Bishop Rose and members of Canterbury Diocesan Overseas Group recently paid a visit to our link dioceses in Madagascar to renew our relationships and encourage mutual support.
Revd Carol Smith and Revd Andy Bawtree were also part of the Madagascar trip. The island is the fourth largest in the world - two and a half times the size of Great Britain. The first Anglican missionary arrived in Madagascar in 1864 and the Diocese of Canterbury has had a link to the six dioceses on the island for over 40 years.
The diocese link involves a commitment to sharing, prayer, encouragement, communication and financial support.
Speaking of the highlights of the visit, Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, The Bishop of Dover spoke about the Mother’s Union conference which coincided with the visit; ‘It was amazing to see over 1000 women who had gathered for this conference and with no sign of the ordeal that they would have endured to get there because the roads are terrible! These women were so joyful, they sang and sang and the eucharistic service lasted over two hours and people were in no rush to leave.’
Revd Andy Bawtree concurred that ‘to worship the living God and celebrate the 120th anniversary of the dynamic Madagascan Mothers' Union with almost 1400 others was a glimpse of heaven.’
Revd Carol Smith described the services at the conference as ‘not for the fainthearted, the main services ranged from three to four hours in length – I have never seen so many wafers on an altar before! Or quite so many communion stations. We were privileged to be asked to assist.’
The visit provided an opportunity to rekindle friendships. Rev Andy Bawtree said; ‘It was great to see Bishop Gilbert once again and the progress he has made in growing the Diocese of Fianarantsoa over the last 20 years. We first met 15 years ago at Lambeth and have maintained a friendship albeit at 6000 miles distance. To be given the opportunity to visit a friend and an island we pray for each week was awesome. To see St Mark's cathedral full of people praising the Lord was heartwarming and a tribute to his faithful service. Gratitude too to MAF and the sterling work they do, a 60 minute flight or a 12 hour road journey - I know what I prefer!”
Bishop Rose was also inspired by the worshipping communities in Madagascar; ‘I saw a people who had very little but they had great faith and that was a joy to behold. They don’t have many buildings (or indeed listed buildings!) but they do have people who are committed to Christ and they need our support, prayer and encouragement as we too need something of their enthusiasm and their commitment to following Christ.'
However as well as the celebrations there was also an acknowledgement of the challenges that face the church in Madagascar. Bishop Rose continued; ‘there were lots of cultural differences such as the women doing all the work and the men just seeming to be hanging about and I struggled to see that and called it out a few times. I was also enraged by the disparity of wealth. In our prayers and relationship with Madagascar we might help them confront these injustices.’
The visit gave the Bishops in Madagascar and Canterbury the opportunity to meet to review our partnership-in-mission relationship. The Madagascan Bishops were unanimous in their desire for the partnership with Canterbury to continue, as was Bishop Rose.
Revd Carol Smith concluded; ‘It was a wonderful opportunity to experience first-hand the wonders and challenges of life in Madagascar, albeit on a small scale. The faith of our mission partners is a sight to behold in worship! And their faith in practice is also to be much admired as despite living in poverty, their sheer joy in the Lord shines through for all to see.’