“Everything went smoothly and quietly,” Bishop Chad Gandiya of the Anglican Diocese of Harare said today in a communication received today about the outdoor service organized in African Unity Square on Sunday, Jan. 31.
“There were no disturbances,” he continued. “People came in their thousands. The president was not there – he was out of the country. Thank you for all your prayers.”
The service was planned out of concern for the continuing police harassment experienced since late 2009 by Anglicans affiliated with the Anglican diocese that is part of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA), the regional expression of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The continuing turmoil arises from the persistent efforts of breakaway Bp. Nolbert Kunonga to retain control of the diocese and its congregations since he was relieved of his duties and excommunicated by CPCA in 2007.
It was hoped that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe would attend the service to hear the concerns of the approximately 4,000 people who gathered for the liturgy in the square, which is located squarely in front of both Parliament and the Anglican Cathedral of St. Mary and All Saints.
Bp. Gandiya said police denied the CPCA Anglicans entry to the cathedral, according to a report filed by Agence France-Presse (AFP). “If all was well we would be holding this church service inside that building, but we are being denied entry,” AFP quoted the bishop as saying. “We are gathered in the open not because there is no room in the building where we are supposed to be but because we are being denied access.”
As noted in a posting on this blog on Jan. 31 prior to the service, City Council and police permission had been secured for the outdoor service, so the fact that worshipers were barred from entering the cathedral follows the pattern of recent months, when police have interfered with worship despite even court orders favoring the diocese. Under current legal arrangements, clergy loyal to Kunonga have access to church buildings to conduct services until 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings, after which access for the generally much larger CPCA congregations is mandated.
The reported attendance of 4,000 is a large number in any circumstance, but especially in view of the threat of police harassment which has been ever present in recent months. To put the number in context, about 5,000 people attended Bp. Gandiya’s consecration on July 26, and many Harare area congregations have attendance in the range of 200-400 people per Sunday. Attendance at the annual Bernard Mizeki Festival at its height, before the present troubles, has been in the range of 20,000-30,000 – the largest annual gathering of Anglicans in the world.
I sent a message of solidarity to the gathering:
Dear Bishop Gandiya and Faithful Harare CPCA Anglicans,
It is good to know that Anglican Christians of the Diocese of Harare, Church of the Province of Central Africa, are gathering for public witness in Africa Unity Square on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 31 January 2010.
Starting with how the star of the east led to the the Christ child being revealed to pilgrims from the nations, Epiphany is the season of the showing forth of Christ in all the world. This gathering is a sign of the faithfulness of Harare’s Anglicans to God’s call to bear witness to Christ in mission.
Please know that many friends of the Anglican Church in Harare Diocese and in Zimbabwe are praying for you during this time when you are experiencing pressure on your common life as you seek to live faithfully as Christians. May Sunday’s service in African Unity Square be a source of mutual encouragement to Harare’s Anglicans and an inspiration to all who seek to follow Christ in Zimbabwe.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Titus Presler
Commissary in the Episcopal Church USA for the Diocese of Harare
Former missionary at Bonda
For extensive background on the Anglican Church struggle in Zimbabwe, see the Anglicanism in Zimbabwe category on this blog. The Episcopal News Service story on the Jan. 31 observance is available here.