The African Methodist Church in Zimbabwe was founded in May 1947 by Rev. Dr. E. T. J. Nemapare, a teacher who turned theologian and was later ordained in the British Methodist Church. Beginning as a small church at Ngezi Missionar Station near Mvuma, it soon spread to the rural areas. Branches were established in the city of Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare and Masvingo.
Today the church works in the ecumenical environment through the Zimbabwe Council of Churches but maintained its roots in the areas where it has constructed schools and clinics.
The church is an indigenous independent organization which relies on the contributions from its members. The structures of the church are continuously being examined so that they remain open to spread the good news of the Gospel in a complex society/ community.
We have 21,000 members and a constituency of about 30,000 people who rally from the wider brotherhood in which we serve. The golden anniversary of the church was celebrated in 1997.
The Methodist Church in Zimbabwe which originated in Wesleyan British Methodism came to Zimbabwe under the leadership of Rev. Owen Watkins and Rev. Isaac Shimmin, who arrived at Fort Salisbury on September 29, 1891.
The first mission stations were established at Fort Salisbury (1891); Hartlyton (1891); Nenguwo (Waddilove) (1892); and Kwenda (1892). The work at these stations was made possible by the arrival of the Rev. George H. Eva and eight African evangelists and teachers from the Transvaal and Cape colony of South Africa in August 1892. Rev. Isaac Shimmin welcomed these evangelists and teachers because he believed that the evangelization of Africa could best be done by the Africans witnessing to Africans. A new mission station was established in Matebeleland in the western part of the country in 1894 at Makokoba in Bulawayo.
The first Synod was in Harare in Mashonaland in 1895 under the chairmanship of the Rev. George Weavind – Chairman of the Transvaal District of the Methodist Church in South Africa. By this time Synod noted that already 3,000 adults regularly listened to the gospel and 700 children attended Sunday School.
From Owen Watkins and Isaac Shimmin a succession Chairman of District under the British Conference followed – namely John White, Frank Noble, Herbert Carter, Jesse Lawrence and Andrew M. Ndhlela (1965). Andrew Ndhlela marked the end of white leadership in the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe but the church only got its autonomy from the British Conference in 1977 – Andrew Ndhlela becoming the first President of an Autonomous Church. He was succeeded by President Crispin Mazobere, Caspen Makuzwa and Farai J. Chirisa who became the first bishop in 1989. Rev. Cephas Z. Mukandi came after Bishop Chirisa and was the first Presiding Bishop. He retired from this office in 2004 and Reverend Margaret M. James was the Acting Presiding Bishop in 2005. She was succeeded by the current Presiding Bishop, Reverend Simbarashe Sithole.
Over the period of now 115 years the Methodist Church has been involved in preaching the gospel throughout the country involving Men’s Christian Union, Women’s Fellowship organization, Boys Christian Union, Girls Christian Union and a vibrant Youth Department to cater for work among young people and children. The church has been involved in agricultural work, primary and secondary education. The church runs eleven primary schools, two secondary schools and eight high schools. It is planning to establish a Southern African Methodist University in the Mashonaland Province.
Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell is associated with the beginning of the Methodist Episcopal Church, now the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). After arriving in Mutare on December 10. 1897, he organized the first congregation two days later on December 12, 1897 and forty people attended this first service which was held at a general dealer’s store, the present site of the Puzey and Payne garage in the city of Mutare at which the bishop preached. After applying for permission to start mission work for the church and subsequent to meeting with Cecil Rhodes, a business man and administrator of the British Colony of Rhodesia, who owned the property, the site for the Old Mutare Mission was donated by Mr. Rhodes.
The first Methodist Church for Africans was built in the town of Mutare and continues with the name of Hilltop United Methodist Church. The church soon began to spread fast in the villages due to the enthusiasm for the gospel and evangelism on the part of the newly converted African evangelists.
Soon after the conference was established here, the church quickly realized that the future and the strength of the church lay in the proper and adequate training of the African preachers. The first African preachers were ordained in 1942 and this move ushered in a new era in which Africans began to participate at the highest level of conference decision making. The first black Zimbabwean woman to graduate with a university degree was a United Methodist, a product of this program. Also a product of the church’s program was the first black Zimbabwean to qualify and graduate from university as a medical doctor. The first comprehensive agricultural
irrigation scheme in Zimbabwe’s poor villages was introduced and developed under the church’s rural development program. The church has been involved in extensive program of evangelization and rural development through comprehensive programs of education, medical and health care services.
From the time of Bishop Hartzell, a succession of bishops followed and great work was done. The appointment of Bishop Ralph Edward Dodge marked a turning point in the Africanization of the church and the Zimbabwean society. The bishop embarked on an intentional policy of sending young men and women to study in the United States, and upon returning home these became leaders in the church and in society. As a climax to this Africanization, Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa was elected the first African bishop in the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe. He espoused the concept of salvation for the whole person and became an avid critic of the colonial racist regime in the country. With a rapid turn of events the bishop became the first black prime minister of the nation of Zimbabwe.
The church currently runs three hospitals, several clinics, two nurses training schools, numerous primary/elementary and high schools (three of which offer junior college-level courses) and a teachers’ college. All are run by Africans except the hospitals which rely heavily on missionaries or doctors from overseas. The establishment of Africa University at Old Mutare in 1992, is a landmark achievement for all of Africa.
During the protracted war for liberation which ended in 1980 in Zimbabwe, the church was hated and its leaders were detained and harassed by the Rhodesian security agents. It was (ironically) during this period that the church grew very rapidly, mainly as a result of the new secret house churches which emerged and began to meet underground in vans as members traveled to and from work and in homes for prayer and fellowship and Bible study and holy Communion.
Because of continued growth and expansion the church is always short of adequately trained pastors for the fast expanding work. Membership continues to grow as there are more areas which must still be reached by the gospel. The present generation looks back and commends the faith of the founding fathers and mothers, and rejoices in what has been accomplished and hopes for more blessings to come. Year-long celebrations of its centennial in 1997 focused on personal holiness and the desire to spread the same throughout the land.