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Matabeleland Diocese in Central Africa marks 70 years of mission “in the Lord’s vineyard”

Posted on: October 25, 2023 9:37 AM

The Diocese of Matabeleland in the Anglican Province of Central Africa has celebrated its 70th anniversary. Visitors, from around the world, including clergy and bishops from neighbouring dioceses and beyond, joined parishioners from across the diocese in a special evensong held at Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in Bulawayo on 9 September.  

The Bishop of Matabeleland, Cleophas Lunga, welcomed the distinguished guests, including the former Bishop of Central Zimbabwe, Ishmael Mukwanda and his successor Bishop Ignatius Makumbe. He also welcomed the Bishop of Botswana, Metlhayotlhe Rawlings Beleme and the Bishop of Kingston in the Church of England’s Diocese of Southwark, Martin Gainsborough who preached the sermon. The dioceses of Central Zimbabwe, Matabeleland, Manicaland and Masvingo are linked to the Diocese of Southwark, in south London. 

The following day, hundreds joined a joyful band-led singing procession of Mothers’ Union members, parishioners, school children and clergy. They processed from Mzilikazi High School to Saint Columbus High School. The celebrations continued with worship, performances from a variety of choirs, speeches, presentations and messages of congratulations. 

The Bishop of Manicaland, Erick Ruwona, read a message from the Archbishop of Central Africa, Albert Chama. He said: “I stand here on behalf of our Archbishop, the Most Revd Dr Albert Chama. He sends a congratulatory message to us from the Church of the Province of Central Africa. I also stand here on behalf of the Anglican Council of Zimbabwe to also congratulate you, Bishop, and the Diocese of Matabeleland. 

“In his message to us, the Archbishop says: ‘as the Diocese of Matabeleland marks 70 years of its mission work in Zimbabwe and to all the people of God, we as the Church of the Province of Central Africa join the Christian fraternity in wishing you all a happy anniversary. Much blessings from the Lord. May the good Lord lead you in the next phase of his mission and service as you touch lives near and far where the Lord has purposed you to reach’”. 

In his message, Archbishop Chama reminded those gathered that the Diocese of Matabeleland was founded to facilitate the creation of the Province of Central Africa. It was one of the founding dioceses of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. 

Bishop Erick announced on behalf of the Diocese of Manicaland, that he was sent with a gift of $1,000 USD (approximately £823 GBP). He presented it to Bishop Cleopas amidst a round of applause. 

Bishop Cleopas greeted and welcomed all present, saying: “it is with these prayer-filled greetings and immense joy that Mrs Lunga joins me in welcoming you all ever so warmly to this special occasion as we mark our 70 years of mission in the Lord’s vineyard. Carved from what was then known as the Anglican Diocese of Mashonaland, the new See was constituted in 1953 as the second in the country and covering Botswana. 

The General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Revd Wilfred Dimingu, brought an ecumenical flavour to the proceedings. He said: “I bring ecumenical greetings to this platinum jubilee celebration from the Zimbabwe Council of Churches in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in John 17 verse 21 ‘that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me’”. 

He continued: “the Zimbabwe Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches driven by the Gospel imperative to seek total salvation of the whole person in the whole nation of Zimbabwe. We are celebrating these 70 years today a few days after the country held its elections. Elections that left our country deeply polarised. I, therefore, humbly request you, my Lord Bishop that together with the Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland, we set aside time to continue praying for our nation to continue for the peace, unity and prosperity of this nation. As I congratulate you, my Lord Bishop, I continue to implore you as our chief shepherd in this diocese to continue promoting peace and love amongst the people of Zimbabwe.” 

Bishop Martin Gainsborough reiterated part of his message from his sermon at Saint John the Baptist Cathedral the night before. “Even when times are hard, let us not lose hope in a God who is faithful and who acts, dreaming dreams with us that all of us may flourish”, he said. “Let us dream big together, work together, trusting in a God who acts believing in Thy Kingdom Come and I personally commit to doing that with you.” 

The Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Revd Fritz Madida, described the meaning behind the symbolism of the new 70th anniversary emblem which includes the diocesan crest, saying: “below the crest, you will see a cow which symbolises the mainstay of Matabeleland. We cannot talk of farming without cattle.” 

The red in the emblem represents the blood of the Lamb “which is a symbol of our salvation as Christ died for us”, he said. “The yellow is the richness of the land. Our (70th anniversary) theme, ‘Fruits of our labour, answers to our prayers’ is symbolised by a hoe which represents our labour.” 

An image of maize, the staple of the region, is also represented under “labour”. Small grains like millet and sorghum represents their drought resistance in a region prone to drought. The emblem is in the shape of a shield, “God is our shield and we also take up the shield as directed in the book of Ephesians,” said Dean Fritz. The emblem was presented by Saint Barnabas Boys Guild.