Zimbabwe Anglicans celebrate return to churches

A Godalming curate was in Zimbabwe earlier in the month to join Anglicans celebrating the return to their churches after five years in exile.

Anglicans in the eastern Diocese of Manicaland were finally able to return to their churches and cathedral after being barred from places of worship for the last five years.

They were forced from their buildings when two renegade bishops in Manicaland and Harare attempted to take control of diocesan properties.

Even as they worshipped outside, they faced violence and harassment. All the while, priests were not funded and church assets were stolen.

The hardship only came to an end when Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Anglican Church and legally restored their ownership of the buildings.

The focus of the weekend's celebrations was on forgiveness. Joining them was the Reverend Kate Wyles, whose father's family were missionaries in Manicaland.

She represented the Bishop of Guildford at the celebrations.  Over 3,000 worshipers danced and sang their way back into Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Mutare, and St Augustine's Mission, Penhalonga.

The group were led by their bishop the Right Reverend Julius Makoni, who performed a cleansing ceremony at the cathedral.

Bishop Makoni referred to the period saying: "A new sight was seen in our police cells as our sisters in habits, our priests in robes and our bishops in mitres paced the floors."

Archbishop of the Province of Central Africa, the Most Reverend Albert Chama, congratulated the congregation on keeping to the Gospel through their exile.

He said: "Go back to your churches and keep your obedience to the Gospel by extending the hand of love and forgiveness that people may see the light of God in you."

Rev Wyles described scenes of joy and cheering as they celebrated the return to their churches.

"People had begun gathering in Mutare from 6 in the morning. The Mother's Union in their bright blue uniforms, the servers in red leading a singing, dancing, joyful crowd of over 3,000 through the streets to the Cathedral," she said.

"Outside the diocesan offices the diocesan priests joined in, followed by bishops from around the world in white and gold robes. We made quite a spectacle.

"It was incredible to be there. This is a time of great rejoicing for the people who have suffered greatly."

During the ceremonies, Rev Wyles read out greetings from the Bishop of Guildford who said that Anglicans in Guildford had kept the church in their prayers during the difficult times and rejoiced that they could now return to their places of worship.

He assured the congregation of continuing prayers and support for the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.