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Josiah Mtekateka
1903 to 1996

Josiah Mtekateka became the first Malawian Anglican bishop in 1965.

Early missionary influence

Born on Likoma Island [1] in 1903 [2], Mtekateka attended school on the island. [3] Like any other African boy growing up on Likoma island, Mtekateka was influenced by several missionaries. [4] He started school at age three and liked it partly because he enjoyed the company of friends. [5] During this time Mtekateka helped build mission houses, and worked as an "office boy." Mtekateka recalled the beatings given by the missionary teachers. [6] Of Miss Nixon Smith he said, "She beat me so hard with an open hand over my left cheek that I will never forget the pain." [7] Despite these negative experiences, Mtekateka enjoyed school life. He also liked playing soccer and loved church music.

On May 4, 1916, Mtekateka was confirmed in St. Peter's Cathedral, Likoma by Bishop Cathrew Fisher. For Mtekateka, the act of becoming an adult member of the church through confirmation- an important rite of Christian passage held in high esteem-was a significant milestone especially because of the promise he made to lead a morally upright life after he received the sacrament. [8] When a missionary asked him if he aspired to the priesthood, Mtekateka answered that he never wanted to become a priest or a bishop, but rather a catechist. It is significant that Mtekateka's teachers in the upper school (from standard two to five) were Malawians and not Europeans. [9] Among them was John Bai, who himself became a priest. [10] This must have struck a good balance with the early missionary influence.

After Mtekateka passed standard five, the highest qualification that the Universities' Missions to Central Africa (UMCA) offered then, Father Hand took him on as his dog keeper. Mtekateka had to "feed the dog and take him to the lake shore and wash him every day." [11] On these trips Mtekateka's got to know some soldiers from the First World War who camped on Likoma Island. Meeting people from other places must have inspired in the young Mtekateka a desire for adventure in the world beyond Likoma.

During this time, Mtekateka attended Mass and Evensong so regularly that one day Father Hand asked him whether he was considering the priesthood. To this question, Mtekateka replied that "he did not think he would make a good priest, but felt that he might try to sit for an entrance examination to enter teacher's college in order to become a teacher." [12] Perhaps because Mtekateka was a humble person he did not want to appear self-interested in seeking a more honorable position.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to compel him to teach with Miss Fage as a monitor, his employer, Mr. Odridge, deliberately dismissed him from his job. [13] Mr. Odridge and other missionaries had devised this plan to get Mtekateka to choose teaching as a vocation. The arrangement was meant to better prepare him for the Teacher's Certificate Exam. In the meantime, for a short period, Mtekateka worked as a carpenter, then once again as Odridge's servant from April 1920 to May 1921. He passed the examination and entered St. Michael's College in August 1921. [14]

Further missionary influence

From this time on, Mtekateka fell under the influence of Arthur Bernard Glossop, a renowned missionary and principal of the school. Soon after Mtekateka started college, Glossop gave him a pair of white trousers, [15] advising him, "I have called you not just to give you those trousers, but also a few words of advice. (...) You must remember to pray without ceasing. This work of a teacher, which you are learning, is a special call from God, and so you must always pray and ask God to make you his obedient child. Like Samuel, you must answer to God's call with the answer. 'Lord, your servant is listening…'"[16] Soon after this Glossop gave Mtekateka the prayer of St. Athanasius. Glossop also wore a badge of St. Athanasius on his cassock and gave one to Mtekateka.

Later in life, Mtekateka wondered why Glossop gave this special warning to obey God's call only to him. Mtekateka recalled that he did not have the courage to wear the badge of a saint because he was the only African at the school who had one but he did treasure it, keeping it in his brother's shop. [17] Despite his desire to pursue the lifestyle and ethos of a mission teacher, Mtekateka never entirely abandoned the cultural traditions of his people and actively participated in the social life of the island, dancing Malipenga and Beni.

On October 25, 1925, Mtekateka married Maude, daughter of Stanley and Eveline Nambote. [18]

Mtekateka passed the college exam with very high marks for which he received a white certificate. Subsequently he became a successful teacher. He applied to teach in Zambia where prospects were better for Malawian teachers and priests. Seemingly, Mtekateka's desire to leave Likoma was dictated by a sense of adventure rather than economic considerations. Already showing leadership qualities, Mtekateka led a group of teachers into this adventure. But the missionaries had such high regard for Mtekateka over and above the other teachers that they sought to dissuade him from going, convinced he would be more useful in Malawi.

