An exciting development at the Bemvu parish where I serve is the construction of a new manse. The Presbyterian Church in Malawi inherited from Scotland the idea that each parish should have a church, a school and a manse. Bemvu is a typical example.
The previous manse was an old building that was not up to modern standards. Rather than attempting renovation, the congregation decided to demolish it and start again. They are highly motivated about the project, clearly feeling that the manse is a vital resource for their church and community.
In Scotland, as many public amenities have been developed, the manse has increasingly become simply a residence for the minister. In earlier times, it combined this with a much wider role as a hub of church and civic life. This dual role is still very much the norm in Malawi.
The manse doubles as a family home and something like a community centre. It is usually a very busy place. There might well be guests in residence and a constant stream of people arrives with a wide range of purposes in view. Some of these will be about the life and ministry of the church but this is not conceived in any narrow way. The church is closely involved with the life of the community as a whole, so all kinds of different concerns are brought to the door of the manse. It functions as a nerve centre for the life of the community in all its aspects.
At the same time, it is also a family home. Not the least of its influence is on the children who grow up there. In Scotland the politicians David Steel and Gordon Brown have spoken of how their values were shaped by the experience of growing up in a manse. Likewise in Malawi, “children of the manse” play prominent roles in many different sectors of national life.
So the people of Bemvu are building a manse. For them it is a centre of hope, and they are happy to invest in a project that they believe will help to secure their future.