Thousands of worshippers took part in an historic thanksgiving service in Harare today to celebrate the return of St Mary and All Saints Cathedral and other properties to the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) and Zimbabwe Anglicans.
The special service, marked by joyful singing and praise, followed the CPCA's recent victory in a long running legal battle with excommunicated former bishop Dr. Nolbert Kunonga who broke away from the CPCA in 2007 to form his own church. Kunonga and his supporters seized cars, churches, orphanges and other properties belonging to the CPCA claiming they belonged to him. Recently Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruled that he should return all the properties to the Diocese of Harare.
Anglican Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya recalled the challenging times that the church went through. He said that, "all those five years we were driven from our churches and went into exile, life was not easy but God was with us. We survived and found grace in exile."
Bp Gandiya was full of joy when he called on Anglicans to help rebuild the diocese. He said, "Come, let us rebuild our diocese. As we journey from the past, pressing on towards the goal together, there is a lot of work to be done in the area of rebuilding our diocese. A lot of our churches and schools and other institutions are in need of renovation after years of neglect."
The Primate of the Province, Archbishop Albert Chama, encouraged all Christians from the Diocese of Harare to continue being a testimony to the works of God. He said, "You are going back to your churches to worship God in dignity as it was intended to be. Be strong as you are a testimony to the rest of the church. Continue and never relent because wherever we are we say we are learning from the church in Zimbabwe."
The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams sent a congratulatory message to the Diocese of Harare. In it he said, "I am absolutely delighted to be able to send my warmest congratulations on this momentous day for the Diocese of Harare, the Church of the Province of Central Africa and the whole of the worldwide Anglican Communion."
He added, "You have faced threats of violence and arrest and yet your faith has not weakened, rather it has grown stronger. I want to commend particularly the leadership of Bishop Chad Gandiya and Bishop Sebastian Bakare before him, as they have embodied authentic Christian servant-hearted leadership. Through all this, your faith has been a beacon of light to the rest of the Anglican Communion."
A young Anglican from the Diocese of Harare Takunda Zvaita could not hide her joy on living to see this day. "This is freedom for us," she said. "We have learned a lot in exile. There is a vibrant Anglican Church that has been growing because of the exile and we have even improved our praise and worship."
Anglicans in the Diocese of Harare have not been able to worship in their churches ever since their buildings were seized five years ago. Many of them have only been able to worship in open air, under trees and any other areas they could find.
The service ended with the official opening of the Cathedral, it's cleansing and rededication back to God. Similar cleansing services are due to begin Monday in parishes outside Harare.