We are reflecting on the lives of black people of our faith that have provided inspiration and shaped our faith, writes Fr Admos. Its often the case we look further than our own when looking for heroes of our faith journey. Nothing surprising about this. Jesus in Mark 6:4 says: “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” Without equating my own mother to a prophet and saviour I have decided to write about the inspirational role she played in shaping my faith journey and that of all she interacted with.
Born Nelia on the 15th of March 1943 she led an unremarkable life but provided us her family with the warm blanket of faith that the Anglican Faith can be in Africa. Growing up in then Rhodesia she was described at her funeral as quiet, unassuming but extremely bright- always on top of her class. She grew up in then Enkeldoorn (now Chivhu) about 91 miles south of Harare. and as a family attended a vibrant local Anglican Church rural parish- a part of a number established by Arthur Shearly Cripps an Oxford educated radical missionary from Tunbridge Wells (10 June 1869 – 1 August 1952).
Although intellectually gifted, after completing part of her formative primary education (Sub A and Sub B) at the local missionary school (All Saints) she got a place at Daramombe Mission to continue her studies but sadly had to drop out before she completed to make way for her younger brother. Zimbabwe remains very much a patriarchal society although things have changed very much for the better. During her time, it was common practice from families to prioritize educating male children over girls largely for cultural and economic reasons. My mother was never bitter about this early experience but years later she would say this shaped her views on prejudice and motivated her to ensure we all grew up with an understanding that God never intended for parents to prioritize boys over girls or one race over another.
In her own way she was quietly subversive against some cultural and other practices of the church but sought to cultivate in her family a deep-seated faith based on love and respect for all of God’s creations. Education was a passion of hers and as a 16 year old would be sent by missionaries to go and help open a new Church local school as the only teacher- an encounter she described as building a better society through education. Her passion for education never left her and even as a grandmother still helped at the parish church run children’s nursery.
Her form of Anglicanism (like many in Zimbabwe) was what we would describe as Anglo-Catholicism. She emphasized the centrality of sacraments to the faith and she led a very observant and spiritual life. As the family matriarch this is the environment she sought to engender- observing all rites of Christian passage, taking catechism seriously, ensuring we all got confirmed and never missed mass. She however remained very measured and practical in her lived faith. Although she took her Mother’s Union vows seriously, she always understood that God never intended this to be used to exclude others. As individuals she encouraged us to build a personal relationship with God. She has been an inspiration to my Anglican faith, helping me to grow up knowing God, giving me a more tolerant world view to faith by stripping it of some cultural practices that negate the true gospel of love for one another!