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News >

Malawians bar Malango and fête Henderson

The Revd Richard Henderson

EVENTS in the diocese of Lake Malawi took a further turn two weeks ago, when clergy and lay people openly defied the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Bernard Malango (below), and gathered as a large Anglican presence to greet the Revd Nicholas Henderson (above), their bishop-elect, when he arrived at the airport on a private visit to Malawi.

The clergy are now under threat of dismissal, and lay prople have declared the diocese closed until they have their duly elected bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury is regarded in Lake Malawi as the only one who can now bring influence to bear on Archbishop Malango, who is seen as being fêted by the conservatives of the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) on the one hand, and taking his cue from the bishops of Zimbabwe on the other.

Mr Henderson, the Vicar of All Saints’, Ealing, and St Martin’s, West Acton, in London, was elected Bishop of Lake Malawi in July 2005 (News, 19 August and 9 December). He was the personal choice of its previous Bishop, the late Peter Nyanja, and had been petitioned by the clergy to succeed him. Having worked closely with the diocese for 18 years, he was seen as a popular choice.

Five Anglicans objected, forcing a Court of Confirmation in September. Mr Henderson’s chairmanship of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union (MCU) drew charges of "advocacy of the gay and lesbian movement" — an allegation founded and fuelled by the posting on a conservative website in the US of an address by him to the William Temple Foundation, in which he had dismissed as unrealistic the calls for disciplining ECUSA over sexuality.

Archbishop Malango had earlier declared himself "satisfied and very happy" with the assurances given by Mr Henderson, who was robustly vouched for by the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, after the allegations.

The bishops of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Malawi rejected Mr Henderson as "not of sound faith" by majority vote at the Court of Confirmation, which was presided over by Archbishop Malango, and to which Mr Henderson was not invited.

Uproar followed in the diocese. A clergy conference resolved to reject the imposed appointment of the retired Bishop of Lusaka, the Rt Revd Leonard Mwenda. Twenty-one clerics wrote to Archbishop Malango, declaring the court to be uncanonical and accusing it of bias ( News, 31 December).

The diocese has continued to protest at the appointment of Bishop Mwenda, which is due to take place this month, and to demand that Mr Henderson be consecrated. Mr Henderson has kept his distance, but made a private visit to Lake Malawi on 12 February, to see friends and meet UN representatives to further a scheme for harnessing solar energy in the region.

Archbishop Malango had forbidden anyone greeting Mr Henderson at the airport to wear any "uniform" that identified them as Anglicans. Clergy members openly defied him, as did the Mothers’ Union, who turned out in force in their blue-and-white clothing. "There was a huge number of people there. I was carried aloft — it was a fabulous welcome," said Mr Henderson on Monday.

Having volunteered not to trespass on ecclesiastical property, he stayed with Roman Catholics throughout his ten-day visit. Wherever he went in the diocese, he received a rapturous welcome, even from one of the original five objectors. Resentment at the Archbishop’s behaviour led lay people from all the archdeaconries of Lake Malawi to ask for a meeting with him, and they seized the opportunity of the Archbishop’s visit to the diocesan headquarters.

They were made to stand outside for two hours, while Archbishop Malango apparently composed and signed a letter of dismissal against clergy who had associated with Mr Henderson during his stay. The Archbishop then slipped out by the back door.

Lay people from the archdeaconries seized the property, changed the locks, and declared the Archbishop barred. "The laity have decided they are going to take control of this situation, and it is a profoundly powerful voice. We can only be humbled by their resolve and their Christian witness," Mr Henderson said.

"This could so easily be resolved by dialogue and consultation. Good order could be returned to a Church which has so much potential at a very difficult time. There is famine coming again. The Church is the most powerful organisation to do something about it; so there is real urgency about this," he said.

Archbishop Malango ordered the reading of a pastoral letter on Sunday, reiterating his decision to put in Bishop Mwenda. The churches have agreed unanimously to write to the provincial bishops refusing him. Parishioners from the diocese have coined a new word, "Malangoism", and are questioning the Archbishop’s role in what they regard as a local matter.

In letters to him and in statements to the press, they accuse him of a "conspiracy against Father Nicholas", of treating them as "trash", of dictatorial tendencies, and of "controlling the diocese remotely". They suggest that he hopes after retirement to "secure a job abroad, possibly in the USA". They also declare that the people of Lake Malawi "have no problem selecting a White bishop, since they live in harmony with the Whites as compared to [countries such] as Zimbabwe".

In September, Archbishop Malango closed the case against the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Nolbert Kunonga, and dismissed all 38 charges against him ( News, 2 September). Bishop Kunonga returned from a visit to Archbishop Malango boasting of his friendship and of having carte blanche to do what he liked.

Turmoil reigns in the Archbishop’s own diocese of Upper Shire, where all the archdeacons are reported to have been sacked, along with the Vicar General. The Dean of its cathedral has resigned, leaving no church officers. The clergy have reportedly not been paid for ten months. Archbishop Malango meanwhile is a frequent guest at conservative gatherings in the United States and elsewhere, where he has lambasted both ECUSA liberals and, most recently, the C of E.

Canon Bernard Mkonkholo, the one invited representative from Lake Malawi at the Court of Confirmation, said on Tuesday that Mr Henderson was "really loved and needed" in Lake Malawi, and was still expected to come, but that only the Archbishop of Canterbury’s endorsement that he had been duly elected would have any influence.

He expressed his belief that the decision had been made in advance of the court’s sitting, to "deny, refute, and reject" Mr Henderson. Describing Archbishop Malango’s flight from the lay people in Lake Malawi as "quite unbelievable, for a big man like himself", he concluded: "There is work to do; there is famine here; people are dying of hunger. We need someone in the position of a bishop to come to the aid of these people."

Archbishop Malango was at a meeting of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa in Nairobi this week, and could not be reached for comment.

The Most Revd Bernard Malango


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