Shabby and callous treatment of a faithful priest in the Diocese of Lake Malawi.

Fr Bryghton Mankhaka on his wedding day

Fr Bright Mankhaka R.I.P.

The tragic death of Father Bright Mankhka, a young Malawian priest in the Diocese of Lake Malawi, on 1st December following a serious road accident, has revealed a callous approach to a man who has faithfully served the Anglican Church as a priest over many years.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION have received a number of reports about this tragic case of vengeful action which we report as follows:

Bright Mankhaka’s funeral took place on 2nd December where he was buried outside his home church (a church he helped to build) in Bumphula, Ntchisi. A correspondent writes, “many people from all walks of life came to pay their last respects to Fr Bright and to console his young widow Gertrude. He was described as humble, hard-working and dedicated to God’s will.”

However, prior to his death internal political squabbling had led to a star chamber report condemning Fr Bright without it seems any evidence or reason. Dated 27th September 2010, a group of priests under the instruction of the new Bishop of Lake Malawi, Francis Kaulanda, produced the following originally secret report leaked to us and now widely available in the diocese:

‘A report on Rev. Bryghton Mankhaka

Lord Bishop Francis Kaulanda, as per your instructions that we, Canon A.M. Mkoko, Venerable Machemba, Venerable F. Dzantenge, Venerable M. Chilase, Venerable Gumbwa, Rev Fr. S. Matumbo and Canon Christopher Mwawa; interviewed the said priest, I am pleased to present to you the panel’s observations as follows:

i. He is a problem of problems
ii. He has no repentant heart
iii. He is not ready for the priesthood
iv. He is not sure of himself
v. He is not ready to abide by the Canonical obedience
vi. He has shown no remorse
vii. He is not ready to return [the diocesan] motorbike


He is not fit to be hired as priest in this Diocese or elsewhere

Rev’d Canon Christopher K. Mwawa
Chairman of the Panel’

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION observes that it would be hard to find such a shoddy piece of unqualified criticism anywhere. As a report it says nothing of the background or reasons for the seven accusations levelled against Mankhaka and rests essentially as a work of malicious libel. It is astonishing that Bishop Francis Kaulanda has accepted it.

We understand that it was effected during the two week long period that Fr Bright lay unconscious in hospital on life-support and led to the shockingly uncharitable circumstances surrounding the subsequent attempt to bury Fr Bright as a non-religious layman.

A correspondent writes: “Bright’s tragedy has opened up clandestine devilish machinations of some priests of the Diocese of Lake Malawi. When the accident happened we informed the Diocesan Chaplain … he came to see Fr Bright on a Wednesday, after the accident which happened on Monday evening. I understand that the Bishop came to see him on the following Thursday
(he has otherwise been in the U.K. including during the time of the funeral). However, we were surprised that the following Sunday no announcement was made or even a mention of him in the prayers.

The Diocesan Secretary refused to offer any kind of support for Fr Bright during his hospitalization or his funeral, saying ‘as a diocese we do not know him as a priest and he must be buried as laity’.

We have seen the Report of the Panel and this has surprised many members of the Church because they did not expect such heavy handedness to be given to a fellow priest who has committed no crime … the diocese has disowned him and only a few personal friends have been to see him. It is very unfortunate as the new Bishop (Francis Kaulanda) promised the Church a new beginning and to bury all past differences ... there are elements that want divisions to continue and are playing the tribal card in church. Now it is Likoma vs Ntchisi and Nkhota-kota etc. It is very pathetic to say the least. Fr Bright was victimised.”

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION notes that another correspondent writes: “In an act of compassion some of Fr Bright’s fellow priests debated the decision of the Report Committee and agreed (bravely) to bury him with the honours of an ordained Priest of the Anglican Church and he was interred as such. They had to open the casket to dress him in his priestly attire.”

So we sadly report another disgraceful picture from the Diocese of Lake Malawi, Province of Central Africa, of hard-hearted, vindictive and unchristian action meted out to a man lying on a life support machine for no reason other than that he had fallen out with the ruling elite.

A full explanation from Bishop Francis Kaulanda is now required.

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Not a real Church?

Perhaps I was wrong in my belief (yesterday) that the mystical hierarchy model of the church is practically defunct.

Lesley Fellows at Lesley's Blog (and referring back to the Church Mouse) highlights the contrast between the silence around the offer of Methodists to join the CofE and the brouhaha surrounding the Ordinariate created to enable Anglicans to join the Roman Catholics.

Perhaps, she speculates, the Catholic model of the Church is still so strong that the Methodists don't really count: they are not a real Church.

Perhaps, though she doesn't mention this, it is simply a matter of Anglican arrogance, even snobbery.

