By Jesse Masai
Employees of Leonard Kamungu Anglican Theological College have not received their monthly salaries for close to nine months. According to Malawi24, which reported the news March 18, affected staff were drawn from senior faculty and support units, with some earning as little as U.S. $120 in monthly stipends.
“Workers are sometimes forced by the college to sign unpaid leave letters, a situation the labor office condemned. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the financial situation in churches as collection dropped by almost 59% since the onset of the pandemic,” the report said.
Concerned workers, it added, have petitioned authorities to close the institution amid claims “it has not been stable financially for over six years now because it doesn’t have other sources of income apart from commitments by dioceses to allocate a certain amount of money based on number of students the dioceses send to the college.”
Opened in 2006 by the Rev. Dr. Bernard Malango, the former Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, the college is registered under the University of Malawi’s Board of Theological Studies to provide three-year certificate and diploma classes in theology, church history, spirituality, pastoral care, Islam, and African traditional religion.
It is located in Zomba, 295 kilometers (about 180 miles) from Malawi’s capital of Lilongwe.
“The students, who are identified and shortlisted by their dioceses after interviews and observation in parishes, are trained to do the work of pastors as well as evangelizing the communities they will be serving. Life at the college centers on the chapel, which has daily morning and evening services. Students farm to supply food for their meals,” said Bishop Fanuel Magangani, chairman of the Anglican Council of Malawi. Magangani is Bishop of Northern Malawi, a diocese which borders Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia.
The hard work of students and staff is a tribute to the college’s namesake, the first native Malawian to serve as an Anglican priest, who built the mission station with his own hands, set up learning centers, and baptized 124 catechumens by 1912 as part of his missionary sojourn through Zanzibar in East Africa, Malawi, and Zambia.
Bishop Magangani acknowledges that students and faculty now face dire straits.
“COVID-19 is real and has not left anyone or any section of Malawian society unchallenged,” he said. “Schools were closed over a long period of time, adversely impacting the college’s finances. Giving in dioceses has been a challenge since gatherings were limited to few numbers. Families are also straining.”
While the college belongs to the Province of Central Africa, which includes Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, from its founding it has been supported by the four dioceses that form the Anglican Council in Malawi: Lake Malawi, Northern Malawi, Southern Malawi, and Upper Shire.
The bishop says its future lies in delicate math.
“The issue has to be balanced in the number of students we need versus the number of clergy we will require for the church in Malawi in relation to sustainability of the clergy in the diocese,” he said. “The question of sustainability, when answered positively, will create a demand for more students. If the answer is negative, this will affect the number of students the college will need to have. We either diversify the curriculum or fold the college.”
The institution has 14 students, nine of whom are full time and sent by dioceses, while five are independent.
Of the full-time students, five are from the Diocese of Southern Malawi; two from the Diocese of Northern Malawi; and two from the Diocese of Upper Shire.
It has four teaching staff and 11 support staff: five guards, a groundsman, two librarians, two cooks, and an office assistant.
Professor Leonard Kalindekafe, an Anglican named after the college’s namesake, recently led his family in donating assorted foodstuffs for students, a move emulated by St. Veronica Women’s Guild of the Mother’s Union.
“This is an example of members of the church taking initiative in meeting the institution’s needs,” Bishop Magangani said.
But how long can the students and faculty survive on a wing and a prayer?
“A viable investment in real estate and development following a proper feasibility study will be a great relief in the life of the college since we don’t have any endowment,” the bishop said. “In an adverse condition like this one of COVID-19, mission in and out of season will continue being challenged as we have seen.”
Jesse Masai is a freelance journalist based in Limuru, Kenya.