Spiritual healing is Anglican's new challenge

HARARE - Ex-communicated and disgraced former Anglican clergyman, Nolbert Kunonga, is gone but there is a visible reminder of the chaos his disputed leadership caused within this organisation.

The Supreme Court brought to an end a bitter feud between Kunonga and Chad Gandhiya over the properties following a splinter of the church caused by a fall-out centred on its origins.

Gandhiya is the man who is now at the helm of the Anglican Harare Diocese Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA).

But the Anglican Church is battling to deal with the scars and trauma of the Kunonga era.

“We have challenges as priests together on how to minister to a people who were hurt the way they were, people who were traumatised. We should not underestimate the trauma that some of our people and children went through,” Gandhiya told the Daily News this week.

“The greatest challenge is that of healing. I know that the nation is also in need of healing. We are a greatly traumatised people. When you look at the traumas that we have gone through as a nation and when you add the traumas of the church that then underscores the need for healing.

“As a diocese, we are playing our part in some little way to the healing of our people not just those who are in the church but for those that are outside. It is quite a big challenge and one that is not achieved overnight.”

During the bitter fight over the control of Anglican Church and its properties, the clergy and parishioners were subjected to sorry conditions.

As Kunonga lived in the comfort of the properties and held sway over a few followers, the majority of the parishioners congregated either in rented buildings or held services under trees.

While Gandhiya said all is forgiven, he remains fixated on the challenges that the diocese is faced with.

“We try to help our people as we journey with them through that process. I have come out openly even before the judgment that actually Kunonga, in his own personal capacity, I have no problems with,” said the British and America-trained bishop.

“The gospel teaches us to forgive and I am under obligation to live the gospel that I preach of forgiveness. I pray the Lord’s Prayer at least two, three times a day. And one section of that prayer says, ‘forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

“I take it very seriously. It’s difficult, I admit. But with God’s help I believe it is possible. And that is the gospel that I have encouraged our priests to preach and accept all those who want to come and worship with us regardless of whether they are with us during the exile or not.

“Anybody who wants to come back and genuinely want to worship God, we do not ostracise them. I think the experience of many is that they have been welcomed to their pleasant surprise,” said Gandhiya.

 “I remember when I was visiting Guruve some of the people had been told that if you go back you will be beaten. And they were testifying that you people have a different spirit. For sure we do have a different spirit, we don’t beat anybody. We are there to preach and live the gospel.”

The scars of the battle for control of Anglican are written all over the church, something which Gandhiya confirmed.

“We do face a number of challenges. Although the courts resolved legally the issue; the mopping up exercise is going to take us a few years. We discovered that there is over $641 000 worth of shares that were taken from our investment company, Imara.

“We are trying to find out what happened to that money. That is one area. The other (area) is that pieces of land were sold to individuals. For example, in Chitungwiza we have the St Mary’s Mission. As far as we are concerned these are pieces of land that were sold illegally because the matter had not been resolved,” said Gandhiya.

“We have various vehicles and church equipment that are missing. We have reported these to our lawyers and they are taking it up.

“And at one level you have that kind of mopping up to do. Unfortunately it is costly but as bishop I owe it to the diocese to get to the bottom of all this because the investment money was not an individual’s investment. It was public money and we owe it to the diocese to explain to them what happened.”

Most of the buildings were run down during the time Kunonga desecrated the church by sub-letting some of the parishes, including the Cathedral.

The Anglican Church, said Gandhiya, is saddled with huge debts that were incurred during the time they were in “exile.”

“A number of churches found out that debts were accrued during those five years. When we moved back at this building, they were owing $89 000 to the Harare City Council, Zesa, $10 000 and TelOne, $5 000.

“That is a lot of money. Unfortunately the creditors are demanding it from us even though it was public knowledge that we were not in control of what was happening here,” he said.

“Our wish is that they should have demanded this way back from the people who were using the building. We are struggling to pay those debts. We are paying them but we are struggling. Because we have the ongoing work of the diocese and when you add these debts it is just crippling.

“I am grateful to the members of the  diocese of Harare for their sacrificial giving. They are the ones who have kept us going. When we moved back we were literally starting from scratch. We had nothing in terms of money in the bank. These are some of the challenges that we face.”

The epic battle for control of the Anglican Church started in August 2007 when Kunonga withdrew from the CPCA.

At the time, the Zanu PF-aligned clergyman falsely claimed he had pulled from the CPCA because of the latter’s support for homosexuality — prompting a protracted battle for control of one of the biggest churches in the country.

CPCA has more than 70 parishes.

In July 2009, High Court judge Ben Hlatshwayo ruled in favour of the renegade bishop, who went on to purge the church as he installed his relatives to influential position as pastors.

Kunonga also relied on brute police force to eject Anglicans from their churches, but the tables turned against him as police descended on him and his hangers-on following the landmark November 19 Supreme Court ruling.

Gandhiya paid tribute to “well-meaning” Zimbabweans including inter-denominational colleagues who mitigated their situation in different forms.

“We often tell our people that when we were in exile, God blessed us in many ways. In terms of our own growth as a denomination, we found that more and more people wanted to become members of our church,” he recalled.

“Numerically we grew and we continue to grow. But also one of the things that started happening because we had no access to many of our properties, individual parishes started to acquire properties. So there were material blessings.

“We also developed new relationships and old relationships were also strengthened; not just within our church but ecumenically, both locally and internationally. The number of people who were praying for us was phenomenal,” Gandhiya told the Daily News.

“The church in general realised and took very seriously the Bible teaching that when one suffers we suffer together and when one rejoices we rejoice together. I think for the first time, a number of churches made their realisation and took it very seriously, hence the moral support they gave us.

“So ecumenically, our relationships as far as we are concerned, are good. It’s one of the good things that came out the saga.”

He said while things had gone back to normalcy; there are a few concerns in Mashonaland East.

“The only disturbing thing that I have come across during the last two weeks when I was in Kotwa, coming to Murewa, was that some of the former leaders in Kunonga’s church were threatening some of our people.

“A story I heard was that they had certain names of members of our church and they will deal with them when elections come.  

“And I tell our people that all our leaders have come out openly that they don’t want violence and that they should not allow themselves to be intimidated. They should report anybody who tries to foment violence."

“Apart from that we have been able to worship freely without any disturbances. The police have also been helpful.”

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