Thousands of people heeded a call by the Anglican Church to attend an outdoor service in Harare to protest their not being allowed to worship in their churches by a former bishop and his followers. Ish Mafundikwa attended the service and filed this report.
They came from all over the city and beyond to Africa Unity Square, the park across the street from the Anglican Cathedral in downtown Harare. The head of the worldwide Anglican Church sent a message of support.
"We pray with you that Anglican congregations will be able to worship in their churches unhindered and without disruptions. May God bless you all, Archbishop Rowan Williams," he said.
Outdoor services are nothing new for most of the 3,000-member congregation since the schism in the Harare diocese of the church, a few years ago. The split happened when Nolbert Kunonga, then bishop of Harare, tried to break away from the Anglican Church alleging, among other complaints, the church supports homosexuality.
The majority of the congregation did not support Kunonga, but this did not stop him. Current Anglican Bishop Chad Gandiya explains.
"He went on to start his own church, called the Anglican Church of the Province of Zimbabwe, and he went ahead to consecrate his own bishops, he had himself consecrated archbishop, therefore he has nothing to do with us and we have nothing to do with him," explained Gandiya.
Kunonga's acts of defiance led to the withdrawal of his pastor's license by the church in 2008. He responded by seizing church property, a move that was contested by the church in the courts.
Although Bishop Gandiya says the courts have ruled in the church's favor, Kunonga, who is said to be close to President Robert Mugabe, has defied the rulings. Gandiya says court orders that the factions share worship time in the churches - until a final ruling is made - have been defied with the help of the police.
"They tell you that they do not obey court orders, but they follow orders from above," said Bishop Gandiya.
The acrimony between the two sides runs so deep that incidents of violence have been reported and some of those opposed to former Bishop Kunonga have been arrested. Last month, someone spread chicken waste on the lawn outside one of the churches were parishioners hold their services.
Bishop Gandiya says he invited President Robert Mugabe to Sunday's service, but says the invitation was not acknowledged.