The strong collective movements of the Vapostori churches, the indigenous apostolic groups identified in the public eye by their white robes, to move further into the mainstream of Zimbabwean society are welcome and needed.
In recent meetings, churches have put forward a series of demands, essentially wanting local authorities and government to react to their shift to more traditional activity and be treated in much the same way as other church groups.
As the Constitution grants every Zimbabwean freedom of religion, the churches are on a solid legal footing. One area that is now taking center stage is that of church sites. This, in many ways, is a sign of the integration of the Vapostori because in their early days this was not even on the agenda and even a few decades ago there was little enthusiasm when this was raised by Harare City Council.
Changes in land use, the problems of finding open public spaces usable for religious purposes, the need for ever better sanitation, and the need to protect church members from vandalism and attack obviously imply Changes.
We cannot imagine any objection to the allocation of church sites. Due to the worship practices of most Vapostori, the way the site is used and the architecture of the buildings will be very different from most other religious groups, but never mind.
A properly allocated church site would allow a group of Vapostori to fence off their land, to begin with, and thus protect their members while they communicate with their Creator.
It also allowed for practical things like a proper toilet block and, for many, some sort of office space for the growing administration.
If a congregation wishes to continue praying and worshiping outdoors, that is fine.
In fact, a future architectural design may well see a church site with structure on all four sides, containing the offices, ablutions and possibly a veranda, with the open worship space in the center in the form of a a landscaped environment, and maybe even with a water feature, like an artificial watercourse.
Most important, however, would be for the church site to be the congregation’s own place, allowing them to develop what they wanted to develop in the way they wanted to develop it.
Fairly wide leeway is given to a church with the wider society simply checking things like fire escapes, bathrooms, and other practical and safety issues. Other topics that came up in discussions with the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Monica Mutsvangwa, were things such as being listed as sworn religious leaders as honorary wedding officers.
Again, this should be taken into account. The honorary officers are all in churches that apply monogamy, since the marriage celebrated is the civil marriage with all the extras that could appear in canon law, such as no divorced person to be married in the church.
But any of the Vapostori churches that have strict monogamy could have an appointed marriage officer if there was a suitable person available.
The delicate issue of vaccination is to see a movement and a change of attitude as more and more leaders of Vapostori see the essential difference between prayer, medical treatment and vaccination.
To begin with, the prevention of disease is not the same as the treatment of disease, and secondly, the prayer for healing is sometimes answered by sending a human agent to do the work.
Again, including these churches helps in negotiations and shows members that they have civic responsibilities, which include protecting their neighbors by having their children and themselves vaccinated.
There are, of course, some areas where freedom of religion is not absolute, usually where people may be physically harmed by certain religious practices, or where children need protection.
The new Marriages Act which has now become the operational marriage law of Zimbabwe has changed the church law of most religious groups, simply with the minimum age of 18, which was hardly universal before. .
Other aspects of this new law underscore what might have been a belief that is not always enforced, such as making sure both parties are completely on board with the marriage.
Some of Vapostori’s critics base their criticisms on the wildest statements of archconservatives whose opinions reflect neither their leadership nor the general feelings of the members. But this is not unique to Vapostori.
Most communities have a few who follow what our traditional rulers now identify as perversions of the true intent of customary law, which anyway with the advent of independence is a living law, rather than something engraved in stone by an ignorant colonial official. with preconceptions sitting with a deformed elderly curator over 120 years ago.
In many ways, during the colonial era, the Vapostori were a positive part of society, pushing hard for indigenous Zimbabweans to reject many of the colonial assumptions and become self-reliant, independent people not tied to settler systems. With the independence and integration of these views, these churches are more of a pure religious group, and many have adapted to the new society they helped to create.
The records of the increasingly ongoing discussions between the leaders of most of these churches and the leaders and representatives of wider civil society are positive, necessary and helpful. No one can ever expect total agreement. Many religious people, regardless of their affiliation, find certain civil mores objectionable, but in other areas they can work with the civil authorities, or at least in parallel with them, and at the very least not oppose policies that help people.
Now, local authorities and others must recognize this new integration trend and react positively.