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Gearing up for 50 years of gospel, unity

The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) will next year celebrate its Golden Jubilee – 50 years of spreading the “Good News” – while strengthening the bond of unity it struck in 1965. Other than preaching the gospel, the UCZ is deeply involved in the work of uplifting the well-being of all Zambians. CHAPU KATONGO and PATRICK NKAMA report.

SINCE time immemorial, celebrations of any kind have evoked massive excitement among different organisations throughout the world, and Zambia is no exception.

This year, the jubilations will be well-earned and deserved for mother Zambia as the country clocks 50 years of existence as a sovereign state after gaining independence from Britain in 1964. Therefore, October 24, 2014, will be a memorable day, nay a golden day for every patriotic and peace-loving citizen as the country celebrates its Golden Jubilee or 50 years of independence.
As the country observes the countdown to the Golden Jubilee, citizens across the nation will be gearing themselves up for festivities because it is anticipated that every such huge event deserves a big celebration.

While the celebrations will also create a boom for business houses, to other people, this will be a time for pomp and splendor with lots of food and plenty of drinks.

Yet to others it will be a time to thank God for His favour and great mercies on mother Zambia, which is a Christian nation because of the declaration made on December 29, 1991, by then President Frederick Chiluba.
This declaration was actualised in June 1996 after an amendment to the Constitution of Zambia Act of 1991, to include the Zambia Christian Nation Clause from which moment Zambia officially became a “Christian nation.”
Meanwhile, as the country celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, the UCZ will be keeping one eye to the year 2015 when the church will commemorate its Golden Jubilee on January 16.

Given its status as the largest protestant church in the country with over two million members spread all over the 10 provinces, the UCZ jubilee celebrations are poised to be huge but overwhelmingly prayerful.
The church came into being on January 16, 1965 at a United Church Service held at Mindolo United Church in Kitwe on the Copperbelt after the union of United Church of Central Africa in Rhodesia, the Methodist Missionary Society and the Paris Evangelical Mission Society of Barotseland.

The UCZ is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council with close ties with the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America. At home, the UCZ is a member of the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), an umbrella mother body, which shares ideas on how best to spread the gospel while speaking with one voice on matters of national interest such as the constitution-making process.

As a faith-based organisation, the church holds faith in Jesus Christ by worshipping Him as God the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost through whom man, being a sinner, can be saved by the grace of God through his son Jesus Christ.
It is a registered trust under the Land (perpetual succession) Act Chapter 186 of the Laws of Zambia. The UCZ has a constitution, which gives the guidance on how the church is run.

A board of trustees and a committee of technical people with various professional backgrounds provide the necessary guidance on its activities, and this is overseen by the synod bishop. The synod office is situated on Nationalist Road in Lusaka, next to the Young Women Christian Association centre.
The synod bishop is the head of the church and according to the constitution, “Shall first and foremost give leadership in all aspects to the United Church of Zambia in consultation with the general, administrative or financial secretaries and such other members of the executive.”
The synod bishop is re-elected after every four years and serves a maximum of two terms only. The current synod bishop is Reverend Mutale Mulumbwa.

The general secretary is the chief executive officer of the church and carries out the day-to-day administrative duties. The general secretary is re-elected every four years and also serves a maximum of two terms only. The office is currently held by Reverend Peggy Mulambya-Kabonde.
The synod office is run as a secretariat with the following line departments: administration, finance, projects, education, health, mission and evangelism, community development and social justice, communications, Chipembi College of Agriculture in Chisamba, Theological college in Kitwe, Mpongwe Bee-Keeping, Diakonia Centre in Kabwe and Chilomba Farm.

The UCZ is well known for its community work and influence as it has always reached out to the needy in society especially in the areas where the church exists.

