Saturday, October 1, 2011

South Africa Day 3: The Volmoed Community

Blog Entry #22: South Africa Day 3: Volmoed Community

Sunday, September 24, 2011

Pat, Isobel & John de Gruchy, Dan

One of the true delights of this visit to South Africa has been renewing my friendship with Isobel and John de Gruchy, whom I first met in 1983 at Holden Village, and then studied with at Union Seminary in 1989 during my first year of doctoral studies.  John is one of South Africa’s most eminent theologians, an expert on the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his resistance to Hitler, and one of the leading opposition leaders to apartheid within the South African church.

Mike, Allison, and "Bunny" -- Volmoed Community Members
John and Isobel now live at Volmoed (, a Christian ecumenical community outside the coastal community of Hermanus, 2 hours SE of Capetown.  Volmoed means “Courage and Hope,” and was founded in 1986 “during some of the darkest days of apartheid as a place that was open to all, seeking to pursue reconciliation amongst people divided by race and class, and witnessing to God’s gift of healing and wholeness.”

Chapel at Volmoed
A small group of members of South African churches took over an old farm of the same name – Volmoed (and one of the stipulations of the sale was that they keep the name) – and began the arduous process of turning it into a community retreat center.

View from Grace Cottage, Volmoed

One of the most challenging early tasks of the community was to heal the land itself: as is the case with many Mediterranean climates worldwide, South Africa finds itself besieged by an invasion of exotic plant species, many from Australia such as the familiar eucalyptus tree.  South Africa is home to the fynbos, one of the world’s 6 major flora kingdoms, and among the most diverse in species, though by far the smallest in territory.  

Bouquet of Fynbos Flowers
Many of these floral wonders are threatened by rapidly expanding plant invaders – some 29 species are already extinct -- and Volmoed from the beginning has been committed to eradicating them from the farm, and letting the local fynbos flourish once again. 

Well-Spring, Volmoed

Groups of young people came from Capetown to help with this effort, and among them was Anton de Gruchy, John and Isobel’s youngest child, who came early on with his church youth group to eradicate invasives.  Thus did the de Gruchy’s become connected to Volmoed, and when John officially retired from his duties at the University of Capetown several years ago, they moved to Volmoed and built a stunning home on the hillside, Well-spring. 
Breakfast at Well-Spring
Here they have hosted friends and family from all over the world, and Pat and I were grateful to be included in their hospitality.

Vineyards near Volmoed with Walker Bay in distance
Volmoed is also in the heart of one of South Africa’s richest wine regions, with vineyards draping the nearby hills and valleys.  (Pat and I enjoyed sampling several of the local varieties!).

On the deck at Grace Cottage
Grace Cottage at Volmoe

Comfortably ensconced in our little cottage (appropriately named “Grace”), we were able to explore the nearby Onrus River gorge and waterfall, and hike to the top of the ridge behind the farm for a stunning 360 degree view of the Overberg region.

"Tower of Babylon" and vineyards near Volmoed Community
Hermanus and the Atlantic Ocean lie to the south and 1167 meter Babilonstoring (“Tower of Babel” – the Dutch Reformed Church heritage is ever present here) to the north.

Volmoed from Well-Spring
Fynbos blossoms
With the fynbos in full bloom (next blog entry!), dozens of spring birds gracing the bushes, a resident baboon troup greeting us each day by the pond, and several “dassies” (rock rabbits) grazing the lawn in front of the cottage, we slowed down from our hectic pace on the ship and simply enjoyed this lovely spot.

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