Last Sunday (16th December) was a warm, sunny morning in Harare. Rain clouds were gathering, but they never came to anything. In the middle of Harare’s Central Square (known as Africa Unity Square), four fountains shot thirty feet into the air sending out a message of energy and life. 10,000 Anglicans gathered in Africa Unity Square around the fountains and reflected those sentiments of energy and life – and added thankfulness to God who had sustained them through a very difficult five years when Nolbert Kunonga had taken their churches, offices, clergy homes and resources. But following a Supreme Court ruling, the Church could take them back: God was now bringing them into a new future and today we were celebrating this.
The Eucharist in the Square – and what a witness to those passing by – with its stories of the past and hopes for the future, with its messages of solidarity and support from the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as from Rochester, marked the end of one troubled and turbulent chapter in their life as a diocese and set them on the path for what God had in store for them in the future. Bishop Chad, in thanking the diocese for their faithfulness over the last five years, told them that once they were back in their churches, they were not to sit back, relax and ‘draw their pension’ but that they should be pressing on to whatever God was calling them to in the future.
The vibrance and the joy, the singing and the prayerfulness were unforgettable ingredients in this colourful and unique service. I was there representing the diocese of Rochester with whom there had been a relationship for many years. It was a great privilege to bring the greetings, love and prayers from the diocese. I told the gathered people, ‘Just as your brothers and sisters have prayed, laughed and wept for you over the last five years, so today in Rochester, churches are sharing in your joy and celebration. You are heroes and we thank God for your faithfulness, perseverance, courage and joy in the face of the struggles with which you have had to contend. Your witness to Christ in the midst of such persecution has brought inspiration and blessings to so many of us.’
I then presented a pottery chalice and patten, made by a brother from Taizé. Taizé is an ecumenical community which focuses on reconciliation and the chalice and patten was made by hands that frequently prayed for reconciliation in the world, in the churches and within ourselves. This was a gift from Rochester Diocese and it was given with the hope and prayer that it would be a reminder, each time the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, was celebrated, that reconciliation and healing would be part of their mission. I also brought a message from the Prior of Taizé.
After the Eucharist we processed across the road to the cathedral for a service of rededication and cleansing of the Cathedral. There was an electrifying moment as the cathedral door, previously barring the Anglican congregation, swung open when Bishop Chad banged on it with his pastoral staff and the cathedral congregation danced in for the service of rededication. The rest of the congregation in Africa Unity Square made their way to their own churches where, either on the same day, or later in the week, similar services of rededication and cleansing would take place with holy water blessed at that morning’s Eucharist.
The churches have needed a lot of work to bring them back to use as churches. Some had been used as offices, others as homes, some as crèches and it is rumoured that one was used as a brothel. But whatever their use, they all needed cleaning, hard work and rededicating before being suitable for public worship.
In the gatherings after the worship, countless people told me how much they were strengthened by the support of Rochester and others across the Church. The Anglican Communion could be seen working in a very tangible way. There is still much to be done and many challenges to be faced. But for the moment we can thank God for the amazing things he has done, with, through and in the diocese of Harare.