I have said to my Diocese that I will write a full report on my recent trip to the Diocese of Western Tanganyika. For readers within Christchurch Diocese, this post could be read as a first draft of that report.
Prompted by David Close, a former NZCMS missionary in the Diocese of Western Tanganyika (DWT), the current Bishop of that Diocese, Bishop Emmanuel Bwatta and I met at the Lambeth Conference in 2022. +Emmanuel kindly followed up that meeting with an invitation to me to visit his Diocese, with the proposal that I would share in confirmations, and in opening various buildings.
Wonderfully, through the kindness of friends, Teresa was able to travel with me and share in the experience of engaging with this part of Anglicanism in Africa. We left Christchurch on Tuesday 26 September and returned on Wednesday 11 October 2023. We arrived in DWT on Friday 29 September and left on Monday 9 October.
During those days we participated in nine confirmation services (me preaching at seven of the nine), one church opening service, visits to five other parishes, a visit to St. Andrew's School, Kasulu and an associated unveiling of a foundation stone at the new greenfields site for the school, visits to five churches each of which is being rebuilt as a larger church, and a visit to an orphanage. Along the way there were unveilings of foundation stones for two new vicarages and a church office. Teresa's count of the number of people I confirmed is 445 - nearly 900 confirmations between us two bishops. Most of the visits above involved travelling around the Diocese, a few were in Kasulu itself, the second largest city in the Diocese and the place where the Cathedral and Diocesan headquarters are located.
If that sounds busy - it was - nevertheless it was not burdensome - we never cooked a meal while in Tanzania, all travel within DWT was courtesy of the Bishop's Landcruiser and George, his full-time driver, and we had a spacious unit in which to stay when we were in Kasulu (7 out of 10 nights when we were in the Diocese).
To answer a question often asked since we came back: it was hot. Most days, the temperatures rose to between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius, but a few days - when in the highlands of the Diocese, up towards Burundi - the temperatures were between 20 and 25 degrees. The heat was made bearable, especially during long services inside church buildings, by sipping water frequently - courtesy of readily available bottled water.
The strongest, most overwhelming and moving impression made on me during this visit was the growth of the churches in DWT. Services filled with people, especially young adults, teenagers, children and babies combined with seeing new, larger churches completed, nearly completed, or underway.
The contrast was clear with (say) my own Diocese of Christchurch which itself - as one reads and hears reports - is illustrative of most Western Anglicanism - some growth, somedecline, increasing average age of regular worshippers.
Church growth is possible in the 21st century - I have seen it with my own eyes!
Yet, even in the midst of this growth, it was intriguing to hear some similar concerns to ones here in Christchurch: where are the men? (It was quite observable that women were the majority of each congregation. And this is so, despite the clergy of DWT being exclusively male, and the membership of vestries being strongly, though not exclusively, male.)
How do we hold our young people as they move into adulthood - out of education and into the wider world? Both questions are our questions here in Christchurch.
The concrete expression of munerical congregational growth in DWT was seeing the number of buildings being enlarged or replaced with larger churches or having been replaced with larger churches within the past decade. I was told that age-old questions concerning "buildings" versus "people" are discussed in this diocese, but it seems that "buildings" prevail. Apart from the obvious advantage that buildings confer on a congregation (a dedicated space to meet in, a space protected from the elements in which to gather), it struck me that church buildings - often the largest buildings in villages also stand as a testimony to the living God. Note, incidentally, that often in villages there were three large church buildings: Anglican, Catholic, Pentecostal.
Large recent church beside smaller former church
Seeing church growth in a diocese such as DWT made a great impression, not only about growth in people at worship, in size of church buildings and in new church plants, but also in the self-confidence of the African church. Our experience was of an Anglican church which has the confidence of knowing it is growing, it is contributing to community cohesion, and it is controller of its own destiny. Projects such as church builds and a new school being built no doubt benefit through support from outside of Tanzania, but at no point were appeals made to us for assistance nor was there talk about any regular supply of such external support. The sense we had was that this diocese is full of generous givers committed to development for a better future.
But the impression of self-confidence was also of a church which despite its origins in British/European/Australasian missionary work, had moved a long way on from dependency on a far off mother church. This was a post-colonial church developing its own style, character and engagement with Tanzanian society and culture.
