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Nov 23, 2016 | The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Ph.D.

Legacy of Companionship Comes Full Circle

[Diolog Magazine] “It’s all about relationships” has become a common expression in the Anglican Communion. This generally means official diocesan partnerships and, behind these formal pairings, are personal stories upon which the partnerships are built and sustained. 


While material assistance is always part of the story, the real story is built on personal testimonies of those engaged in God’s mission—some as agents, some as the face of Christ to the other, and still others who are themselves the event or the mission act. This person becomes more than just a single act or single beneficiary, but also a gift to the partners and to the worldwide church. This has been my experience of the Texas and Southern Malawi partnership.


Late in 1981, Bishop Peter Nyanja asked me to attend seminary in Texas. The Diocese of Texas had partnered with the Diocese of Lake Malawi 10 years previously, at a time when the Diocese of Malawi was first divided into the Dioceses of Lake Malawi and Southern Malawi. Our Texas partners had built the diocesan offices and Bishop Roger Cilley, then suffragan bishop in Texas, visited for its inauguration. During his visit, we learned that Texas wanted to help its partner with priestly formation by providing seminary training for someone. I became that living gift.


While I studied at the Seminary of the Southwest I was attached to St David’s, Austin. The clergy and people there became family, and when my wife, Josie, and I were married at St. David’s, the women of the parish sponsored our wedding reception.


In 1985, we returned to Malawi, maintaining the strong relationships we had enjoyed in Austin. I served at St. Thomas Anglican Church, in the diocesan compound built by the Diocese of Texas. We lived in a house built by Texas! I then served as parish priest, diocesan youth worker and a training chaplain for the bishop. St. David’s former rector, the Rev. Jim Bethell, visited seven years later and baptized our baby.


By this time the official diocesan partnership had expired, but our friendships continued to thrive. In 1993 our family moved to Zomba Theological College (in Southern Malawi) and I taught future priests for Anglicans, Presbyterians and Churches of Christ. While I was teaching at the University of Malawi, I was made Bishop of Southern Malawi. I had come full circle, you might say.


When my St. David’s friends learned of my election to the episcopate, they reached out to support my ministry as bishop. This became the beginning of Warm Heart International, which has facilitated many pilgrimages to Southern Malawi and coordinated many programs of assistance as a response to God’s call to participate in God’s mission. These relationships continued and eventually renewed a formal companionship between our two dioceses again in 2010.


I resigned at the end of 2013, having served the church in Malawi for 28 years, the last 15 as bishop. I have served on the Standing Committee of the the worldwide Anglican Communion for 14 years, the last six as chair, and now I am a professor in the School of Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.


Who would have imagined that the relationship between our dioceses would support the ecumenical and civil society movements in Malawi, the worldwide church and now in priestly formation for the Episcopal Church. God’s mission is about, and through, these companion partnerships and I am a living witness in its fullest expression.


Bishop Tengatenga is currently the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Global Anglicanism at the School of Theology, University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.