Ecclesiology leads to prison

Nicolas Stebbing cr on how disputes over differing ecclesiologies in Zimbabwe are leading to violence and arrests

To most people ‘ecclesiology’ is a boring sounding word, a word for theologians to worry about.

However, Catholic Anglicans today have found ecclesiology of great significance; differing ecclesiologies in the Church of England have led to tragic divisions and losses. In Zimbabwe differing ecclesiologies can land you in prison!

In Zimbabwe in 2007 two Anglican bishops, of Harare and Manicaland, both strong supporters of the ruling party, announced they were taking their dioceses out of the Anglican province of Central Africa ‘because of homosexuality’. Actually it was because both wanted freedom to rule their dioceses without reference to anyone else. Both claim to be Anglicans but have no relationship with other Anglicans.

Constant attack

In Harare the vast majority of Anglicans refused to go with their bishop; in Manicaland the split was about 50/50. The result is that almost all Anglicans in communion with Canterbury within those two dioceses are now unable to use their churches. Their priests have been evicted from vicarages. When a small community of sisters had a CPCA service in their chapel the police arrived and took several of the sisters and some of the lay people to prison. Almost every Sunday in Manicaland some Anglicans are arrested trying to hold services in their churches. One elderly lady in Harare was killed for refusing to hand over the church keys. A priest was badly beaten up for the same offence. Another priest was arrested and charged with stealing over a million dollars’ worth of property.

Daramombe mission in the neighbouring diocese of Masvingo has been under constant attack from the renegade Bishop of Harare (who wants institutions since they represent sources of money). He has also taken over a children’s home, evicting the sisters and staff and plunging the 70

children into uncertainty. When I go to our Community’s former mission at Penhalonga, I have to argue my way in through the gate. Once when refused I climbed in over a mountain at the back with an OHP sister! Last time I was warned the police were waiting for me and stayed away.

Sadness and joy

There has been much suffering for Anglicans, much unnecessary expense and lots of sadness, but also much joy. People have discovered that the church is the people, not the building; they have found Christ in their midst as they have gone out into the wilderness. Congregations have grown in numbers and in depth. Anglicans have realized you can’t be an Anglican on your own; you need the other Anglicans in Zimbabwe, in Central Africa, in the whole world to make any sense of it all. You can’t be an Anglican following a renegade Anglican bishop.

Anglicans in Zimbabwe are thrilled that Archbishop Rowan will visit them at the beginning of October. It will be a time of deciding for many. He will visit the two Cathedrals presently denied to the true Anglicans. If he is allowed in he can claim them for the Church of the Province and ask why Anglicans cannot use them. If he is denied entrance by the renegade bishops that will make it clear they are not Anglicans.

What can we do to help?

Money helps a lot. The bishops must run their dioceses without the sources of income they used to have. They must pay legal fees to get their priests and lay people out of prison.

We must pray. The Church in Zimbabwe has survived formidable persecution because people have prayed. Good has come out of evil. Bishops and priests threatened with assassination have been kept safe. Ecclesiology means that we are united in the Body of Christ. When one member suffers, all suffer. When we pray for them they are filled with confidence and joy.

Faith and courage

And we give thanks that Anglicans in such a hard situation are so full of faith and courage. They are discovering that Anglicanism is not just a loose gathering of an English kind of Christians, but a reality of flesh and blood, of sacramental presence, a church which is not a whole lot of buildings, or a diocesan structure, but the presence of the living Christ and his Holy Spirit bringing new life, hope and a deepening love to a wonderful Christian people. It makes some of our squabbles and concerns seem very petty indeed. Can we learn from them, as we should? ND