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01 August 2014

church information office

African ministry: Donald Arden, on becoming Bishop of Malawi in 1961 

African ministry: Donald Arden, on becoming Bishop of Malawi in 1961 

The Rt Revd Dr Tom Butler writes:

THE Rt Revd Donald Arden died peacefully at home in Romsey, surrounded by his family, on 18 July, aged 98. He had been Archbishop of Central Africa from 1971 to 1980. He was appointed CBE in 1981.

Donald was born in Boscombe on 12 April 1916, the youngest of three sons. When he was nine, the family moved to Australia. In 1934, he returned to England to Leeds University, before training for the priesthood at Mirfield. The College of the Resurrection's Catholic spirituality formed much of his long ministry.

He was ordained in 1939, and served as a curate in London, experiencing the first heavy wartime bombing of the city. In 1943, he joined the staff of a mission in Pretoria, South Africa. From there, he ministered to rural and city parishes, ran a school-feeding programme for 5000 children, and started a successful Scout troop.

From 1951 to 1961, Donald was Director of the Usuthu Mission in Swaziland. He worked with his team to increase the ministry to people over a large area, and built St Christopher's Secondary School, to which the Paramount Chief sent his son. Donald was always interested in farming, and surprised people by growing excellent pineapples. Pineapples are now the country's main crop.

On 30 November 1961, Donald was consecrated Bishop of Nyasaland. He spoke of his early years in the diocese as being difficult. Hardly any of the clergy, black or white, had a bicycle that worked; and their housing was dreadful. The five "White" congregations - Blantyre, Limbe, Zomba, Mulanje, and Thyolo - were not diocesan parishes but were called the "European Chaplaincy". In May 1962, a joint meeting of the Chaplaincy and Diocesan Standing Committee decided unanimously that the chaplaincy would be part of the diocese.

At a diocesan synod that year, Donald insisted that new clergy needed to be trained at three levels: at least a handful of graduates, who would have to be trained in other countries; the majority of at least Junior Certificate standard, trained at St John's Seminary in Lusaka, in neighbouring Zambia, part of the Province of Central Africa; and a single group of ten or more older men for a shorter course, to tide the diocese over for the next 15 years. To enable this, he exhorted everyone to learn to give. Every Anglican in the diocese should give to God the fruits of one day's work each month, whether the money was earned, or the crops were grown, or the fish was caught.

In January 1962, Donald met Jane Riddle when she took some of her pupils who were Sea Rangers to Mponda's to paint the mission buildings. In September, the couple started 52 years of married life, in which they were later blessed with two sons, Bazil and Chris, bothof whom continue to return to Malawi.

Donald and Jane spent the first four months of 1963 speaking in England and the United States to raise funds for the diocese. While in Texas, Donald addressed the diocesan convention. It subsequently agreed to form a companion-diocese relationship with Malawi. In 1965, Dr Art Johnson, accompanied by his wife Nan and their three children, came to be the Diocesan Medical Officer. They brought a container of equipment for the new St Luke's Hospital. Healthcare in Africa remained close to Donald's heart for the rest of his life.

At many confirmation services, people suffering from polio would crawl or be carried to be confirmed.In response to this, Donald helped to form Malawi Against Polio, MAP. Rotary International was persuaded to fund a vaccination programme, and within a couple of years there were no new cases of polio. Malawi was the first developing country in the world to be declared free of polio. Typically, Donald had met a problem with a practical solution.

In 1971, Donald was elected Archbishop of Central Africa, after his predecessor Oliver Green-Wilkinson's death in a car accident. He visited Botswana, Southern Rhodesia, and Zambia, all in the Province of Central Africa, a number of times. During the violence surrounding UDI in Southern Rhodesia, provincial meetings were the only occasions when people from the four countries could meet and talk with each other.

It was during these years that I came to know Donald personally, because I was serving as a USPG missionary in Zambia. By this time, Donald had been serving in Africa for almost 30 years, and I was not the only priest who was somewhat in awe of him. This awe turned into astonishment when I next saw him some five years later. We had returned to England in 1973, when I was appointed chaplain at the University of Kent. A few years later, wandering into the theatre on the campus which was housing a "Church Leaders Conference", I saw Donald waving his arms and singing choruses. This was not at all the severe character I had previously known, but it seemed that Donald had been caught up into the renewal movement that was at that time sweeping through many of the churches of Southern Africa. His spirituality remained influenced by this for the rest of his life.

Donald, Jane, Bazil, and Chris returned to England in February 1981. Donald became Priest-in-Charge of St Margaret's, Uxbridge, on the edge of London, and was there until 1986. I was his archdeacon and then area bishop, and he continued to serve as an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese for a further 25 years after retirement.

In retirement, he continued with his very active involvement with Africa: co-leading groups to Malawi to visit Christian centres and work, visiting Mozambique several times on behalf of the Willesden Area World Church Group; being for 24 years a trustee of Concern Universal - an organisation working in agriculture and development in Malawi and other countries - and of MACS, involved in healthcare education and the fight against AIDS; playing an active part with Christians Aware, the development educational charity; and being Warden of the Friends of USPG.

As an active member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, he had the joy in 1994 on two consecutive days of taking part in the ordination of 90 women in St Paul's Cathedral.

In March 2011, Donald and Jane moved to live in Romsey. On 30 November of that year, at the invitation of the Dean and Bishop of London, Donald celebrated the eucharist in St Paul's Cathedral to mark the 50th anniversary of his consecration as a Bishop.

His was a good death, ending a good life. May he rest in peace.

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