reflections on dr albert frank
Tuesday 1st April 2008

The recent passing of Reverend Doctor Albert (Al) Frank brought to mind the first time I met him and his wife Erdmurthe. On arriving in Bethlehem in August 2002 to preside over the Unity Synod I was met at Bethlehem Airport and taken to the offices of Central Moravian Church. Here I was met by this big man with an equally big and resounding laugh. He was followed closely by a smiling lady, who when she spoke, immediately gave away that she was a German. This affable man then introduced himself jovially as Al. I assumed that the young lady with him was his secretary. He introduced her as his wife, and seeing my surprise he emphasised her relationship to him.

Later I heard that Al (as everyone called him) had visited Herrnhut a few years earlier and had made her acquaintance there. On returning to America he took ill and Erdmurthe came to Bethlehem to nurse him back to health. After his recuperation, Al who was a divorcee popped the question. The rest is history.

Erdmurthe’s face looked very familiar to me and when I heard that she was originally from Herrnhut I recalled seeing her in the church there while she, as a trainee minister, was delivering the Kinderfees message to the children on a Saturday night. As part of the service she sang a song while she accompanied herself on the guitar. I shared this with her but she could not recall the incident of August 1993. I told them that part of the sermon was captured on video and that God-willing I would send them the clip.

During the course of the Synod I introduced a letter from the BBSA, in which a request for closer contact with the Brass Bands in the rest of the Unitas Fratrum was made, with a view to arranging an international festival of Moravian Brass Bands. This letter was read and the American delegates referred it to Dr Frank, the Director of Music and Chief Archivist at the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem. This Dr Frank turned out to be Al. Not only was he a doctor of Divinity he was also an ordained minister in the Moravian church. Later on reading that Christo Appel signed the letter he asked me: "Do you know this fellow Christo Appel?" Responding in the affirmative he told me to inform Christo that it was a done deal and he would be contacting the BBSA shortly.

Al was assigned the task of looking after the interests of the delegates and therefore he and I had a close working relationship. Erdmurthe, Al and myself met often to discuss any needs of delegates and I was impressed with his energy and dynamism. Nothing seemed to phase him and he performed all the tasks assigned to him with aplomb. His in-depth knowledge of Moravian History made him a very worthy person to have around especially when we visited the many Moravian congregations and museums which were situated around Bethlehem.

Since the Unitas Fratrum is a hugely diverse group of people it appears as if terminology at synods was also diverse. A term used in one province did not necessarily mean the same thing in another. And so it was with the term "tabling an item". In South Africa and in Britain this meant that the item would be discussed immediately, but in America and South America the term meant that the item was removed permanently, in other words it would not be discussed. Having used the term extensively during the first two days one of the American delegates, Dr Summers, raised on a point of order and wanted to know what I meant when I used the term since after I tabled the item I allowed discussions to continue. On realizing my mistake I had to concentrate very hard thereafter not to use the term as we use it in South Africa. This abuse of the term led to Al often asking me mischievously when in discussion if the matter we were discussing would be tabled.

At the conclusion of the Synod Reverend Musomba from Tanzania, who was the Chairperson of the Unitas Fratrum at the time, handed out certificates of appreciation to the officials for services rendered to the Unity Synod and the Unitas Fratrum. Yours truly also received one, but when he read my name he introduced me as Dr Abel Appel. I was completely taken aback by my academic promotion. At the end of this session Al approached me and said: "You didn’t tell me that you are also a doctor." On explaining that I was not he retorted that he supposed that Rev. Musomba had assumed I was one given the way synod had proceeded.

The South African delegation was the last to leave Bethlehem and we spent a very pleasant final night in the company of Erdmurthe and Al at their home. There we learned that Al was contemplating retirement and that he would retire to Germany since it would be easier for Erdmurthe to get a calling back there. My final memory of him in America was a big smiling man as he bid each of us a fond farewell.

I was to meet up with him again when he visited South Africa during the preparations for the Unity Brass Band Festival. This visit was a follow-up of the visit undertaken by the BBSA delegation to America. While he was staying with Christo I had the opportunity to show him the video clip of my visit to Herrnhut in 1993. When he saw the image of the young minister in the church he remarked: "That is my Erdmurthe." Yes the mystery had been solved. My memory had not disappointed me. When they attended the Festival in 2007 he asked me to send them the clip so that they could have it as a memento of that visit in 1993.

Since our initial contact in 2002 I have had regular reports of his doings and particularly his state of health from Christo. But seeing him once again in Cape Town last year it appeared as if he was doing very well although he did tell me that after his operation he was not feeling too great. His amiable manner and great knowledge of our church was clearly demonstrated in his sermon in the Good Hope Centre. His reference to the festival being the end product of the letter borne by an abel fella was a reference to our first meeting in Bethlehem. Our final meeting in Canal Walk the night before they left for Germany was a very sad and poignant one. The picture of him, Erdmurthe and his precocious and intelligent daughter will remain with me for a long time.

Everyone who has had a meeting and dealings with Al is always left with the impression that nothing is too big for him. Nothing shakes his confidence. Nothing takes him out of his stride. Yes the endearing memory is one of a very jovial and deeply committed servant of the Church and our Lord Jesus Christ. His death has left us all poorer for not having him around but richer for having known him.

My prayers go out to Erdmurthe and all his children, his daughter in Germany and his sons in America. I know that they will be comforted by the memories they have of him, and the sure knowledge that he was a faithful servant who was faithful over a few and is to be appointed over many in God’s eternal kingdom.

Hamba kakuhle Al.

Hamba kakuhle Reverend Dr. Albert Frank

Abie Appel
3 April 2008

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reflections on dr albert frank