The game is on. Journalists have started their game of speculating without reason on the internal workings of the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The whistle has blown, the runners are lined up, and now we’ll get a race to see who can guess the best story. How exciting… er… or maybe not quite.

I thought the silly season had finished with the ending of the summer break. However, I was clearly wrong. But, the race they describe is the wrong one – the only ‘race’ is between the newspapers.

The media are running with the Telegraph’s speculative story about the retirement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite the accurately vague language that is used in these reports, it is sadly inevitable that many people with think them credible. I don’t blame the writers for amusing themselves in this way, but the readers need to ask themselves a few questions.

Let’s start with the headline in the Times: “Bishops line up to don Williams’ robes”. Can someone tell us just how bishops ‘line up’? What’s the process? The facts are: (a) there isn’t one, (b) no bishops are interested in playing this sort of game, (c) bishops cannot put themselves in the frame even if they wanted to, and (d) bishops are usually too busy doing their work to bother with this stuff.

“Bishops are placing themselves under starter’s orders in the race to become next Archbishop of Canterbury”. Er… who and how? I understand the use of the metaphor, but it doesn’t work in this case. There is no race. There is no competition. There is no ‘finishing line’. The horses don’t know that they are running or where the jumps are that they didn’t know they were required to jump.

It simply doesn’t work like this. If any particular bishop was being considered, he probably wouldn’t know. He couldn’t influence the process anyway. Unlike some other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, there is no election to be fought, no lobbying to be done, no one to lobby and no ‘ultimate prize’. One newspaper report speaks of “some apparent jockeying for position among Dr Williams’ potential successors”. How would a potential successor actually do this ‘jockeying’? Just asking.

You’d have to be out of your mind to want to be Archbishop of Canterbury. My guess is that whoever is asked to do it next will have to be dragged to the seat.

Just read this in today’s Telegraph: “The Archbishop is thought to be under pressure from some senior colleagues to move aside…”. Er… ‘is thought’ by whom (other than the media who would like a good story)?

Anyway, all this speculation is based on another misleading use of language. Why would Rowan be ‘retiring early’ by leaving when he thinks it best for the Church to do so? The fact that any of us can go on until we reach 70 doesn’t mean we should – and most bishops don’t. There would be no sinister significance in the timing of a retirement.

I have no idea when Rowan thinks he might retire. I doubt if anyone else does. Journalists certainly don’t. We can all speculate, but that’s all it is.

And most of us have a life to live and work to do and will leave this media game (for, entertaining though it obviously is, that is all it is) to the media.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Oxford

While I was the Bishop of Croydon in the Diocese of Southwark I was heavily engaged with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, particularly with the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe. I have posted frequently on Zimbabwe and what is happening there. (However, I cannot embed links on this iPad, so type ‘Zimbabwe’ into the search box and you will find them.)


In brief, the former Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, went bad and eventually was ousted as Bishop of Harare seven or eight years ago. He is no longer regarded as an Anglican, let alone a bishop. He was specifically not invited to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

However, he has continued to use the favour of Robert Mugabe, the courts and the police to pursue ownership and possession of the churches, houses and assets of the Church in Zimbabwe. All this despite the fact that the properties belong in law to the Province of the Church of Central Africa – to which Kunonga does not belong.

The bishops in Zimbabwe have long trusted that their very expensive counter-claims would be upheld by the courts on the obvious grounds that Kunonga has no case in law. However, in the upside-down world of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the rule of law is now finally and incontrovertibly dead. A few days ago the courts ruled in favour of Kunonga and Kunonga has now started to evict families of non-loyal (to him, that is) priests from their houses and churches. He and his violent henchmen are now moving across Zimbabwe claiming land and property. They are backed by the police who have shown themselves ready to use violence.

This is not a church issue – especially not simply an ‘Anglican’ issue. Nor is it a religious matter. It is a human rights matter and concerns the rule of law. I have observed many times before that until the rule of law is established in Zimbabwe nothing is sacred and nothing is secure.

Anyone who wishes to might email their MP or the Foreign Secretary to ask what the British Government is doing to object to the Zimbabwean Government or to consult other governments or bodies such as SADC as to a response.

