Congregants, unions back embattled priest

CONGREGANTS who have known Paul Verryn from as far back as the 1970s have thrown their weight behind the embattled minister.

Trade unions and advocacy groups have also rallied round him.

Mamcy Mokwena, 71, says what is happening to the church minister is "heartbreaking because the Verryn I know is not the man that is depicted as irresponsible by the media and other parties".

She has been a congregant at the Orlando West Methodist Church for more than 30 years and her memories of Verryn are of a selfless man who committed himself to church and community work.

"His doors were always open to people who needed help or a place to sleep," said 80-year-old Neo Mabaso.

"He cared about black people, about poor people and the community," says Mashadi Palmer, 81.

"We have beautiful children whose marriages he blessed. He baptised our grandchild," Palmer said.

"If we believed all the scandalous allegations against Winnie (Madikizela-)Mandela and Stompie we would have stopped going to his church services.

"As a congregation we know the man better than most people. He cared for us and during the political violence he walked among us and the schoolchildren without disguise, fear or shame," said the elderly woman.

They said they supported Verryn's efforts to provide shelter to the destitute at the Central Methodist Church.

"Perhaps he should just discuss matters more with his seniors but he does not deserve the bad treatment he is getting ," Palmer said.

Also backing Verryn are the SA Municipal Workers Union and National Union of Metalworkers of SA. Women's rights advocacy group Gender Links has also come out in support of the minister.

The organisations have urged the church to drop the charges and suspension against Verryn and instead support his efforts to help the destitute and poor.

Social networking site Facebook has a Friend of Verryn page. In the first 10 days it had amassed 1000 supporters.

"Accusations against Verryn were not based on facts. All have come to nothing. He does not deserve this kind of treatment," one of the page's initiators, Wendy Landau, wrote.