John Gee, a member of the Diocese of Edmonton, is currently in Burundi, working in the Diocese of Buye for a three-month stint. We welcome this guest post to the blog.
Bricks and mortar have not always been a priority for the Anglican Church in Burundi. It is said that at one time you could spot the Anglican church in a village from the type of construction. The Catholic and Pentecostal churches had brick walls and steel roofs; the Anglican church had mud walls and a thatched roof. Churches made of these materials do not hold up well in Burundi's rainy climate; moreover, many of them were destroyed during the civil war in the 1990s.
When Bishop Sixbert was consecrated in 2005 there were only 11 brick churches in the diocese. Since then, 12 more have been built. The bulk of the materials and labour are contributed by congregation members. Few of them have money, but they do have time, skills, and natural materials. The bricks are made by hand from local clay and fired in outdoor ovens. Timbers to support the roof are cut from local trees. The only materials that have to be purchased are iron sheets for the roof and cement for the floor. The congregation is expected to take the initiative to begin construction; once the walls are up and pass inspection, the diocese provides the iron sheets for the roof. For the last couple of years these have been purchased with funds contributed by the Diocese of Edmonton.
This type of construction is sturdy. The cathedral, built in the 1930s, still has the original iron sheets in its roof and they are still in good condition. The diocese has found that good buildings are essential to a missional church. Once a parish has a permanent building, it becomes more prominent in the community and attendance goes up. A parish here is not officially named until it is consecrated, and it is not consecrated until it has a facility that meets diocesan standards.