Here follows the text of a communique issued last week by the Anglican Communion Office:

Posted On : August 16, 2011 9:30 AM | Posted By : Admin ACO
ACNS: http://www.aco.org/acns/news.cfm/2011/8/16/ACNS4925
Related Categories: Zimbabwe

An Anglican priest in Zimbabwe and his family have been evicted from their home by priests loyal to excommunicated bishop Dr Nolbert Kunonga. Others across the diocese have also been ordered to leave.

The Revd Dzikamai Mudenda at Mabvuku, his wife and their extended family, were forced to leave St James Mabvuku in Harare in the wake of a High Court judgement that Dr Kunonga had interim custody of church properties.

Other priests living in parish rectories have received stamped copies of the High Court judgment from supporters of Dr Kunonga who, in one case, were accompanied by the police. The priests, including Friar Joshua from Bishop Gaul College, have all been told to move out.

The Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, Bishop of Harare, said yesterday that alternative accommodation has been found for Revd Mudenda and are preparing for the eviction of their other priests.

“Our parishes are busy finding alternative accommodation for them,” he said. “We don’t know who he is going to put in these houses. This is not going to be easy at all. It will disrupt their family life and ministry. I have been busy this evening getting in touch with my priests and encouraging them.”

A recent judgment in Zimbabwe’s High Court that upheld Bishop Chad appointment as Harare’s bishop also gave Dr Kunonga custodianship of all church properties—ones that actually belong to the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

“Kunonga was given custodianship of CPCA properties when he no longer a member of our church and province and he is now evicting CPCA priests and we don’t know who he is going to put in these houses. God help us.”

The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has been under attack from the excommunicated bishop, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, since 2007. Kunonga, with the support of police and henchmen, has seized CPCA church property and used violence and to break up church services. In a recent media interview Dr Kunonga was quoted as saying he aimed to control the 3,000 Anglican churches, schools, hospitals and other properties in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi.

ENDS

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Philadelphia, USA

It is only 28 days until the partition of Sudan. On 9 July the country will be divided into two. Since the fate of the country was decided in a referendum, people have been moving either north or south, depending on their ethnic or religious allegiance. The referendum was part of the agreement to stop violence and find a way forward for the country after internal conflict of substantial violence.

Hopes for a peaceful transition are bleeding into the ground.

The Diocese of Bradford has very close links with Northern Sudan which is largely Islamic. The newest Anglican Bishop, Saman, came over here for my enthronement as Bishop of Bradford only a few weeks ago. In the last few days military assaults on Christian communities have left churches and homes destroyed, people dead and bishops hunted. This is what is happening on the ground, as reported in heartbreaking messages from Kadugli:

…the fighting took place in June between the Northern SPLA and government soldiers… people have fled and in my house alone there are more than 25 persons excluding  my  family. So I need urgent support to feed and transport some who would like to  proceed to another city or who may like to  return back if the situation becomes stable and that is my hope. hundreds are in El Obeid now and more are on the way to El Obeid…

Yesterday I reported Militia and SAF troops (of the ruling party in Sudan) burning the entire offices of the Diocese of Kadugli (Episcopal Church of the Sudan) plus Cyber Cafe building with all computer and equipment… also mentioned breaking into the  Church House looting all property… With grief today I want inform you that new Cathedral which was build two years ago is burned down. By this we lost everything of the Church in Kadugli Town. The church was targeted. I was informed and warned that the Militia and NCP troops were looking for me as a head of the church, and Rev Luka to get rid of us after they destroyed all property of the church.

Many civilians took refuge in UN Compound at Shair. When the SAF troops came the UN handed the civilians to SAF and were killed. Now SAF are using UN base to fight SPLA troops. We do request urgent intervention of international community to stop the killings and restore peace in the region, and to review  the mandate of the UN in Kadugli.

