World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
150, route de Ferney PO Box 2100 1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland E-mail: media

6 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 12

A key feature of the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, were visits on Sunday (6 December) to churches in the city and surrounding towns by groups drawn from the 4,000 delegates, visitors and staff. These four thumbnail sketches hint at the variety of worship on offer.

In the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Harare, the fragrance of incense mingled with ancient liturgical melodies . Worshippers prayed beneath icons and large paintings of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, the Temptation in the wilderness and other events in the life of Christ.

Parishioners were crowded together with Assembly visitors in the main sanctuary and in the balcony, and latecomers found themselves standing in the aisles. Perspiring videographers and photographers were busy at the front of the church and occasionally stood in the pulpit to get a good vantage point, but most worshippers seemed undisturbed by the activity. Many entertained babies in their pews or turned to kiss and to converse with late arrivers.

Bishops and priests from many nations and Orthodox churches participated in the ritual of the Eucharist, including His Beatitude Petros, Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. Also present, according to a visiting priest, were Orthodox Church leaders from Albania, Antioch, Constantinople, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Jerusalem, Poland, Russia, the United States and Zimbabwe.

His Eminence Metropolitan Makarios of Zimbabwe welcomed delegates and visitors to the service. "As we enter a new millennium of Christian history, we Orthodox have many reasons to rejoice," he said. Makarios cited new freedom of worship for Coptic Orthodox in Egypt and for the Church in Russia. "After the swift and unexpected collapse of Communism, the thousand-year-old Russian Orthodox Church emerged unchanged."

"The Orthodox Church in Zimbabwe is growing," he said. "We are predominantly Greek but by no means exclusively so, as you can see by looking around." Several worshippers and participants in the service were from Zimbabwe and the Metropolitan predicted that the first priest from Zimbabwe would soon be ordained. "We look forward to the day when there will be a network of Orthodox churches around Zimbabwe."

"We welcome you all," Makarios said. "We can experience the joy and privilege of witnessing the joy of Orthodoxy. The greatest of gifts is the Divine Liturgy . . . The only thing that the angels in heaven may envy of us is the Divine Liturgy", which had remained unchanged for over a thousand years.

In Mbare, one of the oldest and densely populated towns of Harare, Assembly members attended St Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church. The service was conducted in Shona, one of the main local languages, by the Rev. Horst Ulbrich, who prayed to God for a blessing on all delegates to the Assembly.

The service was interspersed with singing, dancing, drumming and ululating, a sequence broken to offer gifts and to partake of Holy Communion. The congregation welcomed their visitors and asked them to stand up as their names were called. One of them, Brother Pascal Jordan from the West Indies, was requested to speak.

Dressed in a white robe tied with a black belt, he brought greetings from his country and encouragement: "Press on, do the work you have to do, God is with you. Greetings of solidarity! We are with you, particularly in your suffering." Brother Jordan thanked the people for their singing, dancing and drumming, especially the women. He called on the men to strike up a rhythm and dance - before he danced his own way from the altar.

Portraits adorned the walls of the church, ranging from pictures of the Virgin Mary, the Infant Jesus in the stable, and Christ on the Cross to traditional local scenes, with a padare (the Shona word for meeting place), children in a playground and women cooking.

Women members of the congregation wore a variety of uniforms, ranging from blue cloaks over white dresses to purple cloaks. Men did not wear uniforms, but sported cloths of varying colours which, like the women's uniforms, showed their rank in the church. But younger members of the congregation did not wear uniforms or cover their hair, preferring fashionable clothing.

A highlight of the service was a wedding ceremony for two long-time members of the church. The wedding procession added to the colours in the service, with the bridesmaids in bright red organza outfits, the men in black and white checked jackets with black trousers, girls in lacy red and white dresses, and boys in red T-shirts and black trousers.

In Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe's third largest city, another striking church scene greeted Assembly guests. Nearly 200 people sang, danced between the rows of seats and in the aisles, clapped their hands and prayed in tongues. They ceremonially washed and dried the visitors' hands and offered them cool drinks, cake and biscuits. When the guests left after the second hour of the three-hour service, the whole congregation sang and danced with them, holding their hands and going to the door to say farewell.

They were from the Christian Marching Church, formed in Zimbabwe in 1956 and derived from the Salvation Army. Its people use tambourines - as only Africans could use them - as well as African drums and "hosho', traditional rattles made from small, dried pumpkins. Everything not said in tongues was in English or Shona, each language being translated to the other.

The Gospel reading was the story of Christ calming the waters. "We have problems, like those people in the boat," the local minister, the Rev Richard Shambare, said. "Jesus was asleep. They woke him and the problems were solved. In our lives there are lots of problems. If we put our trust in Jesus, we will be safe."

Chitungwiza is a resettlement housing area established in the late Sixties, with six or seven families in each of the small houses. Mr Shambare explained before the service: "The unemployment here is more than 60 percent. Those who have work are mainly self-employed, selling things like vegetables. Some work in the industrial area, very close by. The big clothes and textile factory closed recently and 6,000 people lost their jobs. There were just abandoned."

Among the children, Leo 11, walks to church each Sunday with his sister, Colleen, 7, his brother, David, 8, and his parents. "It takes one and a half hours to walk here and the same to walk back. But we do it because this is the best church and I trust it."

In New Mabvuku, a community 25 kilometres outside Harare that would once have been called a township and is now styled "a high-density suburb", stands the Church of Central African Presbyterian. The small, single-storey concrete chapel is across a broad, dusty road from the market place, where tables were set out with vegetables and fruit, and chickens clucked in a metal cage.

The church serves two congregations. After members of the Dutch Reformed Church had filed out from their worship, the Presbyterians began to gather for a harvest thanksgiving, though without the display of produce familiar to Western churchgoers. A circle of two dozen children clapped, sang, swayed and giggled as a teenage girl in the centre kept rhythm on a tall drum. Behind them, a white wooden cross hung against the blue chancel wall, and a simple table and pulpit were decorated with flowers whose vases were rusty catering tins covered with pages cut from magazines.

A similar number of adults took their places on dark wooden benches beneath the asbestos roof, on one side the men and on the other the women, some of whom wore a membership uniform of white hat and blouse and black skirt. They all clapped their way through a hymn of praise driven along by the drum and rattles, and then the choir of four men and four women slipped into that soft, harmonious, unaccompanied singing that so enchants visitors to Africa.

Pastor Tinashe Chemvumi, a young, broad-shouldered six-footer, his clerical collar set off by a green shirt and yellow jacket, prayed with his people in Shona and offered a smiling welcome to the WCC guests. As they introduced themselves and one brought a special greeting and gifts from Presbyterians in Missouri, the congregation applauded and whooped, then listened attentively as a sermon by a Church of Sweden clergyman, preached in English, was translated phrase by phrase into Shona by a church elder.

But for WCC visitors in all the churches, the message of their hosts' smiling faces and warm handshakes needed no translation.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.