade to our facilities our student body has been gradually growing. This year we have about 140 students from Grades 1-7 and close to another 100 from 18 months to Grade R (Kindergarten). We are fortunate to be in an area where the size and type of school that we have is in demand and these days we get a lot of applicants for our school.

Good hospitality is an essential part of South African culture and the church community is a prime setting for that skill set. New Church Westville and Kainon school is a welcoming and caring place with opportunities for a new church education and community.

About Tykah Echols

Tykah is the daughter of a New Church minister and has been learning about the church since infancy. She attended both the Bryn Athyn Elementary schools and the Academy of the New Church. She is now a student at Bryn Athyn college where she hopes to continue learning about the religion she was born into. She knows that there is much more for her to learn about the Lord, his teachings and herself.