The CCAP @100

Admittedly, it is a bit of a mouthful but there are reasons why the church I serve here in Malawi is called the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. It is almost always abbreviated to “CCAP” which has become a word in its own right in common parlance. The idea behind the name was that it would be a church of Central Africa in the sense of belonging to Central Africa, or arising from Central Africa. Since it adopted the Presbyterian system of church government that came with the Scots, the word “Presbyterian” was added on the end.

We were thinking about all this last week since Zomba Theological University was hosting a Research Conference focussed on the upcoming centenary of the centenary of the CCAP next year. Two big ideas governed the formation of the church a hundred years ago: it should be a truly African church and it should be a truly united church. It has done pretty well on the first count – today it has some 4 million members in Malawi and is deeply ingrained in the life and culture. On the second count, there is more of a question mark.

In fact, the question about whether it is or can be a truly united church stretched right back to the outset. It began as a coming together of three Missions each of which was producing an African church. They had much in common so they were convinced that the result of their work should be a single, united church. At the same time, they rather lazily assumed that their Mission work would continue on the same lines of separate organisation. So the CCAP was born as an organisation which was united at one level but three separate units in operational terms.

It has never been able to get over this ambiguity and it was a primary focus of last week’s conference. The tendency for the component parts to pull apart has been pronounced during the early years of this century but the conference demonstrated a new drive towards much more effective expression of unity. Time will tell how much impact this can have as the CCAP enters its second century.

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