Nelson Mandela and Raymond Raynes

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), a reconciling man in a divisive time, passed into eternity recently. May his soul rest in peace and may light perpetual rest upon him. His passing reminded me of an earlier divisive time and another man of love (perhaps saint?), Raymond Raynes C.R., an Anglican monk who was born a generation before Mr. Mandela, whose work in South Africa has not been forgotten by those for whom he cared. 

Father Raynes (1903-1958), late Superior of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, England, built missions, schools, and churches in South Africa, first in Johannesburg (Rosettenville) and later in the Southwest Township, Soweto. This Anglican monastic Community had a missionary presence in South Africa since 1902; Father Raynes arrived in 1933, shortly after his profession as a monk. After ten years of devoted work, his asceticism and labor took a toll on his body. He became severely ill and was recalled to England in 1943. Father Trevor Huddleston was assigned to nurse him, and it was Father Huddleston C.R. whom Raymond sent to South Africa to continue his important work. 

Nelson Mandela came of age in the early 1940s about the time that Raymond was recalled. In the course of the next half century, it was Trevor Huddleston who stood alongside Nelson Mandela, working to reverse the curse of apartheid that gripped the nation from 1948 to 1994. Father Huddleston did indeed continue Raymond’s work. He died in 1998 having seen his friend Nelson Mandela released from prison and elected President of South Africa.

I became interested in Father Raynes many years ago, having read his biography by Nicholas Mosley, a remarkable man in his own right, a novelist and Lord of Parliament. Raymond Raynes converted him to Christ, brought him home. When Father Raynes died, Lord Mosley paid him tribute by writing his biography, with the support of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield. 

My husband and I visited Mirfield in 2002. We saw the church and the cluster of buildings set in park-like grounds; we honored the grave of Raymond Raynes in the monks’ cemetery. Some of my impressions found their way into my third novel, my story set in England, Inheritance, about the great Christian inheritance we have been given, about the call not to squander it or take it for granted.

My Mirfield impressions and my introduction to Father Raynes by way of Lord Mosley’s biography has since led to a new edition of the biography, recently released by the American Church Union, an American Anglican publishing group. In this biography the South African story is told with color, poetry, and insight. It was a great privilege to edit this biography and see it once again in print. 

So with the passing of Mr. Mandela, I think with gratitude again about the Anglo-Catholic Father Raynes. Father Raynes loved the African people. In the 1930s the black South Africans lived in shanties and worked long hours for little wage in the mines, but aside from the poverty which was dire in itself, they were denied basic rights: the right to own land, the right of due process and other legal rights, the right to vote. For any reason, for no reason, they could be arrested, sent away, and never seen again. Into this setting came this young, handsome, energetic priest with his long black cassock who walked the neighborhoods sharing the love of God and also sharing his food, shelter, and knowledge. The children loved him and followed him around on his home visits. Father Raynes built a huge (“barn-sized”)  church with a high altar and colorful frescoes. The church was packed with thousands of worshipers weekly. He led his people in processions with incense and candles and chanting, often through the dusty lanes of the community. He gave them a vision of another, a more beautiful world. He showed them God and His love for each of them. He gave them dignity and worth in the love of God their creator. 

Father Raynes also became their political defender. He rescued many from prison who had been falsely arrested. He fought for sewers and lighting and water pipes in the neighborhoods. He campaigned for schools and teachers. He prayed night and day for these people whom he loved so. He fasted.

The children did not forget Father Raynes after he was called back to England. They grew up to become the future leaders and priests and teachers of South Africa. They had been educated in Anglican schools; many had become devout Anglo-Catholics with a mission for the poor. This generation birthed the new nation, brought it into a hopefully more democratic world of freedom and reconciliation.

So, with the passing of Mr. Mandela, I feel great pride in the timely new edition of Nicholas Mosley’s The Life of Raymond Raynes. This biography reminded me what one person can accomplish, with the grace of God flowing through his or  her mind and heart. I have read that Nelson Mandela was also a devout man in his own way, a Methodist, who kept his faith to himself, not wanting to cause division. But in his efforts to forgive those who persecuted him, I see a man who had been touched by Christ. In his long years in prison on Robben Island  and his waiting and his patience through it all, you can see the soul of a martyr willing to sacrifice himself for others.

2013 has been a year of remembrance for South Africa: Father Raynes’ life remembered with gratitude and thanksgiving; Nelson Mandela’s life remembered also with gratitude and thanksgiving. 

To learn more about the biography, The Life of Raymond Raynes, and ordering information, visit the American Church Union at  To read an excellent review by Father Ian McCormack of New Directions, the magazine of Forward in Faith (Anglican), click here: Review New Directions


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