The Archdeacon of Bradford has summarised the position as follows:

Fighting has broken out in Kadugli which is the capital of South Kordofan – one of the states on the border of north and south Sudan.  UN reports than ten thousand people have fled the city centre and many more have travelled to neighbouring states seeking safe refuge.  Government tanks and soldiers entered Kadugli on Sunday after a police station was attacked by gunmen on Saturday night.  The Government of Sudan has announced that it is ‘cleansing the town of armed rebels’ as it seeks to disarm groups who supported southern Sudan.

Tonight soldiers with guns are roaming round Kadugli stealing whatever they want and shooting can be heard day and night. An unknown number of civilians and troops have been killed. All UN agencies in Kadugli have suspended their activities and withdrawn to the secure UN compound near the airport.  The airport has been seized by the government soldiers and is now closed.  In the city, looting and fighting have reduced after the first clashes.  The capital city Kadugli is now under military control and is still very dangerous; much of the city is deserted.

The fighting is spreading out into the state as the northern government uses tanks and aircraft to flush out armed militias.  These groups had been ordered by the government in Khartoum to leave the state by June 1st as preparation for the split on 9 July. After 1 June, any who remain in South Kordofan ‘are legitimate targets’.

The Diocese of Kadugli has lost motorbikes when the Bishop’s house was broken into whilst Bishop Andudu is away on a visit to the United States. Diocesan office staff fled for safety.  Many people have travelled west to El Obeid (where the next door Anglican Diocese of El Obeid is based) where Bishop Ismail is arranging to feed and help 700 people. The Diocese of Bradford has sent out £1,000 immediately and is raising more funds to send out early next week.

South Kordofan lies in the future North Sudan and is the only oil producing area which the north will retain.  The border between North and South runs  along the southern boundary of South Kordofan and is the home of as many as 60,000 former soldiers who fought for the south against the north.  South Kordofan is close to Abyei where there is still no agreement of where the border will run and there has been a lot of fighting in recent months and many have died.  This is a tense and volatile part of Sudan and could be a flashpoint in any future hostilities between north and south. The north wants to get rid of all subversive elements and has been increasing the presence of troops and tanks for months.

Bishop Ismail has asked for assistance to feed and help up to 700 displaced people in and around his home.  The Diocese of Bradford has sent £1,000 immediately and is raising more funds.  We wait to hear from Bishop Andudu what help we might offer for Kadugli Diocese.

I have issued an appeal this evening and called the churches of the Diocese of Bradford to prayer and generous support this weekend. Anyone else wishing to contribute can send cheques made payable to BDBF, marked ‘Kadugli Appeal’ and sent to: BDBF, Kadugli House, Elmsley Street, Steeton, Keighley BD20 6SE. Updates may be found on the diocesan website at www.bradford.anglican.org.

I’ve always thought that if there is nothing to say, then there is no point trying to say it. So, I won’t go looking for things to blog about just for the sake of blogging something or anything.

Even watching the wonderful Kop singing again as Liverpool beat Lille at Anfield doesn’t merit too many words – just relieved admiration.

I can’t even be bothered to write about any of the things that are filling my days – from visiting great clergy to creative meetings and lots of speaking engagements via writing commitments. Boredom is not something with which I am threatened.

But I will write about Bob Stumbles. I have never met him, but I have read him and followed him for the last seven years since I came to Croydon and joined the link with the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe. Everything in Zimbabwe was coloured by the shameful betrayal of the Anglican Church by the appalling Nolbert Kunonga, the now-ousted Bishop of Harare.

Kunonga, supported by Robert Mugabe and his self-preserving henchmen, expropriated white farms, supported violence against opponents of Mugabe, saw his diocese as his personal possession, attempted to grab the Province of Central Africa for himself and has spent the last few years intimidating those who no longer recognise him as a bishop.

Kunonga (now followed by the ousted bishop of Manicaland, Elson Jakazi), illegally protected and defended by a craven police force, continues to defy the courts – claiming churches and church property for himself. His supporters intimidate and beat those faithful Anglicans who try to worship in their own churches or communities.

There is currently a case going through the courts in Harare to secure a final judgement in favour of the Province and against the corrupt Kunonga. The recent and current Bishops of Harare (Sebastian Bakare and Chad Gandiya) have shown enormous courage in challenging Kunonga and offering strong leadership to their people in the face of overwhelming odds. The saga continues, as do the relationships with the Dioceses of Southwark and Rochester, with a strong sense of God’s justice and the guts to pray and work for it.

