By Bellah Zulu, ACNS
ACNS Africa’s Bellah Zulu recently attended the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) Synod of held in Lusaka Zambia. There, he talked to Mrs Faye Mkandawire, a lay church member from the Anglican Diocese of Northern Malawi on her contributions to the Church in Malawi. She has been participating in church activities since the dioceses’ inception in 1995.
Mrs Mkandawire is originally from Island Granada, in the Caribbean and moved to Malawi after getting married to a Malawian doctor. She has served in various positions within the Church including membership to the Provincial Committee, Board of Finance and Interview panel for priesthood, among others.
She was also on the interviewing panel for the current Bishop of Northern Malawi, Fanuel Magangani when he was among the many other young candidates aspiring to be priests.
Q: Why did you choose to be actively involved in the life of the Church?
A: I was born an Anglican. I was baptised and confirmed in the Anglican Church. I have always been involved in the Church and I continue to do it. I enjoy getting involved in church activities because it gives me the opportunity to positively contribute to the church.
But at the same time, I have noticed that there are not a lot of people especially women willing to come forward and take up leadership positions and I am not willing to leave a gap and just continue contributing.
My participation in the Church has helped me appreciate and learn more about Church doctrine. Of course there are many other people within our Church that are contributing positively to the Church.
Q: Do you think the Church in Malawi is creating an enabling environment for effective lay participation?
A: I think we need more dialogue with the clergy. For instance, if there is a sensitive issue such as the ordination of women, it has to be discussed at length from parish level, and make sure there is some consensus before it’s taken another level. We like it that way.
The laity wants to feel informed and involved in the life of the Church but if they are left out, there will always be murmurs whenever certain decisions are carried out.
With the shrinking donor funding, the laity can help the Church by giving. For instance, when our current Bishop wanted to hold his first Synod, he did not ask for money from single donor. Instead we devised a plan to write to all Parishes to make contributions.
Some of those Parishes that we had underestimated were often the first to contribute. For once, we were able to hold a Synod using our own resources (because) of the contributions of the laity.
Q: Lay members usually have a chance to monitor changes within the Church over a long time. How has Northern Malawi transformed since it began in 1995 and what has been the laity’s contribution?
A: There are two positive changes in particular. We have now managed to train enough priests to be in all of our parishes. We also have more parishes especially in far-flung areas where many Anglicans, especially the elderly, were unable to go to church due to long distances.
We have also built a lot of new churches and a lot of those that are older and were in bad shape have been renovated. My Parish (St Marks) is building a bigger church to accommodate the growing Anglican population in my area. There are a lot of Anglicans from the area around the Northern region that have come to settle in our area.
It is through the laity that we began the Church building project. It was not initiated by the priest. We have a fundraising initiative called the “Paper Sunday” where a separate committee asks people to contribute on the last Sunday of every month. We even give a trophy to the highest contributing region/area thereby encouraging people to give more.
We have been using this same money to get all the materials for building the Church. This has made us happy and proud because we no longer expect donors to fund all our projects. Now we have even reached the roof level in our building but have not received funds from donors.
Q: How female lay members participate in the life of your diocese and what are you doing to encourage them?
A: Many women in our diocese are contributing in various ways to the Church. One woman whose husband was a Diocesan Secretary, decided to start a programme giving orphans a balanced meal at least once per month because most of them live with their grandparents and rarely have a balanced diet.
One Saturday, visitors from Canada noticed our women distributing food packs to orphaned children. When they went back home to Canada, they decided to start funding the programme and now these children are able to have this balanced meal every week.
In addition, our Parish decided to use some these funds to help empower the young people with life skills such as making buckets and basins. So it was not only about feeding the young people, but also empowering them with skills that would improve their lives and make them more independent.
Q: What are some of major challenges that the laity face in Malawi?
A: Giving is still a challenge for many. Many Christians had gotten used to donor funds but like in many other countries, donor funding is dwindling. So the challenge is to get to do things ourselves.
One of the most important things at Parish and Diocese level is unity. Despite the challenges, a lot can be achieved if there is unity among us.
Q: What is your word of appeal to the young people especially women especially that you are now of advanced age?
A: It’s true that I getting old now and have done enough. Young people should step up and take over and start participating in the Church. We don’t need to have the same people participating at Parish and Diocese levels. We need more people to come forward and participate. That would give them an insight into the running of the Church and the Diocese and also know that the Church needs their participation.