Anglican primates visit former slave market in Zanzibar

Published February 19, 2007

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (of The Episcopal Church in the U.S.), Archbishop Carlos Touche-Porter (primate of the Anglican Church of Mexico), and Archbishop Andrew Hutchison (primate of the Anglican Church of Canada), on the boat to Zanzibar.

Primates of the Anglican Communion gathered Sunday, Feb. 18, for a eucharist at a cathedral built above a former slave market in Zanzibar, with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams praying for “forgiveness for the past, mercy for the present, and humility for the future.”

More than 600 people attended the service at the 127-year-old Christ Church Cathedral, reported the Episcopal News Service (ENS). “Some, seeking shade from the equator-hot sun, filled a tented area on the cathedral close, grounds that were until the 19th century a nexus of the Arabian-European-American slave trade.”

At the high altar where a salve market whipping post once stood, ENS said Archbishop Williams asked God “to help us find hope at times of bondage and fear.”

The primates traveled two hours by boat from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania where they are gathered for a five-day meeting to address contentious issues around human sexuality and the unity of the Anglican Communion.

The meeting is expected to end today with the release of a communique and a proposed covenant intended to heal divisions over human sexuality and same-sex relationships.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he was changed by the experience of visiting the Zanzibar cathedral.

“My lasting memory of my visit to Zanzibar and its cathedral will always be singing Amazing Grace,” he said. “You need to know a bit of story in order to understand why tears came to my eyes as we sang” said Archbishop Hutchison, in a blog, or Internet diary posted to, a site for young Anglicans.

He added: “This cathedral is built above what was a slave market. People were captured and brought to this spot and sold to the highest bidder. In the basement I saw the slave dungeons where people were herded in like cattle. I saw the font, which is the same place that the slaves’ children were killed and their blood ran down the drain…”

He said the slave trade showed that “no value was placed on human lives because of skin color.”

In his homily, the Archbishop of Canterbury reflected on the Scripture lessons from Genesis’ account of the rainbow after Noah’s flood and Luke’s story of how Jesus restored the sight of the blind man on the road to Jericho. “Today, it is very appropriate to think how God makes us see. One thing we might reflect upon today is what thing we are blind to – who is it now whose sufferings we cannot see, we cannot understand,” he said. “In some societies, it may be women, the elderly, or children. … It may be minorities of one kind or another.”

The primate of the Church of Tanzania, Archbishop Donald Mtetemela celebrated the eucharist in Swahili; he was later joined by Tanzanian church leaders in presenting gifts to the primates.

ENS reported that the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sat with the Communion’s 13 newest primates in choir stalls facing the congregation. “Seated on the chancel steps were among other more senior Primates, except Nigeria’s Peter Akinola, who absented himself from the morning’s service…” (Archbishop Akinola and six other primates boycotted another eucharist last week, calling it a “deliberate action” to show the “brokenness” of the Communion and their provinces’ ‘broken or severely impaired’ relationship with the Episcopal Church.).

The Archbishop of Uganda, who was among those who joined the boycott, not only attended the eucharist in Zanzibar, but “exchanged peace by cordially shaking hands with several Primates, including (Bishop) Jefferts Schori,” ENS noted.

The service concluded with the installation by the Archbishop of Canterbury of Ugandan-born Hellen Wangusa as Anglican Observer to the United Nations.


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