A Brief History

lalibela-church-history

In 1830 two missionaries from the Anglican Church Missionary Society, Samuel Gobat and Christian Kugler arrived in Ethiopia. They were soon joined by other missionaries enabling the work to fan out into Iigre, Giondar and Shoa. One of the ablest of these missionaries was Johann Ludwig Krapf who served in Shoa until 1842 when he was refused re-entry, probably as a result of his outspoken criticisms of capricious local rulers. Krapf went on to have a significant ministry in Kenya.

These first missionaries did not seek to set up Anglican churches in Ethiopia. They chose rather to work with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, translating the Bible into Amharic and seeking to create a movement of biblical literacy. However there is in existence an Amharic translation of the Book of Common Prayer, made by CMS missionary Charles William Isenberg.  This book was published by the Society for Christian Knowledge in London in 1842, but was seemingly never used. It was unearthed recently in the Lambeth Palace Library.

In 1920, there were reported to be only 13 British nationals in Addis Ababa and there was no need for an English Chaplain or Church. Over the next five years, however, the number of British nationals grew, as Prince Ras Tafari (later, the Emperor Haile Selassie) encouraged merchants and teachers to settle. Recognising the steady in-flux of British nationals, the incoming British Minister of the time, Charles Bentinck, himself a committed Anglican Christian, lent his support and influence to the establishment of a Chaplaincy in Addis Ababa.

During home leave in England in 1925, Bentinck met the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Davidson, to enlist his support. A year later, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel invited the Revd. Ethelstan Cheese, then serving in Beirut, to come to Addis until a more permanent appointment could be made.

During that time, the congregation met in the British Legation Residence, but Ethelstan Cheese, considered by many Ethiopians as a most holy man of God, could not be pinned down. Increasingly, he would absent himself from Addis Ababa and would often be found, sitting under a tree, in Somalia, teaching the Bible to any who would listen.

In October 1928, SPG appointed the first ever permanent Chaplain to Addis Ababa, the Revd Austin Matthew, to minister to the needs of the growing British and Commonwealth community and to develop strong links with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Matthew, a Canon of Khartoum Cathedral, served for the longest period of any who followed him (1928-1954). He was ordered to leave the country in 1936, when the Italians occupied Ethiopia, and settled in Cairo, where his knowledge of Ethiopia was put to use by the Middle East Intelligence Centre. In September 1941, he was able to return to Addis Ababa, where he immediately resumed services in the little rented building that served as the Anglican Church, in Piassa, the ancient heart of the city. When the owner returned from exile, he demanded the building back and the growing congregation would squeeze either into the Hall of the British Council, or the Chaplain’s modest residence, and even in what is now the Sandford School. After many discouragements, the new Emperor, Haile Selassie, gave the Church a piece of land on the road leading to the British Embassy, on which the present Church, dedicated to St. Matthew, was built in 1954. After retirement, Austin Matthew was invited by the Emperor, to serve on a committee to revise and improve the Amharic translation of the ancient Ge’ez Bible, which was finally published in 1961.

In 1964, as the Church grew rapidly under the ministry of the Revd. Graham Dowell, also a USPG missionary, a large south aisle was added to the original church, which almost doubled its seating capacity. Later in 1965, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited St. Matthew’s.

In 1967, USPG sent the Revd. Philip Cousins to Addis as Chaplain of St. Matthew’s. The Cousins came with two young children and his wife taught at the Sandford School, where their children were educated. Philip Cousins had a significant ministry here, as a diligent pastor, until 1975, when he returned to a parish in the UK. He was later invited to Cairo, where he served as Dean of the Cathedral. In 1986, Philip wrote a beautiful book about Ethelstan Cheese, the first ever Chaplain, called Ethelstan Cheese: saint of no fixed abode.

In 1969, Bishop Oliver Allison visited from Khartoum. During that visit, the whole question of which Diocese St. Matthew’s should be under was reviewed. Under the leadership of Bishop Stotford, it was decided that Ethiopia should come under the Diocese of Egypt.

The Revd. Colin Battell, another USPG missionary, served as Chaplain of St. Matthew’s for 18 years (1976-1994), remaining in Ethiopia throughout the Communist “Red Terror”. He recalls how, on Sunday mornings, during the Red Terror, he would emerge from the Chaplaincy bungalow to find the bodies of many, shot during the night, laid out against the compound wall, on the street. Soldiers, guarding the bodies, refused to let families take the bodies away for burial until they paid for the cost of the bullet. On the road leading to the British Embassy, the heads of others, executed elsewhere, were displayed on spikes. Colin taught New Testament at the Catholic seminary in the city and was a regular visitor at the Sandford School, nearby. During Colin’s time, he and Charles (see following) would visit St. George’s Asmara and Christchurch, Mogadishu where, later, John Benwell, a missionary working with street children, was ordained priest and served until it became too dangerous to remain. The Church in Hargheisa (Somaliland) was badly damaged in 1988, when Said Barre bombed the city in attempt to stop Somaliland seceding from Somalia.