It is interesting to watch a vicar enter a meeting room.  You can often spot them a mile off: collar to the fore, they emanate an air of confidence, the presupposition of a right to be present and the expectation of being taken seriously, whatever the context.  (Not every one of them, of course, and a good number of those that do would be horrified to have it pointed out to them. I guess I did much the same in my vicaring days and I'm not convinced I've entirely lost it.)

I suspect the presupposition of a representative of the Established Church, a certain standing in society, an organization which builds vicars up and congregational deference which means that many never get the corners knocked off, all contribute to this arrogance.  A high view of priesthood would certainly contribute to this attitude but it seems to apply to vicars wherever they are on the candle.

John Henry Newman
As John Henry Newman said in Tract 1 (1833):
... on what will you rest the claim of respect and attention which you make upon your flocks? Hitherto you have been upheld by your birth, your education, your wealth, your connexions; should these secular advantages cease, on what must CHRIST’S Ministers depend? Is not this a serious practical question? 
And maybe some residue of his next comment remains:
We know how miserable is the state of religious bodies not supported by the State. Look at the Dissenters on all sides of you, and you will see at once that their Ministers, depending simply upon the people, become the creatures of the people. Are you content that this should be your case? Alas! can a greater evil befall Christians, than for their teachers to be guided by them, instead of guiding?
His solution was,
There are some who rest their divine mission on their own unsupported assertion; others, who rest it upon their popularity; others, on their success; and others, who rest it upon their temporal distinctions. This last case has, perhaps, been too much our own; I fear we have neglected the real ground on which our authority is built,—OUR APOSTOLICAL DESCENT.
(from Project Canterbury)

While I would heartily reject Newman's answer it is interesting that the question remains cast in much the same terms: how do the clergy know who they are, individually and as a class, except by placing themselves over against the laity?



I signed off yesterday's post and then thought: 'formation', as you do.

"St Thomas, Count of Aquino, Dominican Friar and
the Angelic Doctor of the Catholic Church
understood hierarchy and taught popes
and bishops, emperors and kings,
 how to exercise it." 
For the most part the idea of formation has traditionally been focused on priestly formation in the more Catholic tradition: the shaping of a malleable man into a priest; and thence the shaping of a priestly elite more educated, more deeply spiritual, more endowed with the qualities of leadership and pastoral wisdom than the laity.  An elite defined by being separated out from ordinary people.

Add in a belief that, in the divine hierarchy, to be a priest is to be nearer God than the laity and yet to be a priest is to be but the shadow of a bishop's closeness to God, and you have a powerful, driving ideology which once achieved great things in the Church.

Yet it is an ideology which is now almost (not quite) intellectually and practically defunct.

The concept of formation remains significant, however, and deserves to be revisited.  Just how do we form, shape, create disciples - lay, clerical and episcopal disciples - adequate to the tasks of mission, service, holiness in today's world? How do we form the whole church, not merely a top slice of it?

This is the perennial task of the church: to make real and consequential what it is to be a Christian today. To reverse this sentence: the way Christians act and speak (as Christians rather than as, say, engineers) is what it  means to be Christian.  Christians form the Church which formed them.

This is based on an epistemology profoundly antagonistic to the epistemology which saw the universe as fixed in a great pyramid stretching up towards God in which the most Godly humans stood just a feathers' breath below the angels.

To the contrary, it is based on the understanding of a world continually coming into being, in which every moment closes down some possibilities and opens up new ones, in which beauty and passion are as important as facts and analysis, in which ideology (theology, world-view, common opinion) is an essential building block in the creation of organizations, and organizations are essential to the development of knowledge and understanding.

That is: the Church is as the Church does.  As the Church does, so its members corporately make real the idea of the Church that they embody and enact.  Each action closes down some possibilities and opens others.

Clearly some decisions and actions have much more extensive and longer-lasting consequences.  Some (do I need to mention the Covenant?) appear to be much more likely to close down options than to create new opportunities.  The rhetoric of order and discipline is intended to signal that the desirable path of formation is to curtail and prevent innovation and new expressions of faith.

Fun in St Neots Church
But instead of putting 'discipline' and 'order' first, foremost and final as the concepts which should guide the formation of the future Church, I suggest we should look for other ideas.  Perhaps holiness and compassion, devotion, sacrifice and, who knows, even fun can be guiding concepts.

Though I would add quickly that I am not opposed to either discipline or order per se. I think both are necessary elements of any structure.  I recognise the reality of sin in any church or group.  I think, however, that when discipline is needed it will be because of some failure of the Church. The actions of discipline and the re-imposition of order should be seen as causes of shame and sorrow, occasions for repentance, not celebrated as guiding principles of the Communion.

