Dutch Reformed Church, Johannesburg

Dutch Reformed Church Johannesburg Image source

On Thursday 08 July 1897 two daughter congregations ceceded 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 Friedebrug. 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 time being. Instead, a suitable hall was erected 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 cecession "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. 
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 allinvasive 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 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 in- vite 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.
During the late 1990’s, the congregation started working together with the DR Churches of , Johannesburg and Aucklandpark. 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 Aucklandpark section of the DR Church Johannesburg becoming part of Melville Kruisgemeente and what remained were the new boundaries of the DR Church of Johannesburg. 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 : 20-Jun-2017

This article was produced by South African History Online on 14-Jul-2011

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