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Celebrating 90 years of Central, Southern Africa’s first AME church

THE year 2018 brings us the wonderful celebration of 90 years of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Young’s Chapel situated at Bulawayo’s oldest suburb of Makokoba.

The celebrations will be held on 5-6 May, and the Bishop of the 20th District, Rt. Rev Bishop Ronnie E Brailsford will attend, together with other visitors from abroad and outside Bulawayo.

This is remarkable given the circumstances under which it all began. We are here today in this space against all odds.

By the end of the 19th Century Central and Southern Africa had come under the British Colonial domination. In every sphere Europeans were to be masters and Africans to be servants.

Article: Lord Macaulay’s Address to the British Parliament (1835)

“I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore I propose we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want, a truly dominated nation.”

At around the same time Rev Maake Makone “who belonged to the Wesleyan Methodist church” left his church and founded the Ethiopian Church. While he was busy organising this black-led Ethiopian church he received a letter from a Charlotte Maxeke, who was in the United States as a member of the African Singers. As a result of that letter Rev Makone wrote to Bishop Turner, who sent him the AME church Discipline and other information which were considered at the Ethiopian Church Conference, held in Pretoria on 17 March 1896. It was resolved to unite with African Methodist Episcopal Church.

A delegation was sent to America to negotiate the affiliation, which took place at Allen Temple AME Church in Atlanta Georgia USA. Two years later in 1898, Bishop Turner came to organise the church in South Africa.

This happened after 61 years or there about of the British colonial influence and white-led denominations. It was, therefore, during this period when the African Methodist Episcopal Church came into existence in 1900, in Zimbabwe, the then Southern Rhodesia. The AME Church in the US was founded by Richard Allen, a former slave, who with others pulled out of a white dominated church because of segregation.

Imbued with the Spirit of Missions and Self-determination from Henry M Turner, the first Bishop of the AME Church to set foot in Southern Africa, Reverend M Makone, a man of vision and action, the first missionaries crossed Limpopo River to Zimbabwe in 1900, under the leadership of Bishop Levi J Coppin.

In establishing the Church in Bulawayo, they faced difficulties as European settlers saw them and their followers as people whose aim was to work against the “colonial rule” and advocate for the rise of African Nationalism. As a result, Reverent Gabashani and a Mr Ncube sent a message to Bishop Coppin in South Africa.

In 1902 Bishop Coppin visited Zimbabwe. His visit had a great impact — the white settlers began to take the AME church seriously. In 1903 the Cape annual conference assigned Reverend Daniel K Gabashani as presiding elder of Zimbabwe.

Reverend Moses D Makgatho was assigned to Bulawayo.

The task of expanding the church in Matabeleland region, where the city of Bulawayo is, was left to Revs M D Makgatho, M C Ncube and John Tshaka, who was later ordained as a Minister. The period between 1900-1924 was the most difficult. The followers of our church were sometimes referred to as political agitators who were said not to be preaching the word of God but politics. They were frequently prohibited from holding services in public places by the colonial government. In fact, white settlers did not believe that Africans could organise a viable church. Despite this opposition, in 1928, Young’s Chapel, the first AME church building in Central and Southern Africa was erected in Makokoba Township in Bulawayo with the inscription; Ebenezer, Kude Kwalapa uThixo Unathi. (Hither to the Lord Hath been with us) ( 1st Samuel 7: 12)

This was the first AME church to be built by Africans for Africans. This year 2018, we want to salute our original “Yes, we can” campaigners. All those who have served so faithfully in leadership positions as Bishops, Pastors, Elders, Deacons and staff members.

All those who have willingly given their time and efforts to teach, encourage, council and sponsor. All those who have been such a wonderful part of our fellowship for so many years and now are resting in peace awaiting Jesus’ second coming.

The historical statement in our discipline, records that the delegates at the 1816 general conference — in a resolution  said,

“That it was the design of a gracious providence in which this uniting to mark out a way by which the despised African race might have an opportunity to receive from their own Brethren, that religious instruction from which they had been kept by persons claiming to be their superiors and therefore by privilege to sit under their own vine and figtree.

The work which our forefathers began was a work of A: Self-determination B: Self-help and C: Self-esteem. This work must not be understood by our generation, as a preoccupation with egocentric aims and ambitions. We must never forget that self help, self determination and self esteem for our mothers and fathers were not solely personal aims, but were goals for the race.

The AME church has pioneered in keeping “Hope” alive and served as a “Mother” or “Midwife” for succeeding Black institutions of significance, for example R R Wright School of religion established 1938 in South Africa.

We must know that we are pilgrims saved from the Holocaust of the slave masters brutality, reborn in Christ. We are the people with a testimony about how we got over.

Onward Christian Soldiers — The building that symbolises the African achievement is still standing. Glory be to God, from whom all blessings flow. — Additional information from AME church review Episcopal address (1992), Rev C N Mkwananzi

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