James Dwane is best known as the founder of the Order of Ethiopia, an autonomous African Order under the umbrella of the Anglican Church. The steps leading up to the founding of the Order make interesting reading.
James Mata Dwane, a member of the Amatinde tribe, was born in Debe Nek near King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape in 1848. He was educated, trained and later worked as a teacher at Healdtown Methodist Missionary Institution. While at Healdtown he spent some time living in the home of the missionary, the Rev. Robert Lamplough.
Dwane decided to enter the ministry and as a first step became a local or lay preacher. In 1872 he returned to Healdtown to study theology. Three years later, his studies completed, he began his work as a probationer minister by assisting his old friend the Rev. Robert Lamplough at the Annshaw church, Middeldrift. He was ordained in the Russell Road Methodist Church, Port Elizabeth, in 1881. Dwane served as a minister in a number of places: East London, Grahamstown, Kimberley, Mount Coke and the Seplan Circuit near Queenstown. He also held important offices in the Methodist Church. In 1888 he was appointed to the committee to enlarge the Xhosa hymnbook. He was one of the ministers responsible for the training and examination of probationer ministers and from 1890 was an examiner for black probationers.
In 1892 Dwane went to England on a deputation tour to collect money for the Methodist work in South Africa. Dwane hoped to collect money to start an industrial school in the Seplan Circuit (SA Methodist 1892, 130). His tour was a great success and he collected a large amount of money. However, when Dwane returned, the Methodist authorities insisted that the money be paid into the general fund.
Dwane was thoroughly disillusioned and this dispute over money led directly to his leaving the Methodist Church and joining the Ethiopian Church of Mangena Mokone.
In 1896 when Dwane joined the Ethiopian Church, the amalgamation with the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America was being discussed. Dwane and Xaba, another member of the Ethiopian Church, were elected to go to America, but in the end only Dwane could raise the money so he went alone.
In America Dwane conferred with Bishop Turner and other officials of the AMEC. Eventually the House of Bishops and the Missionary Board agreed to the amalgamation. Dwane was reobligated (re-ordained) and sent back as General Superintendent of the South African AMEC. This move was to cause great dissatisfaction among the members of the new branch of the AMEC, many of whom felt that Mokone, as the founder of the Ethiopian Church, should have been given the honour of being General Superintendent. In any event, in 1897 Dwane ‘reobligated’ all the Ethiopian preachers.
The following year, when Bishop Turner of the American AMEC visited South Africa, Dwane was made Vicar-General and was left in charge when Turner returned home. This office was only confirmed by the AMEC in America after Dwane had spent a further two years observing how the American church was run.
When he returned to South Africa Dwane told the AMEC Conference that the AMEC in America had promised money to build a school or college. However, the money was not forthcoming and of the thirty ministers present at the conference all but four agreed to leave the AMEC. The AMEC referred to this breakaway as ‘Dwane’s revolt’.
Dwane became suspicious of the validity of the orders into which he had been inducted as bishop. The vicar of the Anglican Church in Queenstown, the Rev. Julius Gordon, introduced Dwane to Bishop Cornish of Grahamstown. Dwane became convinced that the Anglicans had the true Apostolic (Catholic) succession and in 1899 he wrote to Archbishop West-Jones in Cape Town to negotiate the admission of the breakaway Ethiopians to the Anglican Church as a separate order.
The following year in August a service was held in Grahamstown Cathedral at which Dwane was formally accepted into the fellowship of the Anglican Church. After making the necessary vows he was admitted as the Provincial of the Order of Ethiopia, but he was not consecrated as a bishop. In December a ‘Compact’ was signed between the order and the Anglican Church, followed by a ‘Constitution’ the next year.
The Anglican Church was slow to ordain ministers for the Order of Ethiopia. In 1902 fifty-three candidates from Queenstown were confirmed and twelve men were licensed as catechists but not as priests. The same year the Rev. W. M. Cameron was put in charge of training ‘Ethiopian theological students’ (Verryn 1972, 112). Dwane assisted Cameron with the work of teaching the students.
From 1905 various difficulties arose varying from drought in the Eastern Cape to disagreements with Anglican clergymen. At the Conference of 1905 Dwane complained that Ethiopian ministers had to work under white priests (PR 3181 Cory Library). The bishop firmly reminded the Ethiopians that they were ‘first members of the Church of the Province of South Africa and secondly members of the Order of Ethiopia’ (Grant 1905, 17). Then Dwane was criticized for taking part in ‘commercial transactions’. Dwane wrote to the archbishop saying that he was only helping his ‘son in the store where he deals as he can neither read, speak or write English’ (Letter 1905). Dwane’s daughter, on the other hand, became one of the first five trained African nurses in the Transvaal and was employed by the Johannesburg City Council at Klipspruit Location (Skota 1933, 152).
Two years later Dwane was replaced as provincial. The Rev. W. Cameron reported to the archbishop that ‘the bishops of the province have not reappointed Mr. Dwane as provincial’ and that he, Cameron, had been appointed acting-provincial (Letter 1907). Dwane remained a deacon in the Order of Ethiopia until his death in 1916 and never became a bishop. A bursary for theological study was named in his honour.
The question remains: Why was Dwane happy to remain in the Anglican Church even though he was not a bishop? Was he tired of moving or were the other members of the Order tired of moving? Did the fact that an Ethiopian College was established for training African priests, and he was one of the tutors, make a difference? Dwane’s great-grandson, Bishop S. Dwane, became the first black bishop of the Order of Ethiopia–the position that his great grandfather had sought but never achieved.
J. A. Millard
The African Methodist Episcopal Church ~ typescript in the AMEC Archives, Bellville.
Cameron, W. Letterbooks AB 652 CPSA Archives, Johannesburg, March~November 1907.
Campbell, J. “Our Fathers, Our Children: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa.” PhD thesis, Stanford University, San Francisco, 1989.
Compact of the Order of Ethiopia 1900.
Grant, Cardcross. *10th Journal 19 April to 30 June 1905. * AB 1967 CRSA Archives, Johannesburg.
Lewis, C and G. E. Edwards. Historical Records of the Church of the Province of South Africa. London: SPCK, 1934.
J. M. Dwane to the archbishop of Cape Town, letter, 29 November 1905. AB 867 Aa 1.3, CPSA Archives, Johannesburg.
Minutes of evidence of the 1903-1905 SA Native Affairs Commission volume ii.
Minutes of the South African Conference of the Methodist Church 1888.
Proposed constitution of the Church Order of Ethiopia ~ typescript in the CPSA Archives, Johannesburg, AB 867 Aa 1.5.
PR 3181 ~ Typescript, Cory Library, Grahamstown.
The South African Methodist. 6 August and 10 September 1892.
Verryn, T. *A History of the Order of Ethiopia. *Cleveland: The Central Mission Press, 1972.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Malihambe - Let the Word Spread, copyright © 1999, by J. A. Millard, Unisa Press, Pretoria, South Africa. All rights reserved.