Confirmation - St John's Mkoka
Confirmation – St John’s Mkoka

I’m used to my Tanzania visits being rather filled with Confirmation Services.  That’s in part because I tend to visit when it is dry, and that’s the best times for a bishop to travel around.  So I had shared 4 such services with Bishop Given in Kondoa, but Mpwapwa had something different in store for me.  I was about to fly solo.

Bishop Jacob of Mpwapwa is at present also the Archbishop of Tanzania – a five-year appointment.  That post seems to take up so much of his time, that he is often absent from his own diocese for a great deal of the time – and Tanzania does not have suffragan bishops.  Bishop Jacob had hoped to spend most of August in his own diocese, so had scheduled a number of Confirmation Services.  But then things changed.

Having just flown in from the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) conference in Rwanda, Bishop Jacob had gone straight to the north-west of Tanzania for the consecration of the new Bishop of Mara

Map of Tanzania (public domain)
Map of Tanzania (public domain)

Diocese.  Then it was down to Dodoma in the centre of the country for some meetings and to join up with me for what had been planned as a week together in his Diocese.  We managed half a day, a visit to a TearFund and Rochester linked development project and one Confirmation Service.  Provincial business meant that Jacob then had to head straight off back to the north-west for visits and meetings in the Dioceses of Lweru and Victoria-Nyanza.  He eventually arrived back in Mpwapwa the day before my departure; and the next day he was off again – to Dar-es-Salaam and then down south to Masasi.  Your prayers for the Archbishop of Tanzania would be much appreciated.

So what of my week in Mpwapwa Diocese?  Well 6 more Confirmation Services were in the diary in the areas around Kongwa and Mpwapwa town, and it looked as if I was the only bishop around!  Indeed the Bishop had kindly left me his pastoral staff, indicating that I was to see myself as his temporary Assistant Bishop.  So with a supporting cast of Canon Agripa Ndatila, Principal of St Philip’s College in Kongwa, and Canon Michael Zakaria, the Vicar-General of the Diocese, off we went.  Agripa After confirmation - St Michael's Kongwatranslated my sermons, Michael celebrated Holy Communion, and I confirmed.  It would be pushing it to say that I am now fluent in KiSwahili, but fortunately it is a language which is written phonetically and I have more-or-less got my brain and my tongue round the main parts of the Confirmation Service.  In all honesty, I had a great time and was able to present my report to Archbishop Jacob at the end of the week – 384 people confirmed.

 

Bishop James confirming in Kondoa (photo by Bridget Langstaff)
Bishop James confirming in Kondoa (photo by Bridget Langstaff)

Most confirmation candidates in Mpwapwa are teenagers.  The Anglican Church is long- and well-established in the area, so many children are brought up in that context and confirmation is part of the pattern.  As part of the service, the candidates affirm the Apostles’ Creed – loudly, with conviction, often with bibles held high.  I have to say that the confidence of this and their other responses contrasts somewhat with the slightly embarrassed mumbles I sometimes get at home.  In Kondoa there is more of a mix of adults and younger candidates – in large part because the Diocese is engaged in first-generation evangelism, so many candidates are adults who have come to faith.  In both places, preparation is done by the Catechists (Readers/Evangelists in our terms).

Confirming so many in such a different setting has made me think a bit more about how we do things.  Every bishop has their own way of officiating at confirmations, and I have mine – perhaps some changes might emerge.