Ng Kerk, Johannesburg

Dutch Reformed Church,Johannesburg Image source

On Thursday 08 July 1897 two daughter congregations seceded from the DR Church Johannesburg, being the DR Church Jeppestown and the DR Church Johannesburg East ("Irene"). The new congregation started off by having its meetings and services in the old Johannesburg church building on Von Brandis Square. However, not long afterwards they were obliged to look for an alternative venue presumably because the building had been sold. After failed negotiations with the German missionary, Hon. Nauhaus, (as well as the subsequent owner) regarding the use (or purchase) of the church near Friedeburg, the congregation found accommodation by renting the Masonic Hall on Plein Street. From there they moved into the newly-built church hall on the 4th September 1898. Due to the congregation's dire financial situation, the dream of a real church was to remain just that for the timebeing. Instead, a suitable hall was erected on stands 346 and 347 situated on the corner of Hol and Plein Streets. This was land that had been given to them by the Johannesburg congregation as part of the secession "dowry". The cornerstone was laid by the Mayor, the Hon. JF de Villiers, on Saturday, 7th May 1898 and the hall was named the "Irene" Hall. The report written about the inauguration mentions the fact that the 1st organ was due to be installed a few weeks later.
The ravages of the Anglo-Boer Wars (1899-1903)and World War I (1914-1918) accompanied by the subsequent suffering caused numerous financial hardships for the parish. However, by the early 1920's most of these had been overcome. The parish newsletter, 'Irenenuus', was published for the first time in January 1923. Irenenuus was written in Afrikaans, at the time a language that was only just being taught in schools and rarely heard from the pulpit. Irenenuus would run for a number of decades before eventually being discontinued in the late 1980's.
In August 1924 Rev. William Nicol made history when he preached the first Afrikaans language sermon to be broadcast in South Africa from the radio station studios in Johannesburg. Eighteen months later, at 19h45 on the evening of Sunday 7th June 1924, history was made again when the first broadcast of an entire service in Afrikaans (again led by Rev. Nicol) was transmitted across the Union from the "Irene" Hall. A month later the first communion service was broadcast on 4th October.
By 1926 the rapid expansion of Johannesburg (and the Northern suburbs in particular) had shifted the centre of the parish gradually North and away from the "Irene" Hall. The question of building the long-anticipated church in line with the northward shift of the congregation arose with some urgency. The matter was compounded by the rapidly increasing volume of noise generated by the mushrooming city's ubiquitous trams and motorcycles while the all-invasive dust from the mine heaps covered everything and everyone. 
Eventually opinion shifted towards building the church in the City centre after all and matters were put into motion towards achieving this goal. Driven by (amongst other reasons) the aversion to having the Dutch Reformed Church forsaking the City centre and the rapid development of apartment buildings with the resulting increase in population, the Council decided to pursue the construction of a new church with all its energy.
On 21st November 1929 the parish added its enthusiastic support to the decision of the Council and a building fund established. By September the fund stood at £4 370 and the Council proceeded to invite tenders. The cornerstone was laid on the 11th June 1932 and the new "Irene" church buildings, which cost £13 000 (including the pulpit, pews, and 2nd organ, built by Estey), were inaugurated between Friday 3rd and Sunday 5th March 1933.
In 1968 the Church Council gave the firm of OH Oosthuizen & Partners instructions to submit sketch plans for a new building. These plans were approved by the middle of that year. The land was also bought at the beginning of that year for R93 000. In January 1969 the old "Irene" church was sold, thereby increasing the urgency of completing the new buildings. In April 1970 building commenced. The cornerstone was laid on 8th August 1970 and the last service in the old church was held on 31st January 1971.
The 3rd organ, built by Fehrle, was designed by Mr. Walter Supper of Esslingen. Both the "Irene" church and organ, totaling a cost of approximately R280 000, were inaugurated on the afternoon and evening of 4th March 1972 respectively.
During the late 1990’s, the congregation started working together with the DR Churches Johannesburg and Auckland Park. Eventually the three congregations became two and then one, and throughout the process, the name DR Church Johannesburg was retained because of it being the Mother of and the oldest congregation.
After these mergers, negotiations of collaboration with the Melville Kruisgemeente started. In 2003 it was decided that the boundaries of both congregations would be adjusted which resulted in the Auckland Park section of the DR Church Johannesburg becoming part of Melville Kruisgemeente and what remained were the new boundaries of the DR Church of Johannesburg. The Irene Complex was transferred to MES while Rev. PES Smith continued to serve the congregation, first as minister and later as retired minister. Since his unfortunate death in October 2010, the congregation was operating without a minister.
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Last updated : 24-Apr-2019

This article was produced by South African History Online on 23-Apr-2019

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