2014_01_26_AIn the beautiful setting of Peterhouse School in Marondera, 40 miles east of Harare, 120 clergy from the dioceses of Harare and Manicaland came together last week for their annual silent retreat.  This is the first time in a number of years that they have gathered in Peterhouse without fear of interruption by former Bishop of Harare Nolbert Kunonga: when they last met here in 2012, they were forced to leave by the state police.  But times have changed. Rulings by the Zimbabwe Supreme Court have finally dismissed Kunonga’s claims against the Anglican Church enabling congregations to return to their churches and priests to return to their homes.

Times have changed in another way.  At the retreat with the Harare and Manicaland clergy were three women priests from the diocese of Rochester which has a partnership link with Harare.  The parishes of the Rochester priests have links with Harare parishes and when the Bishop of Harare invited clergy from Rochester to attend the retreat, Canon Liz Walker (Vicar of Platt), Revd. Judy Henning (Vicar of Rainham) and Revd. Anne Jablonski (Vicar of St.Peter and Paul, Bromley) responded immediately.  This is the first time women priests have attended the Harare/Manicaland retreat because women are not ordained in the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA).

In November 2013, the Provincial Synod of the CPCA debated whether it should agree to women being ordained priests in those dioceses which wished to do so.  The Synod voted firmly against.  The motion, proposed by the Bishop of Harare at the request of his diocese, was passed by the laity, but rejected by bishops and clergy.  All this happened after the Rochester clergy had agreed to attend the retreat.  Notwithstanding this, Bishop Chad of Harare and Bishop Julius of Manicaland, both supporters of the ordination of women, were delighted that they were attending and they were warmly welcomed by the other clergy on the retreat.

All the retreatants sang, prayed and shared silence: sharing silence provides an environment for profound communication.  After the retreat there was a visit to the shrine of Bernard Mizeki, Zimbabwe’s first martyr, whose example gave inspiration and encouragement to Zimbabwe’s Anglicans as they faced the difficulties of seven years of persecution.  The Rochester clergy came away moved by exuberant Zimbabwean generosity and welcome.  The Zimbabwean clergy were delighted to meet and spend time with three Rochester women clergy. Harare, Manicaland and Rochester dioceses have been enriched thanks to the Anglican Communion.

Church Times, 24th January, 2014