Monday, May 19, 2014

Past meets Present

The Rev. James (Jim) Ivan Abdy was born in 1927 in Sheffield, England. He died a priest of the Diocese of South Carolina, June 23, 1997 aged 70. 

In between these two dates, Fr Abdy completed his theological studies at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, Yorkshire, England, served as a royal engineer during World War II, was ordained deacon in 1950, and served in numerous missions near the towns of Kuruman and Kimberly, South Africa. He was ordained a priest in 1951 while serving in Bechuanaland (now Botswana). 

From the 1950s to 1977, Fr Abdy ministered in Namibia (formally South West Africa) in the Diocese of Ovamboland at St. Mary's Mission, Odibo, and extended to the Diocese of Damaraland serving the Anglican churches located in the towns of Keetmanshoop, Upington, Luderitz, Mariental, Swakopmund, and Walvis Bay. He met and married Lurena Gayle Banghart in 1962 while living in Ovamboland.

How Fr Abdy became a friend of my family I may never know, but he must have been pretty close as he was asked to baptize both my brother and me in spite of the fact that neither of my parents were ever actively involved in any church during my lifetime. My mother, who on good days would describe herself as an agnostic, always spoke very highly of him. 

Who was this man who seemed to have had the ability to reach out beyond the gulf of unbelief in such as way as to leave the indelible imprint of his name on my life? Was it perhaps the prayers of Fr Abdy that helped to bring me to my knees before the throne of grace and mercy in 1980? Was it his prayers that brought his friends back to Jesus' feet before they met Him face to face?

It seems that I could have met him twice in my post-pagan life. The first time was when I was a student in Cape Town, South Africa in 1981-1982. The second was when I was a student in Columbia, South Carolina in 1996-1997.

Alas, I failed to meet him on both occasions simply because I was not aware that we were practically on each other's doorsteps.

But this past Saturday, Louise and I visited Fr Abdy's second to last church and the place where his cremains, along with those of his wife, Gayle, are interred. There, the past met the present....

Upon his arrival in the Diocese of South Carolina, Fr Abdy served as vicar of the Holy Apostles, Barnwell, and St. Alban's, Blackville, a position he held from 1986 until May of 1997, when he became vicar of the Church of the Holy Communion, Allendale. 

We were less than an hours drive apart, and yet we never met.

The Rev. James Ivan Abdy's ministry of 47 year spanned two continents and three countries.

However, he has two surviving children, Mark and Anne, who reside in Maryland and Tennessee. His daughter is a Postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Oregon and is presently completing her clinical pastoral education or chaplaincy at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Knoxville. Upon ordination to the presbytery, Anne will join the family business as reportedly there have been presbyters in the family lineage dating back to 1482.

So, while we may not be able to meet Fr Abdy on this side of eternity, we may yet be able to meet his children...

The Church of the Holy Apostles, Barnwell, South Carolina has a rich history and is well worth the visit.

A stained glass window installed by Fr Abdy in the small Chapel.

Above: The old Parsonage. It was apparently spared from the flames during the Civil war because the officer in charge shared the family name of Patterson with the owners.

Left: Charlotte Patterson's grave...the only know slave buried in the graveyard that surround the church. 


  1. Thanks for the info on Father Abdy. I was a National Serviceman in Walvis Bay in 1975 and he presided at the Anglican church in the town. On Sundays all the troops would fall into squads by denomination and march off to your church. I remember the man well - great presence. Not sure why I was searching for him on the web, but I'm glad that I found out a little more about the gentleman.
    In 1975, church parade was one of the very few opportunities that we had to get out of the base and mingle with civilians. The ladies of the congregation kindly provided tea and stickies for us conscripts - which was a fantastic relief from army food!
    Bruce Kirby

  2. Hi Bruce....thanks for this comment. Are you originally from South Africa or Namibia/South West Africa?

  3. Hi Johann,
    Born in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia!!!)but moved to SA when I was young. I have SA citizenship (naturally....), but hold dual EU citizenship as well. Still in SA.....

  4. We live in Ethiopia now, but still have family in SA and Nam...we go back to SA (Villiersdorp) frequently.

  5. Rev. Abdy was our parish priest when I was a child in Upington (dating myself, but approximately 1959!) He was a few years younger than my parents, and became a really good friend of theirs. At the time he had two Scottie dogs, named, appropriately, Whisky and Haggis, who used to lie in perfect silence at the back of the Church (Holy Trinity, Upington), whilst the Communion service was in progress, rejoicing greatly when their beloved master emerged at the back door and they were released from their self-imposed discipline! One of the loveliest "Father Abdy" stories was when he went into the Kalahari, soon after arrival in Upington, on a visit to a mission station, only to run out of petrol. He flagged down a passing local on his bicycle, and to quote his relating the event to my father "pedalled furiously, Sunday robes flying in the breeze" to the nearest dorp, where he found the garage and wanted to buy a jerrycan of petrol. Apparently the gararge owner looked at him in some amazement, and said "Dominee, why didn't you switch over to the spare tank?" Having established that he came from a strange land where these things were unheard of, he loaded Fr Abdy and the bike into the back of his bakkie and drove them back into the desert, where the owner of the bicycle was still waiting patiently, and demonstrated how to do the necessary switch over. We as a parish so missed him when he was transferred to Outjiewarango. I still have my bible which he ordered from Grahamstown on my parents' behalf when I was 10 years old. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.