The cultural situations of Tanzania and New Zealand are very different in many ways, though we share a love of smartphones! From a church and gospel perspective I have come away from Tanzania with the realization that churches engage with the cultural hand they are dealt with, and no church is necessarily better at that engagement than another.
In my understanding the cultural hand dealt to the Anglican church in Tanzania - or, at least, in the Diocese of Western Tanganyika - is one in which natural population growth offers opportunity for churches to naturally grow as children are brought up in the faith. (On population growth generally in Africa, see this NYT article).
Further, compared to the material, social, sporting and outdoor opportunities available in a country such as NZ (i.e. plenty of things to do at the weekend rather than participate in church), it struck me that there were few attractive alternatives in Tanzania to being involved in church. (Arguably, this situation, broadly speaking, has similarities with NZ in the 1950s: a "baby boom", few alternative activities to church on Sunday mornings, churches at the centre of community activities including church-based sports teams, churches being built as housing expanded in new suburbs in our cities).
Thirdly, my sense out of various conversations, is that in Tanzania, the general cultural attitude to faith (Christian or Islam) is that this is a good and normal thing. (Compare to NZ culture where actual Christian commitment demonstrated by regular church involvement is often seen as a weird and strange thing.) That is, the cultural hand dealt to the Anglican church, indeed all churches in Tanzania, is a pretty good hand to be dealt with when aspiring to lead churches into growth.
Put in another way, here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we are working hard to be church and to share the gospel of Christ in a challenging cultural milieu, with many things against that work - a hardened post-Christian indifference to the gospel, alternative activities in life, lives which through good health and material benefits mostly have no urgency about engaging with spiritual realities. We may be tempted to despair when we work so hard for the Lord, but we can and should rejoice: we are doing the Lord's work in this particular time and place and culture. Meanwhile, in Tanzania, church workers also work hard and they are doing the Lord's work in their particular time and place and culture and we rejoice with them in the growth which is taking place.
An image in my mind is that if culture is the sea and the church is a surfer with a surfboard then the wave of Western culture has crashed down on the Western church. As a result we are discombobulated, disrupted and distracted as we ask the question how can we get back on our surfboard and find again a wave to ride triumphantly.
By contrast, on this imagery, the Anglican church and other churches in Tanzania are riding the crest of a wonderful wave. May it never crash down on them!
I am very grateful for the support of the Church Property Trustees/Diocese of Christchurch in covering the expense of my return air tickets and other associated expenses of the trip. Air travel is not cheap these days - even when travelling economy - and the final thoughts here are my thoughts on the benefits of the visit to DWT for my ministry as Bishop in the Diocese of Christchurch.
In no particular order of priority:
- A general increase in breadth of experience and understanding of the role of bishop (I have not previously spent 11 days in the company of just one bishop!).
- A specific gain in understanding of African Anglicanism through a Tanzanian lens. African Anglicanism is both the majority Anglicanism in the globe today and the fastest growing part of global Anglicanism.
- I appreciated seeing with my own eyes the roles (i) culture and (ii) natural population growth are playing in the growth of Anglicanism in this part of the world.
- A particular insight into the role the Gafcon movement is playing in African Anglicanism: I learned that while GAFCON the conferene is appreciated, Gafcon the movement telling people whom they may or may not associate with in the Anglican Communion is not appreciated by all African Anglicans!
- In my own ministry, as a result of the visit I would like to review (or immediately change) the following aspects of ministry:
1. Joint visiting of ministers/parishes with the local Archdeacon.
2. Require specific ministry work to be undertaken in a parish by a person seeking ministry discernment. (For clarification: most people seeking discernment in our Diocese are working well on specific ministry tasks. )
3. Review how we give our monetary offerings during church services. (Without implying any specific change, I was taken by the active manner of giving in services in DWT, whereby each individual, including children, walked forward to place their offering in a collection basket/bowl.)
Finally, there is plenty to think about in respect of developing a relationship with DWT and/or another Tanzanian diocese, projects re education and parish ministry that might be supported, and an appropriate way or ways in which we might receive ministry here from DWT and/or another diocese.