Monday, July 14, 2008

Out of Africa

Today, I'm glad I'm not a bishop. I can't help feeling that these jet-lagged men and women must feel rather as I used to on the school French Exchange, when our hosts had all sorts of socialising and sightseeing lined up for us and all I wanted to do was sit in the sun with a glass of kir. And tomorrow they all head south for Lambeth - in a bus. Apparently the Bishop of Karimnagar balked at this, but maybe he was thinking of a different type of bus. I hope theirs is a classy one.

However, the Bishop of Central Tanganyika was with us at Holy T yesterday, and made a huge impression. This youthful-looking man has already been a bishop for 19 years and still manages to exude joy and strength. Among the many things I learned was that his stipend is only enough to live on for 15 days a month. For the rest, he farms. I don't mean he owns a farm which someone else works: he takes off for three days at a time to live in a small hut on the farmland while he plants, tends and reaps. So when he preached on the day's gospel - the parable of the Sower - he really knew what he was talking about. The metaphorical weeds which choke his people's flowering are those of worry and survival - though, as he pointed out with some force, we are choked by wealth. Over lunch, we heard that most of the priests ordained in his diocese are non-stipendiary - they are encouraged to live off the land as they minister to those around them - but there is no shortage of vocations, with young men - and women - coming forward in droves.

The picture I came away with was of a country where people - Christian and Moslem - talk about God in the same way as we talk about the weather, where life is hard and precarious, where the scourge of HIV/Aids is still growing and has left 50,000 orphans, where clergy live and work alongside the people to whom they minister, sharing their lives and their worries. No wonder the church in Africa is growing. It must seem a great deal more relevant if you've been sweating alongside your priest one day and listening to what he or she (there are 15 female priests in Central Tanganyika) has to say on a Sunday. And it was good to know in the run-up to this Lambeth that there are people like Bishop Mdimi, assuring us that Africa is a huge and diverse country and that not all African bishops are like Bishop Akinola. So I shall be praying for someone I feel I know just a little in the weeks ahead - and feeling rather less ambivalent about the whole shebang.

Now, what jabs do you need to visit Tanzania?


  1. Sadly, it is the norm that African clergy farm as well as do their pastoral work in order to survive.

    BTW Africa is a continent not a country, but it is indeed diverse!

    As for jabs: tetanus, polio & diptheria up to scratch, yellow fever an absolute must, meningitis highly recommended as are the series of 3 for rabies if you are going rural. Mad dogs aren't the problem - bats are! And don't forget the malaria tablets!

    I think Tanzania is pretty much the same drill as Uganda being East Africa and that's what I needed for there! I've had more jags than me dog!

  2. for thought.

    I know we in America are a spoiled lot. Wealth abounds. Yes, we have our poor, but nothing like the suffering going on in many nations.

  3. Anonymous10:47 AM

    You should drop by Reluctant Memsahib's blog for some Tanzania stories.

  4. Dougal dear, you're such a wonderful pedant! Africa is indeed a continent.. I was carried away!