Thought experiment: the Diocese of Lake Malawi

We receive regular correspondence from Anglican Information about developments in the diocese of Lake Malawi in the province of Central Africa. Why should American and British readers care about what is happening in that far away corner of the Anglican Communion? In part because an injustice is being done to the lay people of the diocese, and in part because what is happening in Lake Malawi reveals the double standard that currently exists both in the Anglican Communion and in the media.

What if the Diocese of Lake Malawi were a conservative American diocese rather than a relatively liberal African one? Would the Anglican Communion and the American and British media be paying more attention? People are being forced for ideological and political reasons to accept a bishop they didn’t elect, yet no one seems to notice.

To read the latest report from Anglican Information, click Read more.

The Diocese of Lake Malawi: Readers will recall that in July 2005 the electoral body of the Diocese of Lake Malawi and Central African Province voted by overwhelming majority to elect the Rev’d Nicholas Henderson of London, England as Bishop of Lake Malawi. [Cafe editor’s note: Anglican Information supports Henderson, so keep that bias in mind. We don’t have an opinion about Henderson, but think what is happening is worthy of note.] Henderson has had a long and creditable history of involvement in the Diocese and his integrity or faith have never been questioned.

However, due to outside interference the then Archbishop of the Province, Bernard Malango, contrived to ensure that the subsequent but delayed Court of Confirmation was finally held in November 2005. This Court, which is now understood to have been uncanonically conducted, declared that the bishop-elect was of ‘demonstrable unsound faith’, without any evidence, any opportunity of redress or defence, or any indication of what actually constituted ‘unsound faith’. It is salutary to note that, apart from the now discredited Malango, two of those accusing Henderson of ‘unsound faith’ are now excommunicated and fighting a violent battle against the province in Zimbabwe.

Since this shameful episode priests and people have courageously stood up to the provincial bishops and insisted that justice be done and the whole case revisited. A three-year-long struggle between authoritarian bishops (reluctant to admit their fault and angry with what they see as a usurping by the laity) and the people has ensued.

At one point a resolution of this problem was almost achieved by the Rt Rev’d Trevor Mwamba of Botswana, as Dean of the Province, before he was summarily sacked by the then outgoing Archbishop Bernard Malango. Mwamba had agreed with the people to an independent Provincial Court. Bernard Malango replaced Trevor Mwamba with the current acting Dean Albert Chama of Northern Zambia who, as a Malango appointee, is resolutely opposed to dialogue or a Provincial Court. In these circumstances and as a last resort the people have charged the bishops with civil action in the judicial Court of Malawi. The whole saga is catalogued in full on our website.

We have been asked to issue the resolutions of the latest meeting of the House of Laity which are reproduced below:


Extract from the Minutes of a Meeting of the House of Laity, Diocese of Lake Malawi Diocese held in St Peter’s Anglican Hall, Lilongwe, on Saturday 17th January 2009.

The purpose of the meeting was to update each other of what is going on in the diocese and to consider a way forward with the case which is still in court.


The Meeting agreed to wait for the court judgment on Thursday, 22nd January

2009 at 8.30 am. In this case the House of Laity is asking the Leadership of

the Church for an inter-party hearing.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION observes that this is a perfectly reasonable

request and it is ridiculous that the bishops have resisted it and allowed a

case to go to court.

2. The House of Laity welcomes the news of confirmation of the children who

have been waiting for the rite for along time. On condition that is done by the

Bishop Biggers or any other bishop who is in good standing with the Laity.

The Laity feel this could be the beginning of civilized dialogue between

leadership and Laity. This is a better way of handling spiritual issues.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION has previously reported that the bishops had

placed the diocese under an

undeclared interdict, with a deliberate policy of deprivation of sacramental

services. Bishop Jackson Biggers is formerly of Northern Malawi, now in

retirement in Malawi. It should be noted that not all the serving provincial

bishops are mistrusted by the people.

3. On issue of keys laity is willing to surrender the keys if the Vicar General and

the Dean engage with them in dialogue.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION has previously reported the confiscation of keys

for the diocesan vehicle, which was being misused, and the willingness of the

people to engage in discussion about their return.

4. The Laity also question why the leadership does not send communication

regarding the outcome of the meetings held at provincial level which affect

Lake Malawi diocese in good time. Instead we hear only these issues from

the grapevine. The Laity believe that the Vicar-General is accountable to

them, therefore he is under an obligation to inform the Laity of what is going

on in the diocese. The Church lacks transparency in its dealing.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION notes that the Diocese of Lake Malawi is

emerging as a significant case (now being observed with interest in the

wider Anglican Communion) where an old style authoritarian episcopal

leadership is slowly being forced into the modern world. The bishops will

have, at some point, to give way to a more authentic Anglican episcopal

oversight of the ‘Bishop in Synod’ leading by consensus, not diktat.

If the last three remarkable years prove anything it is that no longer can the

people be kept in the dark, no longer can bishops simply impose their will.

Modern communications provide information and with information comes

power and responsibility. In the long-run, once the bishops have grasped this

fact, the much-troubled Central African Province will emerge the better.

Jean Msosa


House of Laity Lake Malawi Diocese

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