The for­lorn churches of Brix­ton

ONE ON EVERY COR­NER: BUT INSIDE THE OLD SUB­URB’S HOLY HOUSES ARE DARK AND QUIET

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - CITY -

Each week Marie-Lais looks out for the un­usual, the unique, the down­right quirky or just some­thing or some­one we might have had no idea about, even though we live here. We like to travel our own cities and their sur­rounds, cu­ri­ous to feel them out. This week it’s Seek. Pray. Unlove, across Brix­ton.

Brix­ton bris­tles with churches. Friend Si­fiso has dis­suaded Heather and I from merely vis­it­ing one, St Ni­cholas Or­tho­dox, to look at Brix­ton’s other largely unloved, un­der­con­gre­gated churches. Si­fiso is de­vis­ing a plan for New Year’s Eve, bring­ing some mu­si­cal love to all the churches here.

We pass the white and blue Greek Or­tho­dox Church on our way to the New Apos­tolic Church in Caro­line Street to start our tour. Basil is wait­ing for us at the gate with the keys, but leaves im­me­di­ately. We can’t per­suade the keys to open up. We all try. Si­fiso does best, get­ting the like­li­est key half­way when it sticks. Basil re­turns, apol­o­gis­ing for giv­ing us wrong keys. The stuck key is ex­tri­cated by a lock pro­fes­sional.

“1905” reads Si­fiso off the foun­da­tion stone. “Joburg was un­der Bri­tish rule then, af­ter the An­gloBoer War.”

I no­tice, among all the crosses around, that he has a star of David on his Haile Se­lassie tee.

Inside is calm, creamy light, frac­tured win­dows and an old Bi­ble given to the “Brix­ton Wes­leyan Church” in 1916. Out­side is coiled ra­zor wire, ex­cre­ment and on the right the Is­lamic Cen­tre for Africa. A shop­keeper says it’s “a sort of hos­tel”. To the left is “the blue house drug den”.

The stone on the St Au­gus­tine’s Angli­can church says Mrs Nor­man An­stey was there in 1913. “The time of the Land Act – blacks would have had to move from here,” an­nounces Si­fiso.

There is a big bell at the roof pitch, above barbed wire. The gate is locked but a man in a car ad­vises us to ring a lit­tle hang­ing bell. His wife is inside hav­ing a pi­ano les­son. It is cool, darker, more for­mal but a tum­bler holds a few just-picked tulips and car­na­tions.

We see another church that’s now a guest­house and Si­fiso drops us at the Greek church, where we also have no ac­cess. I step over a low rail to ex­am­ine a charm­ing ce­ramic of St Ni­cholas in Ja­pan. I am­ble around and the alarm goes off. We wait for the se­cu­rity peo­ple to ar­rive. They don’t.

Pic­tures: Heather Ma­son

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