The sun was already shining brightly at 9:30am on Monday as hundreds of pastors and representatives from domestic and international partners processed from the Lutheran Center through the streets of Iringa to the Cathedral downtown. Traffic police diverted vehicles away from our path as shopkeepers and passersby stopped what they were doing to watch, sing along, and take pictures with their smartphones. It really was quite the sight to behold
Thus began the retirement celebration for Bishop Dr. Owdenberg Mdegella of the ELCT Iringa Diocese.
Inside the Cathedral the ceremonies, speeches, and formalities continued. On behalf of the Diocese, General Secretary Nayman Chavalla publicly announced the completion of Mdegella's service as their bishop. On behalf of the ELCT, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Fredrick Shoo
(Presiding Bishop) likewise announced the retirement and prayed over Mdegella and his wife. The Rev. Roland Herpich, Director of Berlin Mission
, offered a sermon that described the long history of German and Swedish missionaries in the region and the delight that is found in the growth of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania and leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Owdenberg Mdegella.
And then there were the commemorations. Regional and District-level Government Officials commented on the role of church in society and the crucial work that leaders of faith have done for the wellbeing of their fellow citizens. Local congregational leaders shared songs and the occasional dance break. Representatives from churches in Germany, Sweden, and America also brought words of appreciation and encouragement.
On behalf of the Saint Paul Area Synod, I acknowledged the youthfulness of our relationship with the Iringa Diocese - especially in comparison to their historic mission partners in Europe. In many ways we are siblings given that both the Diocese and Synod were organized from predecessor bodies in the late 1980's. Since those beginnings, our leaders have walked beside one another and grown up with one another. For that we give thanks.
As a sign of appreciation and symbol of our relatedness, we presented Bishop Mdegella with a framed image from the St. John's Bible. Depicting Life in Community
as found in Acts 4, the image is a reminder of the life in Christ that we share. While there is much work that we have done together (building a university, educating students, digging wells, planting trees, improving the economy), what we value most is the opportunity to break bread, share wine, and celebrate God's gracious abundance together. In closing, I remarked, "Bishop Mdegella, the people of Saint Paul are grateful to have been invited to sit beside you at Christ's Table these many years and look forward to your continued presence beside us even in your retirement. Mungu akubariki. May God Bless You." From there the commemoration rolled on, with more speeches, singing, dancing, and feasting that went on until nightfall.
Although the sun has set on his time in the Bishop's office, Mdegella's life and his legacy carry on. As the saying here goes, while he may be retired, our dear companion and brother in Christ is "not yet tired."
All thanks be to God.
The Rev Peter Harrits - Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop