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Harare’s day of thanksgiving: Gandiya looks to the future

by
21 December 2012

Brian Castle witnesses the exhilaration of the exiled Anglicans as they return to their cathedral

IZZY TREDINNICK

The exiles return: a procession streams through the doors of Harare Cathedral

The exiles return: a procession streams through the doors of Harare Cathedral

IT 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 former bishop Nolbert Kunonga had attempted to thwart and undermine the ruling of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, which declared the Rt Revd 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 property (News, 7 December).

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. Then there was an electrifying moment: Bishop Gandiya 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 might have been heard in the UK.

The celebrations had begun in the centre of Harare, in Africa Unity Square, across the road from the cathedral and parliament buildings. This eucharist was attended by Anglicans from across the diocese, members of government, and visitors from other parts of the Province of Central Africa, and from around the world - reminders of the 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 that accommodated the altar party, four fountains rose 30 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 that had been a great support in the people's darkest moments, was sung with passion. In his sermon, Bishop Gandiya thanked those who had supported the diocese in its struggles, and he praised his people for their faithfulness to God, and their perseverance over the past five years.

He told them that, once they were back in their churches, they should not sit back and expect to draw their pension. Rather, they should be pressing on to whatever God was calling them to in the future. There would be challenges of forgiveness and reconciliation, and a great deal depended on 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 an appeal: "Come, let us rebuild our diocese." The Bishop then declared that 19 November, the day on which the Supreme Court Ruling was delivered, would be 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 Jessica Mandeya, who died as a result of the violence. There were messages of support and solidarity 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 Gandiya, and Bishop Sebastian Bakare before him, and said that the faith of Anglicans in Harare had been a beacon of light to the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Before the procession to the cathedral, water and incense were blessed for ceremonies of rededication and cleansing in every church in the diocese. Churches will need considerable restoration work. Some have been used for money-making enterprises, such as offices and accommodation; others 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 had removed from the cathedral cloisters burial plaques, carvings, and commemorative displays that honoured 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 at the persecution of Christians in the Early Church, commented that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. Many churches in Harare now have congregations that have grown so significantly that the buildings can no longer hold them. One lay person told me that they had 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 ever.

Dr Brian Castle is the Bishop of Tonbridge.

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