Most wore the uniforms of church societies and guilds. The service, which lasted about four and a half hours, included grand processions, multiple performances by choirs, brass bands, and praise groups, a sermon by Archbishop Welby, and greetings from Zambia’s president, Edward Chagwa Lungu.
The Rt. Rev. David Njovu, Bishop of Lusaka, said the service was the first time in his lifetime that such a gathering had brought together the people of all four nations of the Central African Province.
“I thank Almighty God for the love you have for the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said the Most Rev. Albert Chama, Archbishop of Central Africa, as he surveyed the vast congregation. “You have traveled great distances to join our brothers and sisters, who have also traveled great distances, to come here and praise the Lord. This is the dream of God, for all of us to come and praise the Lord.”
Archbishop Welby’s sermon focused on the call to remember God’s faithfulness in a changing world. “The higher a tree grows,” he began, “the more likely it is to need deep roots. When the storms come, only the roots make a difference. The older a society or nation becomes, the more it needs to tell its story, so that in each generation we renew the sense of who we are and why we are here now.”
It is easy to forget God especially in times of dislocating and growing wealth, like those being experienced in parts of Africa today. “Deuteronomy is a precaution against forgetting God when we are in an urban landscape, or in more comfort,” he said. “It is a precaution against us changing God from someone who calls disciples to someone who is a tool for our own good.”
In times of conflict, one of the greatest challenges is “to find a common history in which to speak of division.” During a recent visit to Burundi, he said, this progress toward a common story was playing an important role in bringing an end to a multi-decade civil war. The Anglican Communion should seek the same kind of reconciling common story. “For us as Anglicans, good history-telling is not only centered in God but describes successes and failures accurately.”
Reflecting on the Great Commission, the archbishop urged the congregation to demonstrate integrity and authenticity in serving Christ and sharing him with others: “We show that we come from Christ when we go out in humble and joy-filled service, when we go out singing and dancing, when we rejoice in worship and are full of love, when we are not judgmental, when we do not fall into the old church habit of throwing stones at the weak and flattering the proud and the strong.
“So when you go out today, dance and rejoice because Jesus has so captured us with liberation. He has so guided and sustained us in righteousness. He has so equipped us with maturity that we are to be the people who make disciples. Praise to Christ our risen Lord!”
President Lungu spoke after Communion, thanking the church for its role in fostering the transition to multiparty rule in Zambia in 1991. The church in Zambia, he said, is an important partner with the state in health and education, as well as in advocacy for good governance.
Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of Zambia who is called “the father of the nation,” attended the service and greeted the congregation.
During a provincial festival in the afternoon, delegates from each of the Central African countries spoke about their nations’ history and Anglican presence. Speakers highlighted many different new initiatives, including a churchwide project working against gender-based violence in Malawi, an antimalarial campaign in Zambia, and the creation of Zimbabwe’s first Anglican university.
Many in the congregation expressed gratitude for Archbishop Welby’s words. The Rev. Rogers Hamsini Banda, lecturer at the Anglican Seminary of St. John in Kitwe, Zambia, said he appreciated the focus on “the rooting of life in the word of God, and the spreading of God’s word, and the reconciliation that we need to do among one another and with outsiders.”
Bishop Njovu said of the sermon, “It’s coming from a person whose passion is reconciliation, and I think that’s what we need in the Communion. Reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation. Yes, we have differences, but that doesn’t mean that we become enemies.”
Sister Martha Theu, CSM, traveled more than 12 hours from her convent in Luwinga, Malawi, to attend the service. She brought with her a 28-voice children’s choir, composed mostly of orphans cared for by her and her fellow nuns. The children sang several anthems during the service.
“They are excited because they have been here in Zambia for the first time, and they have seen a lot of new things in their lives, and they are singing songs of praises to say Where are we without Jesus in our life?” she said.
The free and joyful spirit of the service stood out for Jesmine Thompson, a member of the cathedral congregation. “The atmosphere was awesome, she said. “We have the joy of the Lord in us. I think you could just feel the joy. The presence of the Lord was here. Even the president got out to dance. It’s supposed to be solemn, with the president and the Archbishop of Canterbury here, but it just broke out into a joyful celebration.”
Hilda Beleni, 16, who served as a torchbearer in the procession said simply: “I am proud to be an Anglican, yes, I’m very proud.”