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Rochester clergy visit Zimbabwe

24 January 2014

By Brian Castle

IN THE beautiful setting of Peterhouse School, Marondera, in Zimbabwe, 120 clerics from the dioceses of Harare and Manicaland came together earlier this month for their annual silent retreat.

This is the first time in years that they have gathered in Peterhouse without fear of interruption by the former Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga: when they last met here, in 2012, they were forced to leave by the state police. But times have changed. Rulings by the Zimbabwe Supreme Court have dismissed Kunonga's claims against the Anglican Church, enabling congregations to return to their churches.

Times have changed in another way. At the retreat with the Harare and Manicaland clergy were three women priests from the diocese of Rochester, whose parishes have links with Harare parishes.

When the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, invited clergy from Rochester to attend the retreat, Canon Elizabeth Walker (Vicar of Platt), the Revd Judy Henning (Vicar of Rainham), and the Revd Anne Jablonski (Vicar of St Peter and Paul's, Bromley) responded. This is the first time that women priests have attended the Harare/Manicaland retreat, because women are not ordained in the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA).

In November 2013, the Provincial Synod of the CPCA debated whether it should agree to the ordination of women those dioceses that wished to have them. The Synod voted against. The motion was passed by the laity, but rejected by bishops and clergy. All this happened after the Rochester clergy had agreed to attend the retreat.

Notwithstanding this, Bishop Gandiya, and the Bishop of Manicaland, the Rt Revd Julius Makoni, both supporters of the ordination of women, were delighted that they were attending, and they were warmly welcomedby the other clergy on the retreat.

All the retreatants sang, prayed, and shared silence: sharing silence provides an environment for profound communication. After the retreat, there was a visit to the shrine of Zimbabwe's first martyr, Bernard Mizeki, whose example was an inspiration to Anglicans in Zimbabwe as they faced seven years of persecution.

The Rochester clergy came away moved by an exuberant Zimbabwean welcome. The Zimbabwean clergy were delighted to meet and spend time with three Rochester women clergy. Harare, Manicaland, and Rochester dioceses have been enriched, thanks to the Anglican Communion.

Dr Brian Castle is the Bishop of Tonbridge, and conducted the retreat in Zimbabwe.

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