Apostolic churches have always been an anomaly in Zimbabwe, not just with their insistence on open-air worship, but also on using public open spaces within urban areas for worship, spaces that all are supposed to be able to use and enjoy.
The constitutional guarantees of freedom of worship have helped cement this use of public land and open air services, but now the Harare City Council is ready to promulgate by-laws that will restrict open air worship so that such services can only be held between 10am and 6pm and that those organising such services must have adequate toilet facilities and potable water available.
Such by-laws are not unreasonable. They ensure that there are no health hazards and they try to find a balance between freedom of religion and the rights of others. The actual by-laws are not specifically aimed at Apostolic churches, they cover everyone who organises an outdoor service, but obviously Vapositori are the most affected.
But there is a better solution, and one that will not only allow Vapositori to worship as they please, when they please, but will also allow them to do so in perfect safety.
There have been cases of small groups or individuals being robbed, assaulted or raped by outsiders while praying and a modest change will end those crimes.
We think the time has come for apostolic churches and congregations to be allocated proper church sites, just as everyone else is, with the usual town planning permission granted for these sites to be used for religious worship and the usual health and safety regulations enforced.
Of course an apostolic church will look different from most others. We presume that the church grounds will have the usual car park (and the numbers of Vapositori driving to a service is increasing), toilets, offices, storerooms and perhaps even a hall. But the actual place of worship will have to be in the open air, perhaps surrounded by these ancillary buildings.
Instead of a building for worship the Apostolic “church” could well be landscaped grounds with a lawn, trees and an artificial water course, fulfilling all the requirements of the faith, but under the total control of the congregation. The landscaping could well try and reproduce the ideal natural environment that Vapositori might desire, but without the pollution, litter, broken bottles and dog dirt that mar so many worship areas and other public spaces in Harare.
It should be possible to design such church grounds that the ancillary buildings and church offices would surround the place of worship, offering privacy to the congregation and that the complex could be walled or fenced. This solution would ensure that the Apostolic congregations had their own land, their own facilities and the consequent freedom to use that land as they see fit.
There is the growing need for Vapositori to recognise that the limited public open spaces of Harare will more and more be required for recreational and other uses.
The city’s population is growing, housing is becoming ever more dense and the amount of open land is decreasing.
It will one day be very difficult indeed for churches to use that land with any degree of exclusiveness, hence the need to allocate proper church sites.
We would urge the Apostolic churches, now grouped into a fellowship that can sort out many of these practical problems, to discuss with the city council how best the special worship requirements of the churches can be met.
We think there are solutions, both temporary and permanent, that will allow Vapositori to worship in the way they believe is right, but without having to worry about trespassers and lack of safety and without imposing any strains on their relations with others in the community.