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Bishop-elect impasse in Lake Malawi nearer a solution

16 August 2007

by Pat Ashworth

The Revd Nick Henderson

The Revd Nick Henderson

THE IMPASSE in the diocese of Lake Malawi took a significant step towards resolution last week when the first synod to be held for six years voted to pass the matter of the non-confirmation of the Bishop-elect, the Revd Nick Henderson, for review by a Central African Provincial Court.

The extraordinary meeting was chaired by the new Dean of Central Africa, the Rt Revd Trevor Mwamba, Bishop of Botswana. “This has been a long saga, but, by the grace of God, I hope that by the end of the year at the earliest, we may be holding an elective assembly for the next Bishop of Lake Malawi,” he said on Wednesday.

Mr Henderson, the Vicar of All Saints’, Ealing, who had worked for 18 years with the diocese of Lake Malawi, was elected bishop on 29 July 2005 and was to have been consecrated on 9 October that year.

Objections were lodged by five Anglicans from the Nkhotakota region, led by the late Canon Rodney Hunter, the former librarian of Pusey House, and the Revd Denis Kayamba, who was inhibited by the previous Bishop, the Rt Revd Peter Nyanja, for opening a branch of Forward in Faith.

A Court of Confirmation on 29 November 2005, presided over by the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Bernard Malango, and comprised of provincial bishops, declined to confirm Mr Henderson because his “active association as the general secretary of the Modern Church People’s Union (MCU) made him unsuitable for confirmation because this actively demonstrated that he was not of sound faith”.

Mr Henderson had been petitioned by clergy to succeed Bishop Nyanja. He had supplied a CV and a manifesto, and had written to Archbishop Malango for advice before accepting the nomination. He was supported by the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Peter Broadbent, who said that to insist that membership of an organisation like MCU should be grounds for blocking a duly elected bishop “smacks of McCarthyism” (News, 9 December 2005).

Archbishop Malango put the retired Bishop of Lusake, in Zambia, the Rt Revd Leonard Mwemba, in temporary charge of the diocese. There have been two years of turbulence, violence, accusations and counter-accusations of plots and conspiracies. Last week’s Synod meeting followed a six-hour meeting of all parties, called by Bishop Mwamba, a lawyer by trade, in June.

“All those at loggerheads came together on that occasion. I sat there from ten in the morning to three in the afternoon just listening, listening, listening,” he said. “Everyone agreed that the way forward which would make them happy was review by the Provincial Court.”

Synod members argued that the original grounds for removing Mr Henderson appeared “spurious and contradictory and uncanonical,” especially given that Bishop Mwamba himself is due to give a paper, “Anglicanism from an African perspective”, at the MCU’s international conference in 2008.

It was also noted that the Bishop of South Malawi, the Rt Revd James Tengatenga, had for the past five years been a member of the international editorial board of the MCU’s journal.

The holding of a Synod meant that elections could also be held for representatives to September’s Provincial Synod, and to the electoral colleges that will elect the new bishop and the new archbishop, after Archbishop Malango’s retirement next month.

“The meeting was held in a spirit of love, joy, and peace, but also of unity and purpose that the diocese should move forward in focusing on issues that are of paramount importance in bettering the lives of our people,” said Bishop Mwamba.

Mr Henderson said on Tuesday: “The persistence of the people in Lake Malawi, particularly the laity, has paid off after their long struggle. Bishop Trevor Mwamba is a new dean, and it looks like he is a new broom. He is very well thought of in the diocese and is determined to resolve the problem and to resolve it properly.”

Challenge to government. Church and civil society organisations in Malawi have called on the government to hold talks with the opposition in order to end a crippling stand-off between them that has resulted in the country being unable to confirm the national budget for 2007/8.

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