Much-loved pastor bows out from Central Methodist Church
“Jesus believed in justice, equality, truth, gentleness and mercy” says Alan Storey
- The Central Methodist Church in Cape Town was packed on Sunday when Pastor Alan Storey delivered his last sermon after 15 years in the church.
- His time at the church was marked by the Yellow Banner campaign in support of human rights.
- The church also offered shelter in 2019 to refugees who had been camped outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, demanding to be sent to another country to escape xenophobia.
The story of the Bible is a story about a group of people struggling to be free, pastor Alan Storey told the congregation in his last sermon as pastor of Cape Town’s Central Methodist Church on Sunday.
Under Storey’s watch, the church became a centre of human rights activism.
“It seems to me that the recurring story (in the Bible) is about a group of people struggling to be free. And then they win that struggle, then they come into power and they forget the struggle. They become like the people they once resisted and a new liberation struggle must begin again. We are living that out in our country and in the world,” he told the congregation gathered in the church in Greenmarket Square.
“It seems to me what is … important is not believing in Jesus … but in what he believed in. He believed in justice, equality, truth, gentleness and mercy,” Storey said in his sermon.
“I’ve learned that to take it (the Bible) literally is an absurdity. It’s not a sign of faith to take the Bible literally, it’s a sign of superstition.”
Storey had a major impact on sex workers, queer people, people living with disabilities and people living with HIV, activist Zackie Achmat told GroundUp.
Storey started the The Yellow Banner Campaign in 2011 in solidarity with the Right2Know campaign and other civil society organisations challenging the Protection of Information Act. There have been many other banners throughout the years, on topics such as the arms deal, antiretrovirals, xenophobia, gender-based violence, sex work; homophobia, Covid-19, the Marikana massacre and social housing.
“No other church does that,” said Achmat.
Storey was arrested for refusing to serve in the army during apartheid. He became one of the last conscientious objectors to face trial (the trial was eventually abandoned). Since then he has served as chairperson of Gun Free South Africa and founded the Banna Ba Modimo Clinic for homeless people in Welkom. He has played a key role in pushing for more inclusion for queer people in the church.
Storey served in Rustenburg and Mooinooi (1991), then Welkom (1995), Midrand (1998) and has been at the Cape Town church since 2008.
In 2019, the church sheltered refugees who were evicted from the Waldorf Arcade where they had been camped outside the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They were demanding to be moved to other countries to escape xenophobia in South Africa.
They lived in the church for several months.
Storey stressed the importance of the fight for social housing. “Do you really want to live in a country where the majority of people do not have land and housing?” he asked. “We surely have to give everything of ourselves to try and work for something that is different.”
Gilbert Lawrence, a family friend of Storey and a member of the church, thanked him for laying a foundation for how a church should exist in society.
Referring to the refugees, Lawrence said in a speech: “I want to commend you on your commitment in that time. You recognised the desperation of the fearful and the vulnerable.”
Buhle Booi, of housing advocacy group Ndifuna Ukwazi told GroundUp that they were deeply grateful to Storey. “He has brought comfort to many of our hearts who are doing this incredibly difficult work.”
“He has inspired a lot of us to continue to do the work. We wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life,” Booi said.
Storey is planning to release a book titled “Bells, Banners and Blasphemy” on the banner campaign. The date of the launch will be announced soon. He is also planning to take a sabbatical.
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