Archbishop's sermon at special reconciliation service in Zanzibar


Archbishop delivers sermon at Christ Church Cathedral, Zanzibar Neil Turner

The Archbishop of Canterbury joined the Archbishop of Tanzania; the Prime Minister of Zanzibar; and the Minister of State for Public Services and Good Governance in a special reconciliation service at Christ Church Cathedral in Zanzibar. 

Readings: 2 Chronicles, 7:14-16; Matthew, 21:12-16; Ephesians, 4:25-32.

We have heard many words. I want to say something about God, something about the Church, and something about slavery. We need to remember who God is. He is the redeemer. And the word 'redeemer' at the time St Paul used it came from the slave market. A redeemer was someone who came to a slave, purchased the slave and immediately released him. God is our redeemer, His power changes reality. In the passage from 2 Chronicles, our first reading, Israel under King Solomon is at its greatest point of power. God comes to Solomon and warns him that Israel will go wrong – and the remedy and the healing for its sin will be repentance and confession.

Remember that from the time God appeared to Solomon until the time of repentance when Israel were slaves in Babylon, was 500 years. Sin has long-term effects. We cannot say ‘that was a long time ago, a different people.'

After another 600 years, Jesus comes to the temple and he finds a temple, again conflict. But this time not by outward enemies but by the sins of greed and money and gain. God's command says 'if' my people repent. Confession is hard, it says we need to be those who walk in the light.

The UNCA missionaries who built the cathedral and fought slavery were brave and determined. They designed this cathedral over the slave market so that every time we come in here we remember what the history of sin was. They understood that they needed to show that the world had changed through Jesus. But, the mission that did good did not finish its repentance. They did not change their attitudes. They treated Africans as inferior. So, we must repent, as we've heard from His Grace Archbishop Maimbo.

He raised three tasks. He raised the example that the Church of England has worked out what it gained from transatlantic slavery between West Africa and America. We have set aside 100 million pounds to invest under the direction of the descendants of those slaves for a better future. It has caused anger in England. I have received threats for betraying my country. We have not betrayed our country. Telling the truth is never betrayal. We seek to stop betraying God.

We have heard this morning that the Oxford library has documents of your heritage and possibly the Lambeth library. I have listened and I will raise the question of Zanzibar both in Parliament and with the chancellor of Oxford and we will look at our own archives at the Archbishop’s library. I will do what I can to say that we must repent and look at what we did in Zanzibar. I do not make promises I cannot keep; I cannot just write a cheque. The rules of the Church of England very sensibly stop the Archbishop giving away money. Even the President, if he is going to give away a large sum of money, will need Parliamentary approval, but I am much less important than he is.

So, let me say this, Archbishop Maimbo. I come before you and I repent on behalf of our church for those sins and I ask your forgiveness to begin, and your blessings in our future to do better.

One more thing, the Psalm and the reading from Ephesians and the reading from Matthew look forward as well as back. They ask us a very simple question: What does each of us desire? What do I desire? What do you desire? What does the minister desire? And the Psalmist says: I long to be with the Lord.

If those church leaders wanted only to recognise the pain of the past, they could simply have built a monument. Instead they built a cathedral. And they call us to worship and long and desire God. This is the message to every nation under earth and all its rulers. At the Coronation of King Charles one year ago, he said, “I come not to be served, but to serve.” We can only do that when we are open to the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ.

Look at this cathedral: the place that once stripped away human dignity now restores it. In England, many of our great churches are built on sites of pagan worship to show that the blessing of God is infinitely more powerful than the curses of evil. And so, in Matthew, when the adults will not worship, the children cry ‘Hosanna!’

When we worship in humility and repentance, God opens visions of heaven to our eyes and our imaginations. I pray that will happen here, that this place may be the light of hope, the servant of its people and bring glory to God. Amen.

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