By NOMVELO MASANGO
Claire Nye-Hunter was 17 when she had her first profound spiritual encounter. The senior assistant priest, PhD graduate, mother and friend, Reverend Canon Doctor Claire Nye-Hunter is seated on an antique chair in her lounge as she talks about her history.
Born in Pretoria soon after the Sharpeville Massacre, her father was in solitary confinement and Nye-Hunter was born prematurely as a result of her mother’s stress. She talks about her early childhood years spent with her (effectively) single mother and two brothers. Her life’s journey has been a “joyride” which started in Pretoria and went around Pietersburg (now known as Polokwane), Cape Town and then finally landed her in Makhanda (Grahamstown) in 2007.
“I think I was 17 when I had what I can only describe as a profound spiritual encounter with God,” she says, of her journey in the ministry. “I was reading the opening words of the book of Jeremiah where God calls him to serve. As I read those words, my heart started pounding and I felt something in my chest. God was speaking to me directly.”
Fast- forward to 1994 and Nye-Hunter was part of only the second group of women in the Anglican church to be ordained.
There are challenges in a field that is predominantly male.
First, she had to go to America to obtain her Master’s degree in Theology, since women in South Africa were not allowed to study Theology at that time. And while attending clergy meetings as a female lay-minister, she would quickly be assumed to be there in a supplementary role.
“I cannot recall the number of times when it was simply assumed that I was the secretary,” she said. When she finally had the opportunity to stand in the pulpit, a particular male congregant would walk out because he just was not comfortable with receiving a sermon from a woman.
Despite all the challenges, Nye-Hunter has stood firm as a woman of strength in the ministry. She is enthusiastic and never grows weary of helping others. “I love God, I love His work and I love His people. That’s really all that keeps me going.”
Parish office administrator, Lou-Anne Liebenberg, spoke of her role in her life. “She helps me with prayer and is by far the most kind and loving person you will ever meet. She has a warm heart,” said Liebenberg.
She has an impact on the lives of many Rhodes University students as well. Ayanda Dabengwa from Zimbabwe said she was inspired by Nye-Hunter’s PhD, on John’s gospel. When Nye-Hunter graduated in 2016, it was proof to Dabengwa that women can anything they put their minds to.
“She’s such a mother to me and has managed to make me feel at home away from home,” said Dabengwa. Theodore Duxbury, a student doing his PhD in Pharmacy, sings the same tune. “Reverend Claire has cared for me throughout my journey,” Duxbury said.
With a heart that beats not only for herself, but also for those around her, Reverend Dr Nye-Hunter is a source of help and inspiration to the lives of many. Her one weakness which she admits, is that she holds people’s problems too dearly and feels guilty when she cannot resolve them.
This means that she constantly has to remind herself that certain problems can only be resolved by God.