The Rev'd Dr. Nicholas Henderson
Zimbabwe and Malawi are two different countries with the ecclesiastical commonality of the Church of the Province of Central African (C.P.C.A.). They also have in common a quest for justice particularly on the part of an increasingly influential lay voice.
In the Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe: In the City Sports Centre on Saturday 25th July a huge congregation numbering perhaps 10,000 people witnessed the consecration of the Rev’d Canon Dr. Chad Gandiya as Bishop of Harare. Principal consecrator was the acting Dean of the Province, Bishop Albert Chama who is currently Bishop of Northern Zambia.
As reported by us, renegade and now excommunicated, Nolbert Kunonga former Bishop of Harare, who has hitherto claimed jurisdiction over the diocese and who still holds diocesan property and accounts, is slowly losing his grip on his former diocese.
High Court judge Justice Ben Hlatshwayo had granted an application by Kunonga to stop the consecration of Chad Gandiya. This in turn had been appealed against with an application to the Supreme Court by the official diocese and the consecration went ahead followed by an enthronement in the Cathedral Church of St Mary & All Saints. Such defiance of Kunonga would hardly have been possible as recently as some months ago without extreme violence by Kunonga state-backed thugs.
The thirteen bishops (four of them white) who assisted in the consecration can be seen by the people to be upholders of justice, stalwarts in the faith and supporters of the liberal–minded new Bishop Gandiya.
Meanwhile northwards in the Diocese of Lake Malawi: The bishops are seen in an altogether different mould. Here also the pernicious influence of Kunonga lingers on after the notorious Court of Confirmation of November 2005 declared the elected Bishop of Lake Malawi, the Rev’d Dr. Nicholas Henderson, to have been of ‘unsound faith’. Excommunicated Kunonga and his episcopal colleague Elson Jakazi of Manicaland joined forces with now retired Bishop Bernard Malango to play a card that has subsequently, by implication, also condemned Bishops James Tengatenga of South Malawi and Trevor Mwamba of Botswana for their ‘unsound faith’ as a result of their links with a theological society known as ‘the Modern Churchpeople’s Union’.
The M.C.U. an ancient and venerable Anglican organisation headquartered in the U.K. and dedicated to theological study, sometimes of a quite dry and impenetrable kind, was deemed to have committed the crime of liberal thought. The impetus for such an odd accusation came from Malango’s close connections with breakaway American factions in the Episcopal Church. The charge of ‘unsound faith’ was deeply resented as a contrived travesty of justice and truth by the people of the Diocese of Lake Malawi.
To paraphrase Bishop Trevor Mwamba speaking subsequently to the press and media, ‘I don’t see why Africans should fight proxy wars for North Americans … we have more important things to do’.
For four long years a powerful House of Laity in the Diocese of Lake Malawi has demanded that the Court of Confirmation that condemned Henderson be re-assessed by an independent Provincial Court. Despite this, the very same bishops who have taken the honourable course in Zimbabwe have refused (presumably because of their fear that irregularities might found out) to do so in Lake Malawi.
Thus, on Saturday 1st August what is effectively a forced election for another bishop will take place in Lilongwe at the same time as the election for a bishop of North Malawi. Unsurprisingly, a number of Lake Malawi clergy have petitioned their parishes to put their names forward. The latest ‘hat in the ring’ is that of The Rev’d Joseph Kaswanyando onetime chaplain to the late bishop Peter Nyanja and parish priest of St Thomas’s, Lilongwe. Kaswanyando is currently studying at the University of Malawi as a U.S.P.G. scholar.
Of the known Lake Malawi candidates so far at least two of them have been enrolled on sabbatical study leave with current bishop-elect Henderson when he and the late Bishop Nyanja offered regular opportunities for study and international ministerial experience for diocesan priests in Henderson’s London parishes. Whether this will deem those who went on these coveted and professionally led study courses are now deemed to be of ‘unsound faith’ is uncertain.
The bishops are now determined on new candidates for Lake Malawi and North Malawi, almost at any cost, even that of their own credibility. We will keep you posted but clearly as our motto states we are pleased to remain a voice for the laity and justice in the much-troubled Church of the Province of Central Africa.
Please note that we are now carrying the latest July edition of the Diocese of Harare newsletter and supplement on our website – navigate to the The inside view – for access