All-College Read: A Discussion with Rev. Dr. John de Beer

March 19, 2019

12:00 PM - 01:30 PM

Jamestown Campus – AT Auditorium

“One fall weekend when I was seventeen years old, I made a choice that shaped the rest of my life. I was a college freshman at The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, majoring in Math and Physics. I was uncertain of who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. I was also very shy, especially around girls - the high school I attended was boys only. College life was challenging and confusing.

I had begun attending the Anglican Students Society on campus. This was a vibrant student group with a chaplain who created a context for brave communications about life and faith. The college was for whites only, segregated by law as were all colleges in SA at the time. However, the Anglican Students Federation held regional and national retreats, which were fully integrated.

The first such retreat I attended was a residential weekend with about 30 participants. I was very quiet during our Friday evening program, and even quieter when the students were hanging out later, black and white, male and female, talking about politics and relationships. I felt like a fish out of water. The Saturday morning program drew me in, though, to the point that I found myself venturing an opinion. Surprise! The earth did not swallow me up and nobody laughed. Gradually, I found my voice.

At worship on Sunday morning, gathered around the table, sharing in prayers and the bread and the wine, I felt absolutely at home. Here was where I belonged, still white, still male, yet my identity was given to me as a member of this inclusive community, centered in prayer.

That afternoon, I was back in my segregated life, waiting at the whites’ only bus stop for the whites only bus that would take me home. For a moment, I couldn’t see anything, caught between the world as it was before the retreat and the world I had found in community. Then I made a choice, to live in the new world that I had discovered and to claim the identity that I was finding there. This choice has guided my life from that point on.” – Rev. Dr. John de Beer