SOUTHERN AFRICA: Anglican church in Mozambique growing fast, bishop says

September 29, 2009

In the richer countries of the world, churches of the Anglican Communion are facing dwindling congregations but it is a different story in one of the poorest areas of the globe, in Mozambique.

"Something that is not growing is not alive, and we are growing," U.S.-born Mark van Koevering, the bishop of Niassa in the African country, said at a service in London on September 19.

Speaking at St. John's Church in Waterloo to mark the 103rd anniversary of the Mozambique and Angola Anglican Association, van Koevering said, "Almost 150 years ago, Charles Frederick Mackenzie came to Niassa ... He died within six months of arriving, having established four churches. There are now 136 Christian communities and 8,000 to 9,000 Christians in the diocese."

In a briefing after the service to supporters of the Mozambique and Angola association, known as MANNA, the bishop said that although his parishioners were some of the poorest people in the world, "they are all courageously facing up to the enormous challenges which followed destructive wars in which the Anglican church played a prominent role in establishing peace."

Van Koevering's wife, the Rev. Helen van Koevering, also serves as a priest in Mozambique.

The bishop said that within the Portuguese-speaking parts of Mozambique in the main urban areas, the Anglican church is growing fast and is only being held back by a lack of funds for training clergy and lay people, as well as for church building and transport.

"We are catholic [universal] but evangelism is absolutely central, and we are charismatic," he added. "We can't sit still. We have to get up and sing and dance. It helps to remove divisions between church people."

The bishop celebrated his sixth anniversary as bishop of the Niassa diocese in northern Mozambique on September 14, 2009. When he became bishop, there were only 18 ordained priests for an area three times the size of Great Britain.

Now there are 45 priests and 100 candidates for ordained and lay ministry, including Niassa's first female candidate.

MANNA was founded in 1906 by a group of Anglican clerics who had worked in Africa and were concerned about social problems there.

Its original task in Mozambique, explained MANNA's general secretary, Ian Gordon, "was to support the work of the Anglican diocese of Lebombo [founded in 1893] in southern Mozambique. Subsequently, the work in the north of the country was incorporated and later divided into a second diocese of Niassa."

The two Mozambique-based dioceses of Niassa and Lebombo are part of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which also includes the Republic of South Africa, the Republic of Namibia, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Kingdom of Swaziland and Angola.