The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia's (ELCRN) Hosianna parish at Walvis Bay has been rocked by division among its more than 2 000 active members over leadership issues.
A demonstration will be held on Sunday to petition Johannes Gaoseb, the head of the church in the Erongo region. The protestors fall under the Hosianna parish's 'majority concerned group' which comprises over 70% of the members.
The concerned group's leader, King Mandume Muatunga, a lifelong member of the parish and former Walvis Bay mayor, said they will protest to express dissatisfaction over the leadership's treatment of the parish's former pastor Immanuel Mberira, and other church affairs.
They specifically mentioned bishop Ernst //Gamxamub and deputy bishop Paul Kisting.
Muatunga told The Namibian on Thursday that the issues have been around since last year, while several attempts to resolve them have been brushed aside.
The biggest issue was when former Hosianna pastor Mberira's five-year contract ended under a cloud of claims of mismanagement involving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the church.
Mberira, however, told The Namibian yesterday that these were unsubstantiated claims, and that no charge was laid against him; no disciplinary action was taken; nor any investigations launched.
He said an attempt to find out what was happening with regards to his role in the church, and hopes to be reconciled with the leadership for the sake of peace and unity, turned ugly when a recording of the meeting between him and the leadership was made without his consent.
It was then allegedly distributed to members of the congregation as an alleged means to confirm Mberira's admittance of guilt for being responsible for church disunity, and therefore not fit to serve.
He explained that when he met the bishops, he said he was sorry for the disunity that is happening - because it was happening; not because he was the cause of it. This was allegedly misconstrued in the recording to imply that he was sorry for being the cause of the division.
"All I want to know is what is happening to me. I still want to be called by God, but currently I am not useful because my application to serve at a parish is not being answered," Mberira stated.
Muatunga said the ELCRN's top leadership has, without involving the congregation, compiled a shortlist of candidates for the office of pastor. Mberira was not on that list. The congregation, however, wants Mberira back, and the concerned group is claiming that the shortlisted candidates are just strategic moves by the leadership to have people in place who would benefit them in next year's election of the new bishop.
An elders' committee has been leading the church since Mberira left office at the end of May.
"The leadership's combined total failure, egocentrism, selfishness, stubbornness and unwillingness to handle our request with the urgency it deserve has left us with no other option than to continue with our next step of action. They took our parish for granted and for a ride for too long, and this cannot be tolerated any more," stressed Muatunga.
He said the congregation is also disgusted by the leaders' recording of a "man of the cloth", and using it to sow disunity.
"This practice in recording a pastor for that nature without his consent is nonsense, dangerous, uncalled for, unwarranted and is tantamount to childishness. It is like blackmailing someone. We don't need cowboys and crooks in our church, especially when people are occupying positions of trust, and are expected to take an oath and keep sacred secrecy, confidentiality and safeguarding the unity of the church," continued Muatunga.
He said the parish with confidence believes Mberira was "one of the best pastors to have served the Hosianna parish, and a true servant of the people, who was always part of our lives".
//Gamxamub informed The Namibian in an emailed response that while it was not church policy to respond to media queries, the urgent request from The Namibian "deemed it fit to give clarity".
He said the ELCRN's internal audit office conducted an audit on the finances of the Hosianna parish, and found "gross irregularities".
Based on these findings, a meeting was held a year ago during which Mberira allegedly admitted he did not execute his duties and responsibilities as expected of him in accordance with the pastors' law and policies and guidelines of the church.
"He also stated that he was not alone in this, but that others were part and parcel of the situation at the parish," said //Gamxamub.
A discussion with stakeholders ensued, and the leadership concluded that the administration of the parish was "tarnished and its unity in jeopardy".
Various options were considered and shared with Mberira and the parish, according to //Gamxamub, and the result was that Mberira could only work till the end of his contract at the end of May this year.
//Gamxamub said those involved in the planned protest "should refrain from this divisive action, and respect the celebration of the holy communion on the day".