For 7 of his eighteen years, Colin Battell was assisted by the Revd. Charles Sherlock, sent by USPG as assistant priest of St. Matthew’s. However, the majority of his work involved setting up of the Jerusalem Association Children’s Homes – a partnership between St. Matthew’s and the Jerusalem (pilgrimage) Association of the Orthodox Church, during the 1984 famine. Charles Sherlock raised huge amounts of money in the UK, which was used to build children’s homes in many strategic locations, to care for children orphaned in the famine.

During the time of the Revd. Huw Thomas (USPG missionary 1995-1996), the Revd. John Jock Chuol, a Sudanese priest visiting the refugee camps in the Gambella Regional State, at the height of the civil war in South Sudan, visited Addis Ababa, to appeal to Huw to build a church to serve the refugees living there. St. Luke’s Church was established in Gambella town and the Revd. John Malesh, a student in Cairo and himself a refugee from South Sudan, was ordained and sent as their priest. Huw Thomas visited to Gambella and Pinyidu, the largest of the refugee camps, four hours drive from the town, where another church was established. In1996 Huw Thomas was taken to Cairo, where he served as Dean of the Cathedral.

The Revd. Tony Andrews, a CMS missionary from New Zealand, was appointed to St. Matthew’s in 1997. Tony and Helen were good friends to John Malesh and his wife, Sinkinesh and they did much to source funding  to pay John’s salary, provide a building for St. Luke’s and a pre-School. Tony would make regular mid-week visits to help John train Lay Readers, brought from the camp at Pinyidu, where the church was beginning to grow. In 2000, bishop Ghais Abdel Malik ordained three men deacon, to serve under John Malesh. Tony and Helen Andrews had a particular ministry to missionaries in Addis Ababa. In 2001 Tony Andrews was taken to Cairo where he served as Dean of the Cathedral.

In February 2002, after a fourteen month vacancy, the Revd. Andrew Proud was sent, by USPG as Chaplain of St. Matthew’s. During his time, the congregation continued to attract aid workers, missionaries, teachers, doctors, diplomats and refugees, from up to 26 different language groups. In 2002, a refugee programme was set up, for 250 people, twice a week, in the church compound. Refugees were trained to run Bible studies and prepare a hot meal for everyone. Simple facilities were offered to bathe babies and children. Andrew began to visit Gambella regularly, to support John Malesh and to put systems and procedures in place for monitoring money and helping churches to grow. In 2004, a Local Assembly of the Diocese of Egypt was established, to ensure proper Synodical representation from the growing churches. At the first Local Assembly, five Gambellans were ordained, to serve the growing churches in the region. In response to local needs in Addis, a Community Library was opened in the newly built Sunday School rooms on St. Matthew’s compound in 2004, which today serves 1,200 registered local students. Andrew Proud was made an Honorary Canon of Cairo Cathedral in 2005. In 2006, a Theological Education by Extension programme (St. Philip’s School of Theology) was established, using 16 full-time paid tutors and materials written by a qualified, experienced lay trainer in the UK. Andrew Proud maintained the tradition of fostering good relations with Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and in 2006 he was made Archbishop of Canterbury’s Apokrisarios to the Patriarchate.

 Andrew Proud was consecrated bishop in April 2007, to serve the new Episcopal Area set up within the Diocese of Egypt to cover the Horn of Africa. The Revd. Dr. Michael Starr served as Chaplain of St. Matthew’s until the end of 2008, when he was transferred to Libya, where he sadly died. During his time, a mid-week breakfast club was established, to serve 30 of the poorest students living locally and an Alpha Ethiopia office was established in the Church compound. Sadly, the Alpha Ethiopia office closed in 2009, after consultation with Alpha UK, because of lack of funding or support from other denominations.

The search for a new chaplain to serve at St Matthews proved long and drawn out. During 2009 several clergy came to help the ministry continue. They included Canon Godfrey and Mrs Daphney Taylor from the UK and former chaplain Rev Tony and Mrs Helen Andrews from New Zealand. Finally, in January 2010 the Rev Roger Kay, together with his wife Dr Lynn Kay and their youngest daughter Eleanor arrived in Addis from Sydney Australia. Roger was duly licensed by Bishop Mouneer and inducted as the Chaplain of St Matthews, a role he continues in up till the present day. The Kay family are sent by and supported by the Church Missionary Society of Australia.