Our parish church is dedicated to The Feast of the Reign of Christ, also known as Christ the King Day (Last Sunday of the Church year). This day was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI of the Roman Church to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly supremacy, which was claimed by Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader in Italy. Anglicans, Lutherans, and many other Protestant churches adopted it along with the Revised Common Lectionary. With the parish church built in 1933, a mere eight years after the institution of Christ the King Day, and its bell tower in 1936, our parish is one of the first churches to be dedicated as such on a global and ecumenical scale!
The parish of Sophiatown falls under the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, within the Diocese of Johannesburg and is located at 49 Ray Street. Resurrected in 1997, in the city of Johannesburg, our church building is one of the few tangible reminders of the old Sophiatown. The architect of our parish church was Frank Flemming, who designed 85 churches throughout South Africa. So little money was made available for the construction that the architect called it a “Holy Barn”. The church’s distinctive feature was a mural that is no longer visible. It was painted between 1939 and 1941 by Sister Margaret.
Christ the King, Sophiatown was an icon of the liberation struggle in South Africa. In this way, under the spiritual guidance of the Community of the Resurrection (CR) fathers it kept the proclamation, practice, and spirit akin of the historical institution of the feast day of its dedication – No heavenly and earthly power is above that of Christ, and those made in God’s image may not be subordinated. In 1940 Trevor Huddleston CR was appointed Rector. He was an outspoken opponent of apartheid. In 1955 during the forced removals, Huddleston was recalled to England. His ashes reside at a memorial site at the back of the church. It is often used for memorial services and is an attractive tourist destination.
On the north-eastern side of the church there is a mural depicting Huddleston walking the dusty streets of Sophiatown. This mural was painted by 12 apprentice students under patronage of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation. We make sustained efforts to keep this fragile piece of artwork in good shape. It shows two children tugging at his cassock as well as Sekoto’s famous yellow houses.
The entire Sophiatown community was removed by the apartheid regime at the end of 1963; the church was deconsecrated in 1964, after 31 years of ministry and witness, and sold to the Department of Community Development in 1967. In the 1970s it was bought by the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk, which used it for Sunday School. The church changed hands again and the Pinkster Protestantse Kerk bought the building and altered it significantly. The nave was enclosed, a large font was built and wooden panelling and false organ pipes changed the look of the interior. In 1997 the Anglican Diocese of Johannesburg bought church building back and it was re-consecrated. The changes made on it were reversed and the building was largely restored to its former self. However, the hall and gallery the Pinkster Protestantse Kerk had built were retained. While Sophiatown and, indeed Johannesburg and the world have changed, the above history and witness still remains relevant and inspires all that we do and gives us wings, with the aid of the Holy Spirit to spread the Good News of Christ the King in a way that touches our lives and history. We are a church “with roots and wings!”
Since its reopening in 1997, after 33 years of de-consecration, the church has been served by five rectors and priests-in-charge: