Lay or episcopal power in Lake Malawi?

Canoeing on Lake Malawi

From Anglican Information

The Diocese of Lake Malawi:

Readers will recall that in July 2005 the electoral body of the Diocese of Lake Malawi and Central African Province voted by overwhelming majority to elect the Rev’d Nicholas Henderson of London, England as Bishop of Lake Malawi. Henderson has had a long and creditable history of involvement in the Diocese and his integrity or faith have never been questioned.

However, due to outside interference the then Archbishop of the Province, Bernard Malango, contrived to ensure that the subsequent but delayed Court of Confirmation was finally held in November 2005. This Court, which is now understood to have been uncanonically conducted, declared that the bishop-elect was of ‘demonstrable unsound faith’, without any evidence, any opportunity of redress or defence, or any indication of what actually constituted ‘unsound faith’. It is salutary to note that, apart from the now discredited Malango, two of those accusing Henderson of ‘unsound faith’ are now excommunicated and fighting a violent battle against the province in Zimbabwe.

Since this shameful episode priests and people have courageously stood up to the provincial bishops and insisted that justice be done and the whole case revisited. A three-year-long struggle between authoritarian bishops (reluctant to admit their fault and angry with what they see as a usurping by the laity) and the people has ensued.

At one point a resolution of this problem was almost achieved by the Rt Rev’d Trevor Mwamba of Botswana, as Dean of the Province, before he was summarily sacked by the then outgoing Archbishop Bernard Malango. Mwamba had agreed with the people to an independent Provincial Court. Bernard Malango replaced Trevor Mwamba with the current acting Dean Albert Chama of Northern Zambia who, as a Malango appointee, is resolutely opposed to dialogue or a Provincial Court. In these circumstances and as a last resort the people have charged the bishops with civil action in the judicial Court of Malawi. The whole saga is catalogued in full on our website.

We have been asked to issue the resolutions of the latest meeting of the House of Laity which are reproduced below:

Extract from the Minutes of a Meeting of the House of Laity,
Diocese of Lake Malawi Diocese held in St Peter’s Anglican Hall, Lilongwe, on Saturday 17th January 2009.

The purpose of the meeting was to update each other of what is going on in the diocese and to consider a way forward with the case which is still in court.


The Meeting agreed to wait for the court judgment on Thursday, 22nd January 2009 at 8.30 am. In this case the House of Laity is asking the Leadership of the Church for an inter-party hearing.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION observes that this is a perfectly reasonable request and it is ridiculous that the bishops have resisted it and allowed a case to go to court.

The House of Laity welcomes the news of confirmation of the children who have been waiting for the rite for along time. On condition that is done by the Bishop Biggers or any other bishop who is in good standing with the Laity.

The Laity feel this could be the beginning of civilized dialogue between leadership and Laity. This is a better way of handling spiritual issues.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION has previously reported that the bishops had placed the diocese under an undeclared interdict, with a deliberate policy of deprivation of sacramental services. Bishop Jackson Biggers is formerly of Northern Malawi, now in retirement in Malawi. It should be noted that not all the serving provincial bishops are mistrusted by the people.

On issue of keys laity is willing to surrender the keys if the Vicar General and the Dean engage with them in dialogue.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION has previously reported the confiscation of keys for the diocesan vehicle, which was being misused, and the willingness of the people to engage in discussion about their return.

The Laity also question why the leadership does not send communication regarding the outcome of the meetings held at provincial level which affect Lake Malawi diocese in good time. Instead we hear only these issues from the grapevine. The Laity believe that the Vicar-General is accountable to them, therefore he is under an obligation to inform the Laity of what is going on in the diocese. The Church lacks transparency in its dealing.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION notes that the Diocese of Lake Malawi is emerging as a significant case (now being observed with interest in the wider Anglican Communion) where an old style authoritarian episcopal leadership is slowly being forced into the modern world. The bishops will have, at some point, to give way to a more authentic Anglican episcopal oversight of the ‘Bishop in Synod’ leading by consensus, not diktat.

If the last three remarkable years prove anything it is that no longer can the people be kept in the dark, no longer can bishops simply impose their will. Modern communications provide information and with information comes power and responsibility. In the long-run, once the bishops have grasped this fact, the much-troubled Central African Province will emerge the better.

Jean Msosa
House of Laity Lake Malawi Diocese



  1. This is most interesting. Good for the laity of Lake Malawi,I wonder if the same could happen in Nigeria?

  2. This is one of the most fascinating stories running at the moment. If the laity of Lake Malawi win it will have implications for other parts of Africa.

    Last point by Anglican Information what modern communications do they mean. Mobile 'phone and internet access. In my experience you can get a signal or write an e-mail in the remotest parts of Africa these days.