Visit to Zimbabwe 2014

At the invitation of Bishop Chad of Harare, Bishop Brian Castle, Canon Liz Walker, Rev Anne Jablonski, and I, all from Rochester diocese, travelled to Harare at the beginning of the year to visit our churches’ link parishes and to join their annual clergy retreat, held this year in Marondera. It was the first time we three female priests had been to Harare, so it was an interesting, and new, experience for us. We shared worship with the Rectors of our individual churches on the two Sundays, and were made to feel very welcome. They have very little in material possessions but have an amazing joy and thankfulness in their faith in the Lord Jesus. Basic things which we take for granted are in short supply. For example the running water in Harare was only evident twice during my 10 day stay, and each time only for a few hours. Power cuts happen all the time and, as with the water, there is no warning, and no notice of how long they are going to last. I was taken to visit church people who were ill, so that I could pray for them. I am continuing to do so now I am home. They have so little so they rely totally on God. They are so grateful for the links they have with our churches here in the UK and now those links have been renewed and refreshed.

In the week we joined the retreat with 120 male priests from the dioceses of Harare and Manicaland. It was a silent retreat so we were unable to have many conversations with the Zimbabwean priests, but everyone was very welcoming and they were very pleased that we were there. It felt quite natural both for us and for them. I hope that our presence there went some way to promoting the need for women to be ordained in those dioceses. As Bishop Chad has said, ‘It was as if we had women priests in the diocese already.’ The services were spoken in English, their second language, but all the singing was in Shona, their native tongue. Many of the hymns were known to us, being old traditional ones, but almost always to different tunes, and always accompanied by a drum. So we could feel a part of their worship.

Bishop Brian’s talks linked the events that happened to the Israelites in early times (Exodus, Exile, Restoration) to the more recent events in Harare when all the churches and rectories were illegally taken over by Bishop Kunonga and his breakaway group. Now, the true Anglican clergy and the people are back where they belong, but I heard stories of some of their trials and difficulties during that time of ‘exile’. When Christians stand up against what is wrong, God’s power is evident.

It was a very memorable trip to Zimbabwe that will stay with me a long time. I hope I am better able to pray for them now and also to hope that, not too long in the future, the various dioceses will vote for women to be ordained priests.

The Revd Judy Henning MSc