FORMER Methodist Church in Zimbabwe national leader who is the church’s first female pastor, Reverend Margaret James has called on the church to continue following the Wesleyan tradition ahead of the 40th anniversary of autonomy this year.
MCZ will host its celebrations at the giant National Sports Stadium on August 17. Rev James who was present at the church’s inaugural autonomy celebrations in 1977 highlighted that the church had made headway in various facets of the body. “The Methodist Church in Britain had been giving us increasing self-government before that and for the previous 16 years the head of the church in this country had been Rev Andrew Ndhlela.
“During the 1980s there were still quite a number of missionaries but the leadership roles were taken by Zimbabweans. “Our numbers have increased fourfold. This means that congregates are now much closer to their ministers than they were before. “There has been a great increase in church membership and the number of buildings we own. Our administrative structure has also become more sophisticated during the years,” she said.
Born in 1940 in Bulawayo, Rev James’ grandparents were Methodist Church missionaries while her parents were also members of the church. While she taught nursing courses, she also trained as a lay preacher within the Methodist Church. By 1977 she had been approved to train as a minister. Two years later she completed her degree in Theology leading to her ordination in independent Zimbabwe in 1980.
She reckons the great strides which have been made by women in her church “There are now nearly 40 women ministers in the church and lay women have been given greater leadership roles. “Lay women have always been trained as preachers, but they are now being elected to various positions of responsibility within congregations and within the circuits, districts and the Connexion (national level). “Also important has been the development of youths and literature work. “We have always had church material in English, Shona and Ndebele but we are now developing hymn books and other material in Tonga, Kalanga and Nambia,” she said.
The church however was not exempted from the challenges which come with change. “In the 1980s we were constantly aware of the need to expand to parts of Zimbabwe where there was limited Christian witnessing but there was a great shortage of ministers at that time. “I particularly remember the assistance which we got from Britain for the establishment, in 1987, of the congregations in the Zambezi Valley centred in Nyaminyami. “There was also a need to improve the quality of the teaching and the buildings at our mission schools as well as to ensure that they were properly administered.
“Today the challenges are administrative and financial as well as spiritual. It is a real struggle to raise enough money to pay the ministers who are stationed in the dryer and more remote areas of Zimbabwe,” said Rev James. The Bulawayo based pastor also held a part time post of general secretary then known as conference secretary after winning elections in 1986.
She would serve in the office for six years after which she took a three year break succeeded by another five year term. Rev James has since retired and is concentrating on her duties as an evangelist.
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