2013_01_19_AIt was a new experience for the Anglicans of Harare.  There were no police blocking the entrance to their cathedral.  There was no tear gas from which they would have to flee.  There were no padlocks on the doors to prevent their entering. The deposed Nolbert Kunonga attempted to thwart and undermine the ruling of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe which declared Chad Gandiya as the lawful Anglican Bishop of Harare and the buildings, houses and institutions from which Anglicans had been forcibly removed to be their rightful properties.  But to no avail.  The exiles were now returning home.

The sound of the bells as the procession sang and danced towards the cathedral brought a great cheer.  But then there was an electrifying moment. Bishop Chad banged on the doors with his pastoral staff and when the two doors swung open there was a mighty roar from the gathering of 10,000 which could almost be heard in the UK.  After five long years, God had brought his people home.

The celebrations had begun in Harare’s centre (Africa Unity Square) which is across the road from the Cathedral and Parliament buildings. This Eucharist was attended by Anglicans from across the diocese, members of government, visitors from the Province of Central Africa and from across the world – reminders of the support, encouragement and value of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Those who could not find seats perched on statues, concrete ledges or any available surface.

In front of the platform accommodating the altar party, four fountains powered thirty feet into the air adding to the life and energy of the worship. ‘MuKristu usanete: namata urinde’ (Christians seek not yet repose: watch and pray), a hymn which was a great support in the people’s darkest moments, was sung with deep passion.

2013_01_19_BIn his sermon, Bishop Chad thanked those who had supported the diocese in their struggles and he praised his people for their faithfulness to God and their perseverance over the last five years. He told them that once they were back in their churches, they should not sit back, relax and expect to draw their pension. Rather they should be pressing on to whatever God was calling them in the future. There would be challenges of forgiveness and reconciliation and a lot depended upon the way they remembered the past five years: they could remember in a way that would allow the pains of the past to dominate their lives or they could remember in such a way that, like St. Paul, they could ‘strain ahead for what is still to come.’  He ended with the appeal ‘Come let us rebuild our diocese.’  Bishop Chad then declared November 19th, the day on which the Supreme Court Ruling was delivered, as a Day of Thanksgiving for the Diocese.

Amid the celebrations there were moments of stillness and a minute’s silence was held in memory of Mrs. Jessica Mandeya who died as a result of the violence. There were messages of support and solidarity delivered from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, Harare’s partner diocese of Rochester, the Prior of Taizé, the Archbishop of Central Africa and the General Secretary of US (formerly USPG).  In his message, Dr.Williams commended the leadership of Bishop Chad and Bishop Sebastian Bakare before him and pointed out that the faith of the Anglicans in Harare has been a beacon of light to the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Before the procession to the Cathedral, holy water and incense were blessed for ceremonies of rededication and cleansing of every church in the diocese. Churches need considerable work done on them. Some had been used for money-making enterprises such as offices and accommodation; some were used for crèches and it is said that one was used for a brothel and a drinking hall.  In an action akin to the destruction of statues at the Reformation, Kunonga removed from the cathedral cloisters burial plaques, carvings and commemorative displays honouring prominent colonial-era citizens as well as black soldiers of the colonial African Rifles regiment.  These have not been found.

An early theologian, Tertullian, looking on the persecution of Christians in the early church, commented that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.  A problem faced by many churches in Harare is that their congregations have grown so significantly that their buildings can no longer hold them.  One lay person told me that they were now having to provide an extra service for the overflow.  The challenges faced by the diocese of Harare are considerable and our sisters and brothers there will need our prayers as much now as previously.  But among our prayers needs to be thanksgiving for what we learn about commitment to Christ, perseverance and courage.

Church Times, 21 December, 2012.