Anglicans in Zimbabwe who have been shut out of church buildings held a prayer meeting Sunday in protest of police harassment.
It was an open air prayer session for some 4,000 which was nothing new to them. For the past two years, the worshippers have been forced to hold services outside as they have been denied entry into churches. They have also suffered disruptions during church services from the police.
"This is not normal," Bishop of Harare Chad Gandiya said Sunday in Africa Unity Square in Harare, according to Agence France-Presse. "We are gathered in the open not because there is no room in the building where we are supposed to be but because we are being denied access."
The police have been utilized by Nolbert Kunonga, who was excommunicated from the Anglican Church in 2007 after he tried to withdraw the Diocese of Harare from the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa. Kunonga, a supporter of President Robert Mugabe's regime, set up his own Anglican province, appointed himself archbishop and has laid claim to church properties.
Despite a High Court ruling ordering the two feuding groups to share the church buildings, Kunonga and his followers, along with police, have continued to block access to churches, and use intimidation tactics, preventing the officially recognized Anglicans from holding services inside.
Describing the struggles, Gandiya said, "The custodians of the law are the ones denying us access, threatening to arrest us or use tear gas to force us out. There are church wardens who have been arrested and some who bear marks of beatings," as reported by AFP.
In a statement in the Sunday Mail newspaper, Kunonga explained that they are only banishing those who support homosexuals or indulge in the act from worshipping in the church.
Controversy in Zimbabwe began when Kunonga accused the Province of Central Africa of being pro-gay. But Father Farai Mutamiri of the province has reiterated their stance against homosexuality, which is illegal in Zimbabwe.
Bishop Gandiya also stressed Sunday, "Contrary to any accusations against us, we as a diocese don't support homosexuality. We are very clear on that."
Sunday's prayer gathering was held in an effort to spread awareness about the plight of Anglicans in Zimbabwe and also to encourage the worshippers as they continue to struggle for peace in the church.
Leaders from throughout the Anglican Communion, including Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, have condemned the actions of Kunonga and said they do not recognize him as a bishop within the global communion.