History

History of the Anglican Church of Congo

Photograph portrait of Apolo Kivebulaya

The evangelisation of the eastern Congo by Anglicans dates from 1896. The work of the diligent Ugandan missionary, Apolo Kivebulaya, ensured the permanence of a Christian community on the Semliki escarpment. Once a soldier, Apolo had become an Anglican Christian as a result of the work of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), which had been working in Uganda since 1877. Despite initial opposition, Apolo inspired young men and women to follow the message he preached. Before his death in 1933, there were eighty-eight catechists working in over fifty small chapels with over 1,500 baptised Christians. In 1910 the border was altered, so that Boga, formerly in western Uganda, became part of the easternmost section of the Belgian Congo. In Catholic Congo this small, geographically isolated church led by an African priest was viewed with suspicion by colonial authorities. It maintained its links with Uganda and developed its own local identity but did not spread from the escarpment until after political independence in 1960. The Anglican Church in Northern Rhodesia/ Zambia made efforts to establish and support some of its migrant mine workers around Elizabethville/Lubumbashi as a Bemba congregation.

Migration is one of three significant factors in the growth of the Anglican Church throughout Congo. Many Anglicans took advantage of the economic opportunities of the 1960s and moved to urban areas to establish small businesses. They established Anglican chapels as they went. Anglicans from neighbouring Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi brought their church tradition with them when they fled conflict in their own countries and influenced the villages in which they settled. A number of the migrants were influenced by the East African Revival and placed great emphasis on evangelism. The second significant factor for the growth of the church, particularly in Katanga and Kindu, was through the affiliation of whole denominations to the EAC (Eglise Anglicane du Congo). This happened in the 1970s as a result of political pressure to belong to one of the government registered denominations. A number of independent churches chose to become Anglican congregations rather than disband their congregations. Administration and leadership have played an important role in the co-ordination of the disparate migrant groups and independent churches and in the geographical spread of the church. In 1969 Mr Theodore L Lewis, an American Foreign Service officer attached to the American Embassy in Zaire, visited Boga, and recognised the strong Christian commitment of the people and the vigorous life of the Church there. He urged the wider Anglican Church to provide support and encouragement and outside contact for the Christians of the Boga region. In early 1972, Boga received its first bishop, Philip Ridsdale, a CMS missionary who had served in Uganda and Boga. All subsequent diocesan bishops in the Congo have been Congolese. Bezaleri Ndahura was the first Bishop of Bukavu and was first Archbishop of the francophone province that was created in 1981 for Rwanda, Burundi and ‘Boga-Zaïre’. In 1992 the EAC became an autonomous province within the Anglican Communion and Patrice Njojo, second Bishop of Boga, became its first archbishop. The Seat of the Archbishop is now Kinshasa.

Today the Anglican Church is found in Ituri, North and South Kivu, Maniema, the Kasaïs and Katanga. It is present in and around Kisangani and Kinshasa and has spread from the latter to Brazzaville. It has eight dioceses based in Boga, Bukavu, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Butembo, Kindu, Kinshasa and Aru. During the internal wars of the last ten years it has attempted to be a vehicle for peace and reconciliation.