Bulawayo Church

Main Street Methodist Church

As it’s Sunday it is time to visit a few churches. Our first stop is Main Street Methodist Church. As is typical of African churches we were welcomed as a team and invited to stand as the choir sang a welcome song for us. I love worship in African churches but this is my first time in a Methodist church in Africa. It is great to hear the music, the sound of a few simple instruments and the beauty of the singing. The church service is led in English but worship is in English, Shona and Ndebele. The language does not matter to me; I just feel the music and enjoy the opportunity to sing, to listen, and to dance.

I am pleasantly surprised that a woman is leading the service and in fact it is a woman who also preaches. I later learned that last year was the celebration of 40 years that women have been ordained in the Zimbabwe Methodist Church. I have been led to believe that we in the UK are so forward thinking and that women in ministry would be a problem for churches in the Global South. Well, perhaps we need to take a closer look and learn a few lessons.

Being the first Sunday in January the church is celebrating Covenant Sunday, as with Methodist churches around the world. New leaders are being inducted into their roles whilst those who have served their full term are being thanked. The secretary spoke to the new leaders and one of the things she said was

“Servant leadership is to bring the highest joy to those you serve.”

I am not particular a fan of the term ‘servant leadership’, it strikes be an oxymoron, and though I understand what people mean by it I am usually put off the use of it. I think for the first time someone has articulated what the term should really mean. I love the idea of seeking to serve others, particularly as a pastor, in such a way as to enable other to experience the highest joy. I will certainly be mulling on this and wondering how often the church is a place where the highest (or even the lowest) joy is felt or experienced.

Our preacher speaks on a passage from Romans 12 and focuses needing to find purpose in life. There are a couple of points that stick with me:

“The church does not belong to anybody. It is only God’s church.”

“Let us do what is pleasing to the Father.”

As I chatted with a couple of pastors during lunch these phrases ring true of their belief, ecclesiology and praxis.

We shared in communion. It is a blessing to know that wherever we are in the world the simple act of sharing in the bread and wine brings Christian’s together. Whatever language we speak we understand the act of breaking bread and come together in the death and resurrection of Christ. To do so in Zimbabwe as the choir sing “my chains are gone, I’ve been set free, I rose, set forth and follow thee” is very moving for me.

As the service finishes we are invited to process from the church following the pastor and the preacher to great everyone as they exit the building. There are handshakes, laughter and more singing.

North End Methodist Society

We visited a second church, though I learned that it was a society and not a church. The Methodist Church in Zimbabwe has main churches – such as Main Street that we visited initially and then there are societies or branches of that main church. I guess parallels might be a cathedral and parish churches. Although we have already been to church this service is still going. We come into the back of the church and listen to the sermon (another woman) in Ndebele. This is a smaller building with fewer people. In many ways I am reminded of my current church in the UK. The building is a similar size, there are a similar number of people and some of the children/ young people are being entertained by tablets and phones. However, they have a wonderful stained glass window that captured my attention for much of the service.

The leaders of our group are invited to bring greetings on our behalf and then the church sing for us so that we can enjoy their worship. They sing a song of praise, gradually a few women head towards the musicians at the front and join in with some dancing.

We are then asked if we would like to sing. There are a few nervous looks and then one of the congregations suggests we would like to hear more of their worship, we gratefully agree. Just as we thought we were safe, we were ushered to the front and encouraged to dance. I took advantage of the situation and headed for the drum. Suddenly there were a couple of members of the congregation pointing phones and taking video of our efforts. Sadly I don’t have any footage to share.

Again as the service ended we left the church and were invited to greet the entire congregation as the singing continued outside of the building. I had a cuddle with a baby (for those who know me this won’t be a surprise) and of course it made me miss my own kids more that I already do.

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