I also suggest that the ontological hierarchy which so elevated bishops remains with us in a changed, and cheaper, version.

The Catholic tradition placed hierarchy on the foundation of divine law made visible in natural law.  In the Anglican Church that foundation is (a somewhat dated) organizational thesis.  The centralization of the Church, the elevation of the primates, the focusing of power in the General Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury, is being pursued for organizational efficacy: to better enable the control of member churches.

Surely we can do better than this.


Why worry?

The Covenant is, as I've said before, part of a twin strategy to change the Communion for ever.  Most recently the focus has been on the Covenant for two reasons: it's now out for adoption by Provinces, and because it is a document in the public domain.

Covenanters: Bishop Gregory Cameron and
Archbishop Drexel Gomez in 2009
The second (chronologically the first) part of the strategy has had much less attention.  This is the creation of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC). This is because change has been done in long slow steps, many of the changes have been buried in official documents, it has been seen as a matter in internal concern, and because documentation has been less easy to find.  And it's dull.  A Covenant has a symbolic resonance in the Church; constitutional change has not.

The Constitution of the Anglican Communion is now on the ACC page of the Anglican Communion website.  A Q&A style presentation of the Standing Committee is here.

The changes in the constitution of the Communion would give effect to the proposals contained in the Covenant; the Covenant would would give significant powers to the Standing Committee of the Communion (and here).  It would, in effect, make the SCAC a new Instrument of Communion in its own right.

The result of the changes that have already taken place and those which the Covenant may instigate would change the nature of Anglicanism for ever.

The consequences will, over time, stretch right to the heart of each church.  It may be that this will be a good thing (though I don't see it myself) but surely it can't be good to do this by default, without informed consent, without some sharing and general acceptance of a vision for the future.

First, it will turn the Communion into a Church, instead of a family of Churches (irrespective of who's in and who's out).

Local synods will grow less independent, autonomy will be constrained, episcopal authority will be circumscribed.  I don't think this will happen all at once; I think it will happen step-by-step, issue-by-issue and probably with no-one outside the Anglican Communion Office taking stock as it goes on.

From here to eternity, via the SCAC
Second, it will stretch the distance between pew and centre still further.  There's already a long distance between pew and General Synod, let alone pew to Archbishop.

To turn this round: ordinary worshippers will feel even further from the places decisions are made.

Third, the manner in which these changes have already been effected will predispose the manner of future decisions.

In particular the bureaucratic-political nature of the Church will be reinforced with the great majority of people effectively excluded by an glass wall from decision making.  The international elite of fixers and global leaders will talk to one another and operate in ways that most others (including all but the best funded and staffed lobby groups) will not be able to follow, let alone influence.

What is already an overwhelmingly clerical church will become even more so.

Fourth, the voluntary nature of adherence and expression of faith will shrink still further.  In 1828 the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in England effectively made membership voluntary.  That fact has never been part of the church's self-image.  Instead, monarchical (strictly princely) attitudes have characterised the exercise of episcopal authority, mirrored by excessive deference.  In England at least lay members of the Anglican Church are subjects, not citizens.

Fifth, there will be an impact at the local, parochial and deanery level.  Curiously the tendency to ignore or circumvent the rules, and for self-confident clergy to do their own thing, may grow stronger. (This capacity is an internalisaton of monarchical attitudes turned back against the official monarch).

The future of the Anglican Church?
For most people, most of the time, I guess the greater likelihood will be that initiative is further stifled, passivity, dependence and deference will continue to be the order of the day, and the effective engagement of the laity in making decisions that will realise the potential of the people of God will continue to be minimised.

Sixth, there will be a little less money in the local church and an even higher ratio of (relatively better paid) senior clergy and bureaucrats to regular worshippers.

*   *   *

Sometimes I wonder why I worry.  I was once ordained and now I am without episcopal permission to officiate (no-one's refused - I just haven't asked).  This leaves me (and other retired / resigned clergy in this position) unable to be members of the Church.  There is simply no space for us in the constitution.

But I do worry.  The shape, flavour, rhetoric, financing, decision-making, trust, suspicion, competence, clarity, history, vision, style, values, ethos of any organisation predispose how it functions on the ground.  All of these elements are predominantly set by the top. The words and actions of the few senior leaders are setting the church on a particular spiritual path to the future.

I have not seen or heard anything in the debate around the Covenant any official consideration of its impact in the pew.  It's all about inter-Provincial relationships, as though they were separable from the people who constitute the membership, the foundations, the purpose of the Church.  And who are the source of its funding. Could we not seek to shape the Church as though it served the spiritual needs and potential of the people of God?

Covenant between God and the people of Papua New Guinea, signed by the Prime Minister, 2007