Ronald Crane has just returned from the staunchly orthodox Anglo-Catholic diocese of Ho and shares his joy and enthusiasm for the clergy and people
A country rich in natural resources, Ghana remains poor because of the way international trade operates. Gold, hydro-electric power and now oil; all are in abundance in Ghana, not to mention pineapples, mangos and bananas to die for! Ghana is on the Greenwich meridian and the equator runs through its territorial waters. Temperatures are high, and it is very humid.
Following the Great War, German colonies were taken and distributed between the victors. The UK got the Volta, and lumped it with the Gold Coast. Never more than 30 miles wide, it is about the size of Wales. Flat with a sea board in the south, it is mountainous in the north. Most people are farmers, and very poor. The average wage is about £1000 a year.
When the Gold Coast became independent in 1959, the Volta became part of the new country of Ghana. It is so today.
The diocese of Ho covers the area of the Volta region. Many still live in the traditional African hut, even if it is made of concrete or breeze blocks. Often buildings in use are still unfinished. Power cuts of between two and five days are regular; many people do not have running water or electricity, including the parsonages.
The Diocesan is Bishop Matthias; he has eleven priests, only four full-time. The congregations are widespread and range from 30 or 40, to 500. An independent diocese since 2003, it lacks resources. A line was drawn on the map, and the people were told, ‘That is now your diocese,’ there was no financial settlement.
Our West Midlands Parish has been supporting the Diocese of Ho for some years now. We send books and other necessities, and we have provided a stipend for one of the diocesan priests.
Support in England
Bishop Matthias has visited us many times, but this was the first time my wife and I had been to Africa, let alone Ghana. We arrived with a substantial amount of cash. It was our latest contribution towards the stipend of one priest. At Ghana Aerodrome we handed the money over. Bishop Matthias replied, ‘Thank God! I can now pay the clergy this month.’ They live that close to the edge.
One of the major problems is getting around. Public transport is hit and miss, so one needs a car. Only the main roads are metalled, side and country roads being dirt tracks. To complicate matters, the roads are full of giant potholes. It is impossible to avoid them. Consequently cars break their axles, wheels fall off and generally fall apart. The terrain is, to say the least, arduous!
Bishop Matthias needs a robust vehicle just to get about his large diocese. The Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough launched a Lent appeal to provide him with such a vehicle.
The congregations in the Diocese are wonderful. Full of faith and joy. The music is a combination of Ancient and Modern Standard (‘Art thou weary, art thou languid’ being very popular) and local Ghanaian folk songs. Whatever the origin of the music, it is always sung with tremendous enthusiasm and often accompanied by dancing. It is impossible not be caught up in the whole experience. This is no European Liturgical
Dance, you know, waiving one’s arms about to sentimental music; this is genuinely ‘of the people’, authentic, and moving.
Those of you who have not had the privilege of being at St Patrick’s Kpandu do not know what you are missing. The church building is four prefabs built end to end; so it is a long, low building. The windows are holes in the walls with shutters. The temperature is about 33º in the shade, the humidity about 80%. Thoughtfully the roof is made of tin! The Sunday we were there Mass began at 0900 and ended about 1230. 300 people were packed into the building, and another 200 were watching the Mass through the windows, unable to get in.
Schools tend to have the same ‘glassless windows’ and the children write with chalk on an individual blackboard. This is all right when it is dry, but when it rains… everyone gets wet, chalk and all!
The Cathedral Church of Saint George the Martyr in Ho is the second smallest in the Anglican Communion. It was thought to be the smallest, but it turns out there is a smaller one in Canada – well, there would be, wouldn’t there? It seats 40 people when packed. The congregation is devout.
Sunday Mass is preceded by 30 minutes of Bible Study, which is well led and taken seriously by the people. Once a month they have a second collection at the end of Mass. This is taken according to the day of the week upon which you were born. So, Monday-born people go first, then Tuesday and so on, until Sunday comes last. There is great interest in making sure that your ‘day’ wins with the most money collected. I wondered if this would catch on at the Forward in Faith Assembly?
Bishop Matthias has managed to buy a motorcycle for each of his priests, so at least they can visit their widespread parishes. Most parishes do have a priest, but there are outstations that are served by a Catechist. These only see a priest every now and then, and so are lay led.
I did manage to see a Ghanaian Premier League football match. The local team won 1–0, and the crowd went home happy. I loved the local fruit and have developed a taste for the local Star beer! During our twelve day visit I lost a stone in weight, but do not worry, I soon put it all back on.
Having nothing, the people of the Diocese of Ho share everything. It was a great privilege to be able to share things with these lovely people. ND