I ATTENDED two weddings in Harare on Saturday. They were the weddings of two clergy: one a parish priest, and one retired. I accompanied the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, who officiated.
They were wonderful occasions, full of joy and celebration. The main difference from weddings that I have attended elsewhere is that they could not take place in the churches of the priests concerned, because Anglicans in the diocese of Harare (and indeed in other dioceses of Zimbabwe) have been banned from using their own churches.
The reading at the weddings was Isaiah 43.1-7, where the prophet assures God’s people that, even though they may passing be through trials and dangers, God will bring them through. The people there will be taking it to heart in their current difficulties.
Although congregations have been evicted from their churches, and priests from their homes, by the activities of Nolbert Kunonga, the excommunicated former Bishop of Harare, the people are in good heart. Parishes have found other accommodation for their priests. People are planning for a future, regardless of what happens to their buildings. There are reports that church numbers are growing, and some are concerned that their churches may now be too small for larger congregations.
Storm clouds are gathering, however. In the coming months, the High Court is due to decide who leads the rightful Anglican Church in the diocese: is it Kunonga, who describes himself as Archbishop of Zimbabwe, or is it the Bishop of Harare, elected by his diocese and approved by the Anglican province?
In reality, the courts should have no say over the Christian Church, and, even if the decision went against the thousands of Anglicans who worship so faithfully, they will continue to worship, regardless of the opposition. But the decision is important, as it affects less publicised situations.
Anglican schools (19 of them, with about 14,000 children) have already been taken over by Kunonga’s group, and the head teachers have been dismissed and replaced by people with little or no experience. The Church’s orphanage has been similarly taken over, and the nuns have been chased away. Newly appointed clergy cannot register to conduct marriages.
Finally, a memo, purporting to come from police officers in the Mashonaland West Province, has been circulated to their officers, telling them to charge with contempt of court any people who gather in the name of the Anglican Church, unless they have been approved by the “incumbent bishop” Kunonga.
Lawyers for the diocese of Harare are challenging this document. So, on the outcome of this High Court case rests whether the Church will continue to be persecuted.
Dr Brian Castle is the Bishop of Tonbridge. The diocese of Rochester has a companion link with Harare.