The Venerable John Kiddle, Archdeacon of Wandsworth shares his reflection on visiting Zimbabwe to celebrate 70 years of the Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland.

On 10 September, several hundred people gathered on a warm and sunny Sunday morning at St Columba’s High School in Bulawayo to celebrate with great joy the 70th anniversary of the Diocese of Matabeleland.

The Diocese of Matabeleland has a link with the Kingston Episcopal Area, as part of the Southwark diocesan link with Zimbabwe.  The 70th anniversary celebrations were attended by Bishop Martin, Archdeacon Simon Gates and myself; we were delighted to be there.

Bishop Martin addressed the gathering and brought warm greetings and congratulations from Bishop Christopher and the whole Diocese. He also preached at evensong at the cathedral the evening before.

The celebrations began with a long procession to the school, with drums, bands and much happiness. The service itself brought together the whole Diocese to offer thanks to God in song, in dance, in prayer and in generous offering. The singing of the joint choir from the three secondary schools was pure joy.  The Bishop of Botswana preached a memorable sermon.  Bishop Cleophas, the Bishop of Matabeleland, presided at the eucharist, drawing us to God in great thanksgiving. See Bishop Martin’s post on ‘X’ here.

Simon and I had arrived in Zimbabwe a few days before and after a quick visit to the magnificent Victoria Falls we led a two day workshop for the clergy of the diocese.  It was the greatest privilege to reflect together with 35 priests and deacons on aspects of ministry.  Our brief was to look at pastoral care and administration; the conversation deepened as we discussed trust and hope in ministry, as we reflected on what sustains ministry and gives it shape, and as we spoke movingly about the demands on households and personal life.

It was good to see that despite the very great difficulties of the last years, perhaps many years, the diocese is in good heart.  There are massive challenges but what a gift it was for us to spend time with clergy and others and be encouraged in our own faith and vocation.

We were delighted also to visit projects in rural areas run by the Diocesan Drought Resilience Programme.  We saw dams that had recently been constructed and solar powered bore holes pumping water to gardens run by village cooperatives. We learned of the success of the malaria project which has been working in the west and north of the Diocese for many years and is now seeing a significant reduction in malaria cases.

We had come to Zimbabwe only a week after the general election.  Many people had hoped for a change and there was much disappointment around.  But what we saw also were real signs of hope and life, in the faith and life of the people of the diocese and in the work it is doing in the communities it serves.  As the 70th anniversary slogan says, fruit of our labours, answers to our prayers.

We look forward to developing our link with Matabeleland and exploring further what a flourishing mutual partnership can be.