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Deacons named in Soweto: Chaka Ndou, Cyril Tshinyani, Takalni Phaseana, Fani Masondo and Meshack Tshikhsi.
Photo by Audrey Jackson

After long lockdowns, South African church appoints its first deacons

The Tshiawelo Church of Christ went 60 years without deacons or elders but has seen significant growth recently.

SOWETO, South Africa Joyful hymns filled the meeting place of the Tshiawelo Church of Christ as five men and their wives gathered before the congregation for a deacon installation ceremony. It was a moment years in the making.

The church’s minister, Songezo Gwanya, started teaching classes on church leadership in 2019. The congregation, which was founded by believers from the northern South African state of Venda, had grown for 60 years without deacons or elders. But in recent years the church had nearly doubled in size, and Gwanya saw the need for members to take on more active roles in leadership.

Related: Mandela legacy in South Africa: All races worship freely

The minister and prospective leaders read through the Bible for a year, preparing for elder and deacon appointments.

The church installed two elders in December 2019 and scheduled the deacon installation for early 2020.

Then came COVID-19. One week before the installation, the South African government locked down the country. Congregational meetings were banned. Restrictions later were eased and then tightened as new variants of the virus surged across the country. The ceremony was postponed — twice.

Tshaiwelo church members pray for their newly installed deacons.

Tshaiwelo church members pray for their newly installed deacons.

During the long lockdowns, church members and the prospective deacons raised new questions about church leadership. So Gwanya and the men resumed their Bible studies.

“Already, they were serving the church,” Gwanya said of the new deacons. “That is why the church is appointing them.”

The 214-member church is small compared to the Johannesburg metropolitan area it serves. But the congregation has plans to reach its 1 million neighbors.

“The church must be a light in a community; it must be a beacon of hope in the community,” Gwanya said. “People must know that if they come to the church, they will get Jesus.”

Filed under: Africa missions COVID-19 Deacons Elders International lockdown News Songezo Gwanya South Africa Soweto Top Stories Tshiawelo Church of Christ

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