This is not about the church as institution. It is about an abused country, an abused people and a church that gives its own blood to serve the people who suffer under the jackboot of Mugabe’s megalomania.

But the largely unknown hero of this struggle has been a lawyer called Bob Stumbles. As Chancellor of the Diocese of Harare he has challenged Kunonga and Mugabe every step of the way – and at considerable personal cost. Fired by faith in the God of justice and inspired by love for the Anglican Church and its vocation, he has attended to the legal detail of the struggle and remained diligent in the face of all intimidation.

I heard today that Bob Stumbles died of a heart attack yesterday. This is bad news for the church’s struggle – especially while the court case proceeds. But this faithful man deserves honour, respect and love for all he has done. His work is over, but it is essential his legacy does not die with him.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory. And may he never be forgotten when the history books get written.

When I was back in Zimbabwe in August 2009 things were looking up. The shops were full, life and commerce were picking up and the police seemed to be encouraging a return to the rule of law. That seems to be in doubt now.

Last week the new Bishop of Manicaland, Julius Makoni, was stopped from attending an episcopal meeting abroad by detention and harrassment at Harare Airport. This was at the behest of the ousted ex-Anglican Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga.

This follows repeated episodes of harrassment of churches in the Dioceses of Harare and Manicaland – again at the behest of the ousted ex-bishop. Congregations are being prevented from using their church buildings and violence is being used by the police to intimidate the Anglicans for whom Kunonga is no longer their bishop.

Kunonga is not recognised as a bishop in the Anglican Communion. Yet, he continues to be supported by Mugabe who also seems to be keen (once again) to support his indefensible ecclesiastical supporter.

It is important that people know what is happening there. What happens to Anglican opponents of a deposed and discredited bishop is a good guide to whether the rule of law (essential to the future recovery of Zimbabwe at lots of levels) is being restored or ignored.

Yesterday I addressed a group of people at a law firm in the City about Zimbabwe. These wonderful people have an ‘austerity lunch’ of bread and cheese and donate to the ‘project’ under discussion – which, yesterday, was Zimbabwe. I was invited because the Diocese of Southwark is deeply involved with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe and I have been out there on my own and leading a group visit.

It was a good coincidence that I got home in the evening to hear that the Zimbabwean Dollar has been dumped and that foreign currencies are now allowed across the economy. This is only legalising what has been happening anyway – the parallel market has been operating in US dollars for years. Then, today, I heard that the MDC has voted to enter government with Zanu PF. This is precarious and we will have to wait and see what actually happens as plans are taken forward during the next two weeks. The MDC could find itself compromised and then more easily discarded by Mugabe later.

Yet, despite this news, I still get almost daily reports of human rights activists going missing, torture and abuse of prisoners, intimidation of MDC and Church people, and corruption at every level. The vital prerequisite for any improvement in the lives of Zimbabwe and her people is the restoration of the rule of law. Court judgements in respect of ownership of finances, accounts and property made against the ousted Anglican Bishop of Harare, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, have not been implemented  – and Kunonga, with the backing of Mugabe’s men, continues to steal money, retain possession of churches, intimidate anyone who denies him support and makes a mockery of justice.

The law firm people I addressed have asked to donate £1000 towards important projects in Central Zimbabwe. Wonderful stuff that will make a real difference now that foreign currency can be used and we don’t have to do dodgy things with currencies.

Today has also seen the publication of a statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the launch of the ‘Faiths Working Together’ Fund for rebuilding civilian lives in Gaza and relieving suffering in Israel through the work of Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. This is surely a sensitive and laudable attempt by Christians, Jews and Muslims in this country to address the humanitarian need without regard for causes of conflict, ethnicity or status. The link also gives advice on how to donate.

Why set this up when DEC is already doing the business? Well, I guess it is in order to demonstrate what many secularists prefer to ignore: people of different religions working together for the common good and going beyond the arguments that sometimes appear to sterilise effective action. Good stuff.