Thousands of people from across Rwanda – including Prime Minister Édouard Ngirente – and scores of guests from overseas packed into a stadium in the capital, Kigali, for the enthronement of the new Primate of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, Archbishop Laurent Mbanda.
In his charge, the Archbishop thanked his House of Bishops for doing him the honour of electing him to be their leader. He pledged to work hard for the province and to maintain the team spirit and unity among the bishops. A former vice president of Compassion International, he said his experience would help him to build the church. He also spoke of the church being a blessing to the Anglican Communion.
Among the guests were the Primates of Uganda, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali; Burundi, Archbishop Martin Nyaboho; South Sudan, Archbishop Justin Badi, and Southern Africa, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. Bishop Paul Butler of Durham, England, brought greetings from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who was unable to attend. Greetings were also read on behalf of the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who was also not able to be there. The guests included a sizeable contingent from the United States, including Archbishop Foley Beach of the independent Anglican Church of North America.
Laurent paid tribute to the outgoing primate of Rwanda, Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje, who he described as a peaceful man who had guided the church with wisdom. The two embraced warmly after the handover of office. He also spoke of the support he received from his family.
It was a ceremony of colour, joy, music and a little spontaneity: at one point – before he was officially enthroned – Laurent left the platform to join a group of young people dancing enthusiastically with one of the choirs. Later, he and his family and several choristers gathered on the platform to sing to the crowds.
There were moments of humour, too: at the start of the ceremony Laurent was “blocked” from coming onto the platform while he was questioned. In a sign of his zest for his new office, he urged the questioners to “hurry up” because he was eager to get on and serve God.
The Archbishop set out his vision for the church under his leadership, speaking of five “pillars.” He stressed his commitment to equipping leaders, developing a strong theological college and said he wanted to establish a Christian university to develop leadership at all levels. He spoke of the importance of discipleship and evangelism and the need for an early childhood programme across Rwanda. He pledged to work for greater financial management and transparency and towards greater sustainability so that the church could be more self-supporting.
Laurent said he was grateful for the freedom of worship in Rwanda and pledged his commitment to perpetuating peace, supporting human rights and to environmental protection.
Speaking later to the Anglican Communion News Service, he said it had been a humbling and exciting day. “I am grateful to the Lord for what has happened and I am also grateful to my bishops,” he said. “I believe that God has a plan for our lives.”
Prime Minister Ngirente – who was representing President Paul Kagame – said it was a “day of jubilation” and a time to reflect on the contribution of the churches in Rwanda. He said the government was grateful for the social activities of the church in areas such as health and primary and secondary education. He promised that the government would partner with the church and noted how the “five pillars” of the archbishop were in keeping with the government’s own strategy for the country.
In his message, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby assured the new primate of his prayers in the years ahead. “I am confident that you will be able to guide the Church in Rwanda in its ministry across the country, in building discipleship, transforming communities and tackling poverty,” he said. “I pray that the Church in Rwanda will continue to go from strength to strength under your leadership and that the challenges that the province faces will be overcome.”