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MESSUMBA AND THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN MOZAMBIQUE

[Source: St Peter’s Church Hammersmith, April 2008]

Messumba cathedral
St Bartholomew’s Cathedral, Messumba.

In 1862, fourteen Church of England missionaries (inspired by David Livingstone to stamp out slave trade routes leading from Lake Malawi’s well-populated shores down to the slave markets in Zanzibar) set off from Mozambique’s Indian Ocean coast on a 1000 mile trek into the interior. Four died, including their newly consecrated Bishop, and five were soon invalided home. After this set-back UMCA (Universities’ Mission to Central Africa) activity was based in Zanzibar, but in 1882 a permanent Anglican mission on the eastern Lakeshore was finally established on Likhoma Island, about 30 miles from Messumba and a centre for Anglican missionary work ever since. Self-defence on an island site was a necessity for these early missionaries who worked largely by boat.

Because of its Anglican cathedral and school and hospital, Likhoma was not “ceded” to Portuguese Mozambique at the Berlin Conference of 1894 along with the rest of the Lake’s eastern shore:  it remained under Britain’s Nyasaland administration, entirely surrounded by Mozambiquan waters. To this day, Likhoma is part of Malawi and an important centre for the Anglican Church.

The Anglican “mission station” in Messumba was permanently established in 1918 as an off-shoot of Likhoma.

Over some 30 years, the first missionary in charge built and nurtured the cathedral, together with a large school, a teacher training college and a local hospital, under the watchful eyes of the Portuguese administration. In 1958 all Anglican churches in Mozambique had to transfer to the Portuguese Diocese of Lebombo, based in the capital Lorenzo Marques (Maputo).

Messumba

In the 1960s agitation for independence was growing: Portuguese Catholic priests and bishops in Mozambique supported the colonial government. “Foreign” churches such as the Church of England were suspected of fomenting anti-colonial attitudes in their schools and churches. Many of the anti-colonial leaders in FRELIMO, the independence movement, had indeed been educated at Anglican schools and travelled to English-speaking countries.

In the early 1960s Messumba was thriving on all fronts: thanks to the American Episcopal Church, and others, electricity generators and piped water were installed. Sadly it was short-lived. FRELIMO stepped up their attacks on the Portuguese administration; reprisals were inflicted on Messumba’s people by both sides and the schools and hospital could barely function. After Mozambique’s independence in 1975 even worse was to follow as the FRELIMO government was attacked by a rival (South African-backed) group, RENAMO. In 10 years of civil war with the FRELIMO government espousing anti-religious and Russian-backed Marxism, Messumba’s buildings, trained staff and congregation were shattered.

Change for the better began in the mid 1990s. The fall of the Berlin Wall quickly undermined Russian Marxism’s residual appeal; the advent of Nelson Mandela’s new Government in South Africa ended RENAMO’s support overnight ; and churches, NGOs and world aid bodies found themselves back in favour.

In Messumba, mission station buildings began to be re-built and the new Diocese of Niassa gave Northern Mozambique more focus and autonomy: St Bartholomew’s became the diocesan cathedral. All was not plain sailing, however: administration, especially on the financial side, was weak and local priests received little support. After two years without a bishop and a bumpy ride before that, the local congregations voted in 2002 to have an American aid worker, Mark van Koevering, return to Niassa as their Bishop.

Van Koevering family
Mark and Helen van Koevering and their children.

After running an agricultural project in Lichinga for 10 years, Bishop Mark had returned to England with his English wife Helen, also an aid worker, and their three children, so they could both be ordained as priests in the Church of England.

Barely two years after starting out as parish priests in South Wales, they had agreed to return to Mozambique to run the Niassa Diocese. They have been towers of strength, transforming priests’ training and support, tirelessly promoting the Gospel and social welfare projects.

In 2007, building work started on both the cathedral and clinic. (October 2007 Progress Report).

ALMA has supported the building of a school in Messumba through its 2008 Lent Appeal. The school was completed and opened in 2010.

visit London Diocese website