As a child Nceba Bethlehem Nopece would imitate a priest as a game, in which he would dress up and administer communion with mealies and red cooldrink.
More than 60 years later, the Anglican bishop of the diocese of Port Elizabeth will retire on Sunday after 27 years of service.
Priests, pastors, friends and members of his community are expected to attend his last sermon organised by the Church at Nangoza Jebe Hall in New Brighton on Sunday.
Nopece, 68, was ordained as a deacon in 1978 before being nominated archdeacon of Mthatha in 1992 and suffragan bishop of Grahamstown in 1998.
He was consecrated as bishop of the diocese of Port Elizabeth in 2001.
Nopece was born and raised in Sentube near Ngcobo, where visiting priests on horseback and bicycles fascinated him so much he would make other children sit on rocks and pretend to be his congregation.
“I would make the priest’s clothing out of newspapers and then administer holy communion in the form of roasted mealies and red cooldrink to symbolise the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Eventually Nopece would rise through the ranks of the Anglican Church, presiding over 42 churches.
Born on February 16 1950, Nopece is one of eight children, three of whom have died.
He married Nokuzola Pikelela in December 1976 and the couple have three children.
He matriculated in 1971 at the Cicira Training and High School in Mthatha.
His formal journey into the Christian faith started in 1977 when he enrolled at the St Bede’s Theological College in Mthatha and furthered his studies through Unisa, obtaining a degree.
In 1984, Nopece was sent by the church to further his studies at Glasgow University in Scotland, where he completed his master’s degree in theology in 1986.
After this he served in two different parishes in Scotland.
At the end of 1988 he and his family returned to South Africa, where he lectured at St Bede’s College while also studying for his doctorate through Unisa.
During his time with the church, Nopece openly criticised former president Jacob Zuma, who faces allegations of corruption.
“The era of Zuma was very worrying and that led to the downfall of the ANC, losing Nelson Mandela Bay.
“However, Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration shows promise, especially with foreign investment growing the economy. He is a visionary and an open-minded leader who is keen to better the lives of ordinary people.”
On the hotly debated land issue, Nopece said this was another sore point in the history of the country
“We should start by giving title deeds to ordinary people in townships so they know the land upon which their properties stand belongs to them. This will boost their dignity.”
He also expressed a desire that all churches be united across the colour line.
“Its sad for me to say I am leaving but still the church is separated across the colour line in little corners.”
Nopece was also behind the Bishop’s Prayer – a group of religious leaders who gather every Tuesday to pray for issues such as good governance, service delivery and ethics.
“We are also interested in fighting corruption, racism and economic imbalance.”
While one would expect to relax after retiring, Nopece will not be slowing down.
“I have been approached by the church to serve on its executive dealing with issues of racism. Secondly, the Bible Society has roped me in to be a board member,” he said.
The process to recruit his successor will start in the next few months.
Apostle Neville Goldman of Ebenezer International Church in Algoa Park sympathised with anyone who would be filling Nopece’s shoes.
“Those shoes are very big. The man is a bishop, a father and a friend. I applaud his contribution towards society. He is a man of rare calibre.”
Nelson Mandela Bay Transformation Christian Network co-ordinator Trevor Jennings also applauded the sterling work done by Nopece.
“He played a pivotal role in bringing about unity among churches in the city.
“He was a founding member of Nelson Mandela Bay Church Leadership Group. Every Tuesday the group would go and pray with the mayor irrespective of their political affiliation.
“This has been going on for the past 14 years.”