In Tanzania, the thought of a declining church is inconceivable

Parishioners inside Christ Church, the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar, Tanzania.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Today Tabora in western Tanzania is a place where very few visitors go.

It has not always been so. In the 1850s, Arab slave and ivory traders began to develop a settlement to support their caravans as they crossed from Lake Tanyika (where slaves captured in the Congo Delta would join the caravan) to the port on the Indian Ocean (where they would be shipped to the Arabian Peninsula).

In 1871, the city was estimated to have around 20,000 inhabitants. By the turn of the century, Tabora had become a headquarters for German East Africa, until they were overthrown at the Battle of Tabora by an Anglo-Belgian force in 1916, and the British became the colonial power until until Tanzania gained its independence in 1961.

It’s a story the Bishop of Tabora, Rt Rev Elias Chakupewa, was keen to share when we spoke at the Lambeth Conference.

“Arabs were in Tanzania for many years before Christianity. So there are a very good number of Muslims,” he says, before continuing: “I was born a Muslim, in a Muslim family. My father and my mother were Muslims”.

It was at the age of 19 that he converted to Christianity.

Bishop Elias is the third bishop of Tabora.

“The diocese is physically very large, 96,000 km2 – bigger than Rwanda and Burundi” – or for a British audience, about three times the size of Wales.

Bishop Elias Chakupewa and his wife Lucy

“The church is growing very fast compared to that time. It started in 1989 with 10 parishes – but now we have about 43 parishes. And also the number of people – there were very few – but now there are about 20 000 people.”

Evangelism is a big part of what they do.

“We have a lot of evangelism in the villages and one of the most important parts of my role as Bishop of Tabora is to make sure that we plant new churches in the villages using local people.

“So we send out local missionaries – we call them church planters. We send them out to the villages to plant new churches.”

His only sadness is to no longer be able to get involved in this direct contact with people.

“As a bishop, I cannot go to the villages to make an evangelistic call. There are many people waiting for the bishop for confirmation services. When you go to the village to make an evangelistic service confirmation, you find hundreds of people waiting for the bishop.”

Such growth is not uncommon in countries of the South. In fact, for many bishops gathered at the Lambeth Conference, the idea of ​​a diocese in decline is inconceivable.

When asked what was his most memorable moment from the conference, Bishop Zechariah Manyok Biar Mangar of Wanglei in South Sudan said, “I met a bishop from Australia who said he could to be the last bishop of his diocese. People in his diocese are getting more and more We could not imagine such a thing in South Sudan – where people are coming out of churches”.

Bishop Elias only decided to come to the Lambeth conference at the last minute. Until then, he had planned to boycott the event, along with those in Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and many other parts of the South. In the end, he decided to come saying “and even if they won’t hear our voice, we will shout everything we can say”.

Ironically, after all the shenanigans about “voting” for Lambeth calls, by machine or by voice, at this conference, “shouting” was the only thing he and his fellow Orthodox bishops were unable to do. The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced that there will be no vote, even by voice, on the part of the Lambeth Appeals which sought to address the issue of biblical authority and human sexuality which has divided the Communion for decades.

Tabora is a growing diocese. They have few resources, but churches are planted, leaders are trained. They have schools and clinics; they reach out to young people and teach them skills. Lucy, Elias’ wife – they come as a team – is involved in many projects, but her passion is to help other women earn a living raising livestock (chickens, guinea fowl, geese and pigs). It is the whole gospel for the whole person in practice.

At the Lambeth Conference, despite their wisdom and experience, Bishop Elias and Lucy were on the verge of what was happening. And they weren’t the only ones. He shared his fears that some in Lambeth are using aid pledges to pressure bishops into accepting unorthodox beliefs and practices.

Tabora is a place where few visitors go, which is a shame, as it seems they have a lot to teach their former colonial powers if only we would listen.

As Bishop Elias said, “In the Acts of the Apostles (4:12) it says that there is only one name given to us for people to be saved. He There are many names in the world; very important names, but only one name can save human beings.”

If the Anglican Communion learns to listen to bishops like the Rt Rev Elias Chakupewa, there can be hope for the future.

Comments are closed.