Woodstockers seem to be religiously religious, judging by the churches, mosques and the old Jewish cemetery, all supplemented by spiritual offerings – tarot cards float about, mphephu is burnt, committed vegans flaunt their tofu offerings and bookshops have no shortage of Eastern-inspired books on the matter. With the influx of foreigners from African countries, pastors have followed their flocks from Nigeria, the DRC and Zimbabwe, to create spaces where music and expatriate support remind new Woodstockers of old homes.
My mission starts up in Walmer Estate, where the Worcester Road Gospel Hall dates from 1932. Close by, the historic Azzavia Mosque was built in 1920 when a river still bubbled beside it – now restricted to an underwater storm water pipe that occasionally spouts winter waters over the road. On Eastern Boulevard’s seaside a friendly woman tells me about the religious offerings there – and gives me a coconut-flavoured cake. We’re in the aptly named Chapel Street, where St. Philip’s Church and Rectory (Anglican) also hosts a trauma centre and a few graves. Not much further the Theatre in the District has taken possession of old sandstone church for a different kind of religious experience. AD 1885, states a cornerstone, but the history-plaque has been replaced by a security company’s sign-of-the-times-board. Another gracious local, with beard and fez, tells me about the mosques in the area… and his fruit-selling business.
The road continues to Woodstock Industrial Centre, encircled by churches and a mosque. Action Chapel (Home of Sign[s] & Wonders) is between Withit Industries and Rainbow Family Church (Rising Sun Ministries). Diagonally across the road is The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church of Southern Africa Diocese of Cape Town, with its Said Mass once and Sung Mass twice a week. Behind the centre is the face brick Sulaimania Mosque (Opened 30min before waqt and close 30min after for security reasons), which was completed in 1954. There’s no rest for the wicked, because another 200m leads one to the Lower Church Street sign, framed by the Family Worship Centre (Greater Life Ministries) as well as the House of Glory Ministries (Services, Counsel[l]ing, Bookshop and Resource Centre). Behind me the forlorn Jewish graves of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation (Old Albert Road Cemetery 1848-1887) is visible through the cracks of wooden swing doors.
I head towards Devil’s Peak, and the offerings per square kilometre only increase. The Lord’s Chosen (Charismatic Revival Ministries, Headquarters in Lagos by Ijesha Bus-Stop)’s tagline is “Heaven at Last”. Excitedly I run up the industrial staircase, but graffiti and an old bullet-like hole only lead to a closed security gate, behind which a soulless room with chairs await the next service. Revival music drifts around and a television screen in the corner shows a charismatic preacher spearheading the wordless action. In Victoria Road the Bible Life Ministries (Door and Free Parking at the Back) is tucked in between Woodstock Gold (Ca$h for Gold) and Patrice’s Unisex Salon (Shaving, Barber, Trimming, Dreadlocks). Nearby Cash Crusaders fights its own battle, while Hoosain’s Moslem Butchery awaits its Halaal meat delivery.
Heading back to Albert Road, is a church with no name (the cornerstone says Rt. Hon. C.J. Rhodes P.C.: D.C.L.: M.L.A. July 1899 was here), but an old age home is attached to it. According to a staff member, who only notices the lack of signage for the first time, it’s “The Presbyterian Church of Woodstock”. But one block further a staff member of another church, the Woodstock Baptist Church (offers a morning service, followed by Lunch in the Park), says the Fountain of Joy rents the aforementioned church building from the Presbyterians, who now go elsewhere. The Baptist Church, where a white swan pot plant keeps vigil, was itself formerly the Woodstock Dutch Reformed Church (the cornerstone reads in Dutch “Deze Steen Werd Gelegd 1 Mei 1897. Door Den Hoog-Eerw. Professor Hofmeyr”), and happens to be the place where my great-grandfather was a dominee. Surely a Huguenot’s heart swells with pride when hearing that the church now offers services in French due to new immigrants? And, says the lady, had I seen the New Apostolic Church? I retrace my steps to see this one (Visitors Are Heartily Welcome), and come across more, like the House of Kings Jeremiah Training Centre (A Ministry Training School, Next Class Starts Friday) and, at the Church Square development, a classic 1898 offering that now houses Haldane Martin furniture creators (“offers a sense of belonging to our world and the spirit of the times”). A block away is the palace-sized St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, with its primary school and monument dedicated to its men that fell in The Great Wars.
Now I aim at the railway line, where an old church (1893) today hosts the vamp furniture shop. A Dutch inscription reads “Samuel, Van Den Heere Gebeden, Ook Den Heere Overgeven” (“Asked of the Lord and Given Over to the Lord”), but St. Mary’s School is inscribed on the building next door. What does it al mean?! Roodeblloem Road, where the bars and churches are cheek by jowl, each offering its own spirits, beckons. The All Saints Church Roodebloem (Anglican Church of Southern Africa) is active and has a monument to all Woodstock residents that fought in the World War II. But diagonally across an unmarked church (cornerstones laid in 1904, plaque illegible) hosts a photographic studio where chic youngsters parade around.
I’m about to call it a day when…Hell, I forgot the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George in Mountain Road! There the icon is slaying the dragon, and I can finally say I’ve seen enough, even though I’ve definitely not seen it all… So when you hear the muezzin call, or the church bell toll, or the sound system blasting – in architectural beauties, in dilapidated industrial concrete blocks, in homes and on street – appreciate the fact that religious tolerance (and freedom from religion) is truly practised in our neighbourhood. Heavenly, isn’t it?