Under the health sector, the church runs Mbereshi Mission Hospital in Luapula Province, Mwandi Hospital in Western Province and the following health centres: Kafue, Masuku and José (Choma), Chipembi in Chisamba and Jacqaimbo in Solwezi.
The UCZ also runs the following schools: Kafue Boys, Chipembi Girls, Sefula (Mongu), Mwandi Co-Education Day School (Sesheke), Masuku Co-Education Day School (Choma), José Girls (Choma), Mwenzo Girls (Mwenzo), Mabel Shaw (Mbereshi), Mwandi Basic School (Sesheke), Senga Hill Co-Education (Day), Mbereshi Basic (Mbereshi), Lubwa Basic (Lubwa) and Nambala Co-Education (Mumbwa).
To contribute to the growth of education in the country, the UCZ has opened the UCZ University College in Kitwe, which will also provide academic consultancy services apart from offering theological and business degree courses.

At the time of the union at Mindolo in 1965, the UCZ had only about 400,000 “communicant members.” However, the membership has now grown to about two million.

The church is administered through 10 presbyteries or provinces, each headed by a bishop, and these are: Central, Copperbelt, Eastern, Southern, Luapula, Lusaka, Muchinga, Northern, North-Western and Western presbyteries.
Therefore, as the church celebrates its Golden Jubilee next year, there is high expectation firstly from congregants countrywide on what the celebration will mean but secondly and most importantly, it will give the church an opportunity to appreciate the grace of God in keeping the UCZ truly united and to prayerfully count the many blessings resulting into the growth of the church both numerically and spiritually.
Members of society, who have known the church to be a haven of hope and peace, will wait to see how it will influence society on how to live right with God and “neighbours.”

The church has not lagged in fighting social ills such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As a concerted response to the scourge, the UCZ has introduced voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) centres in most of its congregations to mitigate its response to the pandemic.
These centres are run or managed by trained counsellors, allowing the church to collaborate with Government on the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Therefore, as the church grapples with the challenges of the 21st Century, every member of the UCZ needs to be proactive to ensure their church keeps on standing, and standing on the word of God.

At the union of the church, the country’s population was just over four million and the UCZ was the largest denomination in the country.
Close to a quarter of the population or 200,000 were members of the UCZ, drawn from all the missions and congregations, which belonged to the former missionary societies, including the European population?

It must be noted though, that both the country’s independence and the church union resulted into a good number of Europeans and African workers leaving the country, thereby impacting on the church economically and numerically.
However, these economic and numerical challenges did not bring down the church and with prayer, it still stands as one of the strongest and largest churches in Zambia.

Today, the UCZ faces challenges in collecting appropriate data of membership, including a survey of the human resource in terms of skills and commitment to church programmes.

The synod bishop, Reverend Mulumbwa, believes the Golden Jubilee should be a time for the UCZ to prayerfully thank God for keeping the church united and for raising many men and women to preach the gospel.
Other challenges which the church faces include constrained office accommodation for the synod head office as the current one is still housed in the same building that the Methodist Church used as their headquarters before the UCZ was born.

However, plans are under way to build an investment complex centre on the church Plot Number 8, Mosi-O-Tunya Road, near Woodlands Shopping Centre in Lusaka.

The complex, will, among other things, house the synod headquarters and also provide office and residential accommodation for rent to corporate and other organisations.

The total estimated cost of the project is K25 million and it is hoped that when the office and apartment complex is complete, it will help the church to scale up its mission and evangelism programmes.

The development of the office complex is certainly a move in the right direction and all members of the church and their leadership at all levels stand challenged to be part of the UCZ history by supporting the construction of the investment complex centre.
As a countdown to next year’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, the UCZ will tomorrow hold a grand march past in Lusaka starting at 08:00 hours from the proposed site of the UCZ investment complex through Burma Road, culminating into a worship service at St. Paul’s Church in Kabwata at 09:30 hours.

The march past will be replicated in all the 10 presbyteries on March 2 this year.
Former President Kenneth Kaunda has been invited to grace the occasion to which several other Government leaders, members of Parliament and former freedom fighters, have also been invited.

Even as the UCZ kick-starts the countdown to next year’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, the prayer of many congregants of the church will be for God to help the church realise its position in the body of Christ; the worldwide church and so fulfill the ecclesiastical identity with Christ’s wish that we all may be one, according to John 17:21, in preparing to celebrate next year’s Golden Jubilee and “50 Years of the Gospel and Unity.”

About Lee Muzala