St Michael and All Angles Catherdral, in the heart of Blantyre was built by Rev. David Clement Scott. The project commenced in 1888 and the structure was completed in 1891.
Scott possessed no knowledge of architecture or bricklaying. Conssequently, when the mother church in Scotland learnt that such a mammoth project had been undertaken, they distanced themselves from it, fearing that the building would soon collapse and with it the nascent Blantyre mission.
Scott himself was more positive and stated that the structure would be guarded by the chief angel, Saint Michael and all his angels. Therefore, the cathedral was christened Saint Michael and All Angels. It still stands today, 129 years later.
The cathedral is a very good piece of antiquity, but still serves as a sanctuary for worship. When the building was inaugurated around 1891, the church had 30 communicant Christians. There are now over 2 000 and the 300 seater capacity of the cathedral cannot cope. Therefore, congregants embarked on another mammoth project to construct what is known as the Multipurpose Church Hall some years back.
The Multipurpose Church Hall now stands as an imposing edifice next to the 19th century cathedral. By the way, the word ‘cathedral’ is used here in a liberal sense, not the way it is used in episcoparian traditions to refer to the seat of the bishop.
Many other presbyterian congregations in Blantyre and Lilongwe have constructed or are constructing similar structures using funds pooled from the congregants. Speciall events, now dubbed as ‘paper Sundays’ are the order of the day across the CCAP Synods. Other churches have similar events and are also erecting imposing structures.
These projects clearly show that what cannot be achieved by individuals acting alone, can well be achieved if the individuals act in a group. I do not think any one congregant of St Michael and All Angels can manage to construct a 2 000 seater complex, which the multipurpose hall is. Acting together, such a feat has been possible. Church structures are springing up across the country as a result of people putting resources together.
In a video clip that went viral recently, one white lady queried why Africans are not investing in business structures and creating employment in the process.
Such a querry is not misplaced. If we can afford to erect a mutipurpose hall complex of the same capacity and functionality as the Comesa Hall at the National Trade Fair grounds, we should be able to invest in a shopping mall or a factory.
Let us assume, for a moment, that a congregation would get its act together and invest in a shopping mall in a busy area of town. They would let out the apartments in that shopping mall to thriving businesses and earn themselves a reasonable income. Additionally, the church would have helped in the creation of job opportunities for young people as the businesses would require some human resource to run.
Alternatively, if church members agreed to construct a factory, the business would also require local human resource to opeate it, thereby contributing to the employment opportunities. Further, the value chain would also create employment opportunities downstream. If the factory was processing agricultural produce, for example, the value chain would include sellers of farm inputs, transporters and the farmers themselves.
Malawians, like their colleagues in sub-Saharan Africa, are deeply religious and will forever remain so. We had elaborate religious institutions, such as Makewana at Msinja and Mbona at Khulubvi, before the white man brought the Gospel. When the Gospel finally came, it fell on already fertile ground. Therefore, we will continue to erect structures for religious purposes (make no mistake about that!)
Most Malawians feel proud to be associated with a church. If the video clip referred to earlier was meant to dissuade Africans from constructing church buildings, it will not succeed. If it was meant to make us rethink our options so far as church projects are concerned, it probably struck the right chord, as churches can and should diversify their projects.
We need to search within our communities to find out what the areas of lack are, with a view to satisfying the discovered needs, as a church. In addition to raising funds for purposes of building churches, we can also diversify into building structures that will earn us reasonable income while creating employment for others. There is no law against that.