Most churches do not openly endorse the consumption of alcohol and a few religions have bans against booze. But one newly formed congregation in South Africa not only welcomes booze, it downright celebrates it.
The Gabola Church pastor and self-declared pope Tsietsi Makiti, wearing a cleric’s hat with a bold cross stitched in gold on the front, presided over a 4.5-litre bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky and a 5-litre Castle Lager container during services on Sunday. Clad in a grey and maroon robe, with a black tippet running along his grey suit and purple cleric’s shirt, Makiti would habitually quench his thirst by taking a sip from his whisky glass as the congregation sang.
“This is where those labelled ‘drunkards’ by other churches are welcome,” Makiti said.
He said the idea behind his church was to create an environment where consumers of alcohol – who are condemned by mainstream churches – could find a home. Makiti conducts his Sunday service at a different tavern each week.
“Here, we drink in public and praise the Lord at the same time. This is not a joke … this is a space for people to come together in God’s name without being ashamed of being drinkers.”
Others in South Africa are outraged by Gabola, saying it is not a church at all.
Gabola is not a member of the mainstream South African Council of Churches, which said it has no comment about it. Gabola is not affiliated with any other denominations.
The proceedings at Gobala Church appeared chaotic compared with a typical service. Some said they did not clean up before coming to the church, but merely pitched up, knowing they would still be welcomed.
“I grew up in a yard where a church service is held to this day. At a later stage, I was barred because I drink. I am happy today to have found a home in Gabola Church,” was one member’s testimony, to jubilant applause from congregants.
According to Makiti, more than 2 000 people have already been baptised at his new “fellowship” – with their drink of choice.
“If you drink beer, you get baptised in beer. The same goes for those who drink cider and other alcoholic beverages,” he said.
Makiti added that, considering recent media reports about strange goings-on in other churches countrywide – ranging from congregants being sprayed with pesticide to those being made to drink petrol or eat grass – there was nothing wrong with his church’s values.
“All we do is drink, praise and appreciate God at the same time. We don’t promise anyone magic.
“We are only saying this is an environment where one can drink without being judged at all,” he said.