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St Bartholomew’s Messumba

St Peter’s link with St Bartholomew’s was originally established in 2002 under the auspices of the Angola London Mozambique association (ALMA), which was set up during 2001 by the Diocese of London.

ALMA plays a key part in assisting a number of London parishes with their respective links with parishes in Mozambique and in Angola, sharing knowledge, providing guidance, and helping with practical matters such as transferring funds.

The objective of our link is to enable members of the respective congregations to learn from one another, by supporting and gaining insights into each other’s Christian way of life.

It is hoped and intended that members of the respective parishes will gradually develop closer personal links, thereby helping to disseminate deeper understanding of the reality of a common Christian Faith in two very different parts of the World.

Cathedral Church

St Bartholomew’s is the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Niassa.  It covers a geographical area twice the size of the United Kingdom in the northern part of Mozambique.  Messumba is situated on its northern fringe, close to the shore of Lake Malawi.

The history of the Anglican Church in a country that was once a colony of Portugal goes back to the days of David Livingstone and the establishment of the Central African Mission in the late part of the 19 th century. The Cathedral at Messumba was built and consecrated in 1931.

For administrative reasons, however, the headquarters of the Diocese of Niassa is now at the town of Lichinga.

Like much of the population of Mozambique, the people of Messumba and Niassa Diocese suffered badly in the long years of war in Mozambique – first the war of independence, and subsequently the civil war.

The aftermath of those bitter conflicts has left its mark not only in the physical damage to buildings such as St Bartholomew’s Cathedral itself, the small hospital, and the school in Messumba, but also in the scarred lives of families who lost loved ones in the fighting.

Members of the community in Messumba are also affected by the scourge of AIDS-HIV infection.

Material support

The provision of material support, either in the form of monetary donations for specific purposes or goods delivered in person or via ALMA, is a feature of our link.

However, at this relatively early stage the emphasis of the relationship must be on enhancing our communication links, in the widest sense, and in particular in making personal visits.

Anyone in the congregation of St. Peter’s who can speak Portuguese, even if this is at a fairly basic level, is a key person in developing our link. Please make yourself known to one of the clergy or Churchwardens.

Church contacts

The first contact in person between the two parishes took place in the autumn of 2003.  David Broad visited Messumba for a few days for the enthronement of the new Bishop of Niassa, Mark van Koevering, in St Bartholomew’s Cathedral Church.

He was able to gain first direct impressions of Messumba. In the following June St Peter’s was able to welcome Bishop Mark and his wife Helen on a fleeting visit to London.

Then, in the summer of 2005, we were able to welcome as guests from Messumba Padre Mauricio Msossa and his sister Monica. Padre Mauricio is the priest at St Bartholomew’s and Monica is President of the thriving branch of the Mothers’ Union in Niassa Diocese.

The visit was a great success for all concerned. Making personal contact was greatly appreciated both by our visitors and by the many people in the Parish who met them, looked after them, and acted as guides and companions in our fast-paced, bewildering, multi-ethnic city.

Bishop Mark presiding at St Bartholomew’s

In the close future we hope to arrange a visit to Messumba by members of St Peter’s congregation.  We hope this will enable us to gain greater insight into life in Messumba and how our respective parishes can best support each other and learn from one another.

On their visit to us, Padre Mauricio and Monica presented St Peter’s with two delightful gifts made by people in Messumba. Both the turned wooden chalice and the woven basket doubling as a paten are used regularly when we celebrate the Eucharist.

These are physical manifestations of our link with the people of a place that is so different from our own, yet who share so intimately the fundamentals of our common Christian Faith.

Messumba and the Anglican Church in Mozambique

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.

Building of the cathedral

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).

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.

Bishop Mark and Rev Helen van Koevering together with their children.

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.

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.

Read the October 2007 progress report.

St Bartholomew’s Cathedral Church

St Peter’s liaison:
Sandi Thornton
Padre Mauricio and his sister Monica
Brothers and sisters in Christ