I was hungry… I was thirsty: Sharing food and faith

On the Sunday morning that we were in Matabeleland the Archdeacon of Southwark, the Venerable Jane Steen, preached at the 7am service at the Cathedral in Bulawayo.  It is extraordinary to see the difference in the congregations at the 7.00 and the 8.30 services.   The earlier service has a smaller (about 60!) congregation and is predominately older and white and the other has around 300 people and is predominately black and has more young families and young people.  It was extraordinary that as the Archdeacon preached a bird alighted on the pulpit and stayed there for much of the rest of the service turning attentively to the altar as the creed was said!

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The Dean preached at the later service and the Archdeacon of Southwark and I rushed of to St Peter, Njube, in the western suburbs of Bulawayo, to join Bishop Christopher who was already there with Bishop Cleophas. The service had started and the church was full to overflowing, with young people at Sunday school under the trees outside.  We featured some of the music and the children from Njube in the first blog about Matabeleland and so it is good to be able to say something about the way in which the parish serves the people.  Each Sunday they provide a plate of food for lunch for anyone who turns up for $1.  If it is anything like the food we received (and every one had the same plate when we were there) it is a really good way to spend a dollar and it makes sure that people get at least one full meal over the weekend and means that they have had at least one full meal in the week.

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The Vicar, Fr Manjengwa, took us proudly to see around his new rectory and we were able to see the car which the parish had recently acquired for him and which was waiting to be blessed by the Bishop. A car is so necessary for the clergy who often have stations (that is congregations without a church building) way out in the bush.  The members of the congregation of St Peter told us that their vicar was very busy and often out visiting people all over the parish and at the stations.  He has been there since 2010 as Bishop Cleophas decided that there should be a priest at this church which had not had one for thirteen years and was beginning to decline.  So he made sure that there was a decent rectory  and put in a priest and now the church is thriving and very full each Sunday and beginning to reach out to others and to draw them into the church.  It is amazing the difference that Fr Manjengwa’s leading has made to the parish and to the local people.

When he is not busy out visiting and running the parish he is busy raising chickens and crops.  He showed us the chicken hutch, explaining that it would be empty for a couple of days as we had just eaten the last of them in our fine lunch!

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Alongside the vicarage there is a field of maize which he has been carefully raising.   He stood among it and it was very tall, having survived the rains.  The chickens and the maize helped to feed his family and members of the congregation and some would be sold to raise a little money too.  But, more than that, his work here provided a good model for the congregation to help them to think about the things that they can do to help them to survive in these uncertain times.  As well as the maize there was an extraordinary orchard.  It is well established and we were told that this had been planted about 30 years ago by the confirmation classes.  Apparently, after the classes they would plant a tree and water it and watch it grow.

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Food is so important wherever we are but it is really clear as we travelled around the Dioceses in Zimbabwe that people are very concerned to make sure where ever they could that they were using any available land to grow food and raise chickens and other animals to try to find ways to ensure that everyone has enough. Many don’t have paid employment but have to work in the so called ‘black’ economy making a living in whatever way they can and thus they do not always have money to buy food from the shops, but grow it themselves and trade it or buy from street vendors.

After we left St Peter Njube we went back to Bishop Cleophas’ house and prepared to move on but, before we did, Bishop Christopher asked Bishop Cleophas to tell us a little about what was happening in his Diocese, focusing particularly on their Lay conference which works to highlight the importance of Lay ministry wherever there is church – just as we do in Southwark Diocese.

Just as we were leaving Bishop Cleophas showed us some empty sheds.  That may sound like an odd thing to say but these were very important sheds.  Here was where grain had been stored in order to service the feeding programmes which the Diocese of Matabeleland had been running over the last few months.  They had given out maize to schools and through the churches in order to ensure that people had some food during the very difficult times which they had been experiencing.  This maize was bought from monies which had come to the Diocese from their Kingston Area link.  It is this kind of important contribution to our Link Dioceses which is so significant as we move forward.  For, no matter how difficult we might find things here in our own lives, we have an abundance in comparison to the majority of those in our Link Dioceses.  But, although we may have more in material senses than our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe, I am always struck by the way in which they have a faith which they put into action.  We can learn a great deal from them as we share their stories of growing and sharing food and faith.

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