When you put together the solemnity of a Presbyterian service of induction and the jubilation of an African service of worship, something special is created. This was my experience on Sunday when I was inducted as Associate Minister of Bemvu CCAP, a parish in the Ntcheu district of Malawi.
The induction of a new minister is an occasion that beautifully portrays the balance and mutual accountability of the Presbyterian way of being church. Add the joyous worship and rich hospitality of an African congregation and you find that four hours can pass very quickly.
Mission partners like me have often been appointed Associate Ministers but usually in one of the city congregations. Bemvu is very much a rural community in an area where the majority are of Ngoni ancestry. At yesterday’s ceremony I was therefore presented with some of the insignia of Ngoni kings and warriors – now offered to the service of Christ.
We recalled the time in 1885 when David Clement Scott, leader of the Blantyre Mission, made his first visit to Gomani, the Ngoni Paramount Chief. It was a risky move since the Ngoni were known for their aggression and violence. But the two struck up a warm friendship, which proved to be important in bringing peace to southern Malawi.
One result of the new friendship was an invitation to establish a mission among the Ngoni. This was established and led for many years by Harry Kambwiri Matecheta, one of the most remarkable of the first Christians at Blantyre. The church at Bemvu today is, to a great extent, the result of Matecheta’s long ministry, which continued until his death in 1962. His grandson very kindly put me up for the night before the induction.
I am not a stranger at Bemvu since the parish of Netherlorn, where I served in Argyll, is in a “twinning” relationship with Bemvu, which has involved much interaction over the past decade. Nonetheless, the induction marks a new beginning and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be part of the life and ministry of such a significant congregation.