In the Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe, in the Province of Central Africa, there are two bishops who claim authority over the same diocese. One Bishop says the Diocese is no longer part of the Province and the other has been appointed by the Province to fill his place. This might sound familiar to Americans following our own local difficulties, but the differences end there and the stakes much more immediate.
The ousted former Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kononga, refuses to vacate his office and believes he is still in charge of his clergy. He claims that the Diocese of Harare has unilaterally pulled out of the Province of Central Africa. The Province of Central Africa, on the other hand, says that decision was rigged and consequently has disciplined Bishop Kononga and appointed retired Bishop Sebastian Bakare to lead the diocese.
Last week, after repeated violence broke out when supporters of Kononga, a close ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, attacked Anglicans trying to worship under the leadership of clergy appointed by Bakare, the police warned the two sides to back off, allAfrica.com reported.
Police have summoned Anglican Harare Diocese faction leaders and warned that the law will take its full course should the violence that has rocked the diocese since late last year persist.
The warning follows repeated clashes involving parishioners aligned to Bishop Nolbert Kunonga and Bishop Sebastian Bakare respectively.
The skirmishes have left church property damaged and worshippers injured, culminating in the two rival camps holding separate church services at the Cathedral of St Mary and All Saints simultaneously under heavy police guard.
This prompted police to summon the feuding clergymen to Harare Central police station for a post-mortem of the disturbances.
Diocese information officer Reverend Morris Brown Gwedegwe and diocese secretary Reverend Barnabas Machingauta attended the meeting on behalf of the Kunonga faction while warden Mrs Christabel Maziriri and Mrs Sekai Chibaya represented the Bakare camp.
Harare province police spokesman Inspector James Sabau confirmed the meeting, held on Tuesday.
ZimOnline, a Zimbabwean new agency describes the scene at the Cathedral:
There was chaos as the Anglican’s St Mary’s and All Saints Cathedral in Harare yesterday after ousted controversial bishop Nolbert Kunonga held a rival service under heavy police presence.
Kunonga, who is a vocal supporter of President Robert Mugabe, is refusing to leave office as archbishop of Harare after he arbitrarily pulled out the diocese from the Province of Central Africa.
The Province of Central has since appointed the retired Bishop Sebastian Bakare to take over from Kunonga.
On Saturday, Father Morris Brown Gwedegwe claimed Kunonga was still in charge of the diocese.
"The only bishop who is there is Bishop Kunonga and you can see that all priests attended our meeting," Gwedegwe said.
But events proved otherwise yesterday when the majority of the Cathedral parishioners attended a service in the church's hall conducted by Father Webster Mahwindo, who had been posted to Bindura by Kunonga two years ago.
Kunonga's faction held its own service at the same time in the main church, led by Father Caxton Mabhoyi.
"We decided at our vestry on Saturday that we should hold a separate service because we no longer recognise Bishop Kunonga," a warden of the Bakare faction announced yesterday.
"Bishop Bakare will be formally appointed at a function which the leaders of the Province of Central Africa will attend on February 3, and we hope our colleagues would have seen the light and joined us."
The warden said they had to hire the police force for protection during the service after violent skirmishes that have rocked the diocese since Bakare's appointment.
Kunonga's supporters have allegedly been attacking parishioners who back Bakare.
Kunonga has in the past vociferously defended Mugabe over his controversial policies particularly the violent seizure of white farms for redistribution to landless blacks eight years ago.
Supporters of Kononga do not talk about his connection with Mugabe, rather they produce wild charges that range from being under the control of Western governments to promoting homosexuality, attempting to align the Mugabe-friendly control of the church with the work of other "Global South" provinces. These other provinces have remained largely silent on the issue.
Today, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion released this statement:
The situation with respect to the Anglican Church in Harare is a matter of grave concern to all in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Kunonga’s close ties with President Robert Mugabe is of deep concern to many and the resort to violent disruption has been widely deplored.
His unilateral actions with respect to the Diocese of Harare and his own status within the Province of Central Africa are, to say the least, questionable and have brought embarrassment to many. Above all, I am concerned for the well-being of faithful Anglicans who seek to practice their faith in peace and free from violence.
We assure Bishop Sebastian Bakare of our prayerful support in this difficult situation, and it is my firm hope that the Province of Central Africa will be enabled to find a way forward at this anxious time.
The Revd Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General
During the meeting with the police, "The police wanted to know whether we were heading towards the right direction or disaster. As police they said they had no solution to the church problems as that lay with the people in the church. They told us to agree to disagree in a manner that promotes peace," said Diocese information officer Reverend Morris Brown Gwedegwe, a supporter of the ousted Bishop.
AllAfrica.com reports that while the Bakare faction seemed happy with the police's suggestion to share the church assets that did not go down well with the Kanonga faction.
Part of the solution including the holding of competing church services under police guard.
Gwedegwe said the Bakare faction had no right to use the church premises and they should apply to them, should they need to use it.
"We from the Dr Kunonga side feel that those who want to use our church should do so through an application to the bishop and the property committee which considers such applications."
Local parish councils and clergy have contended that the vote last September to remove the Diocese from Province of Central Africa was illegal. Kunonga supporters say that local parish councils have no say in diocesan matters but only local matters and that clergy are bound to support Kunonga. The Province claims that Kunonga is no longer the bishop and that the clergy and congregations are under Bakare.
Stay tuned and keep praying for all concerned.
Read: A Statement from the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion
Read: ZimOnline: Mugabe churchman conducts rival service in Harare
Read: allAfrica.com: Zimbabwe: Police Summon, Warn Anglican Faction Leaders
More background from previous Lead stories here and here.
Monday evening update
Lambeth Palace - “The Archbishop of Canterbury condemns unequivocally the use of state machinery to intimidate opponents of the deposed bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, and is appalled by recent reports of Zimbabwean police forcibly stopping Sunday services in several churches in Harare where clergy have publicly and bravely refused to acknowledge Kunonga's Episcopal authority. The Archbishop of Canterbury stands in solidarity with the Province of Central Africa ... Kunonga's position has become increasingly untenable within the Anglican Church over the last year, as he has consistently refused to maintain appropriate levels of independence from the Zimbabwean Government.“
See also the ENS coverage and the roundup at Thinking Anglicans.