Bishop to resign but 'refugees still welcome'

BISHOP Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg is to resign soon, but it is not yet known who will replace him.

According to a church spokesperson, presiding bishop Ivan Manuel Abrahams is out of the country and will return in October. Only then will Verryn's replacement be discussed.

Verryn said he had been a bishop for a long time and it was time to pass the baton to someone else. He would not comment further on his resignation.

The church, in the centre of Johannesburg, is home to hundreds of Zimbabwean refugees.

Despite Verryn's assurance that the church would remain home to those who sought refuge, he admitted that he had previously felt the pressure to shut the doors to the destitute. He said he had refused to give in.

The Moth building in central Johannesburg had undergone a complete makeover and was ready to house up to 1000 people "but not a cockroach had moved in", Verryn said.

He said millions of rands had been spent renovating the dilapidated building to house hundreds of Zimbabweans who cramming the church.

Speaking toSowetan on condition of anonymity, city officials said they were in a difficult position as they had to enforce bylaws because "the church is not a residential building but the city also cannot be seen as being unsympathetic to the plight of the refugees. So no raids inside the church are likely."

City officials said the only way forward was to provide accommodation to both foreign, mostly Zimbabwean, nationals and South Africans alike at the Moth building.

No time frames to move into the building have been set yet.