As Mtekateka had such a strong personality, the missionaries had to work out a careful plan to persuade him not to go to Zambia. Miss Smith, one of the missionaries Mtekateka highly respected, approached him [19] and proposed that he go to Likwenu in southern Malawi to start a new school. Showing his leadership qualities, he asked, "What will the others think of me (if I don't go)?" When he finally accepted the new proposal, he asked to leave the island the same day his friends left for Zambia [20],-a demand which the missionaries granted. This was the second time the missionaries had had to treat Mtekateka as a special case.

In southern Malawi, Mtekateka taught in several schools. During this time, influenced by Glossop, Mtekateka decided to become a reader so that he could do pastoral work [21] and put in a request to leave the teaching service. Bishop Frank Thorne granted his request and Mtekateka was assigned to work in Mpondas.

His work with missionaries was not without racial tensions at times. While in Mpondas, Mtekateka asked Miss Hook, one of the missionaries, to teach him to play tennis. The two played tennis together regularly until, one day, the senior priest, Archdeacon Frank Winspear, rebuked Hook for playing with Mtekateka. [22] To make sure that the tennis court would no longer be available to Mtekateka and Hook, Winspear invited colonial officials to play tennis with him on a regular basis. These racist attitudes were prevalent among some Anglican missionaries as well as among white settlers.

Pursuing a vocation

In 1936, with the other readers, Charles Mbungonji, Mattiya Msekawanthu, and Arthur Kakhongwe, Mtekateka started training as a deacon. [23] On January 31, 1939, Mtekateka was ordained a deacon in St. Peter's Cathedral by Bishop Thorne. He was posted to work under Father Caradoc Davies in Tanzania. In February 1941 Mtekateka returned to St. Andrew's College, Likoma, to study for the priesthood. There were five students. After being ordained a priest on February 24, 1943, he was sent to Chiluli in Tanzania. In 1953, the area where Mtekateka was serving became part of the new diocese of Southwest Tanganyika. [24]

In 1957, he was selected to represent his diocese at the UMCA centenary celebrations in England. [25] While at Manda in Tanzania, Mtekateka was appointed archdeacon, a position with more responsibilities which he executed with exceptional ability.

Elected bishop in two dioceses

In the late 1960s missionary churches in Africa were speedily transferring power over to Africans. [26] In 1964 the diocese of Southwest Tanganyika as well as the diocese of Malawi sought to appoint a suffragan bishop. When Poole Hughes, the bishop of Southwest Tanganyika, asked his clergy to submit names of possible candidates, Mtekateka's name was the favorite. Meanwhile, on the same day, December 6, 1964, within thirty minutes of the vote in Southwest Tanganyika, the clergy of the diocese of Malawi elected Josiah Mtekateka as their suffragan bishop. [27] As a result, Mtekateka was faced with a difficult choice between the two positions. His bishop asked him to go on a three day retreat to pray about the choice. Mtekateka decided for Malawi.

Later in life, reflecting on his election, Mtekateka said, "I did not think I was worthy of this huge responsibility, but then my faith in the Lord gave me courage." [28] In 1965, Mtekateka was consecrated bishop on Likoma island. [29] On this occasion, a person giving him a gift advised him to spend more time with his flock instead of on administration [30], a remark which can be interpreted as a veiled criticism of the leadership style of his predecessor, Bishop Donald Arden.

Facing the challenges of the episcopal office

In 1971, the diocese of Malawi was divided into the diocese of Southern Malawi and the diocese of Lake Malawi whose center was Nkhotakota. In the briefest elective assembly of the clergy that year, Mtekateka was elected almost unanimously as the diocesan bishop of the diocese of Lake Malawi.

Throughout his ministry, Mtekateka faced challenges with courage and foresight and was respected for his strength of character, wisdom, courage, steadfastness, and moral authority. After his election as diocesan bishop in 1971, Arden, writing to a missionary named Bernard Sharp, described Mtekateka as "a great man and my only worry is where shall I find someone of equal stature to follow him." [31] Bishop Jackson Biggers, one of Mtekateka's former chaplains considered him a wise counsellor, [32] not afraid to speak out when he felt things were wrong.

In 1977 when his successor, Peter Nyanja, was finally elected, Mtekateka did not hide his displeasure at the choice and was reluctant to preach on the occasion of his consecration. [33] When a quarrel broke out between Mtekateka's chaplain, Humphrey Taylor, and Mtekateka's son-in-law, Alford Zimba, over the issue of the latter's ordination in 1968, Mtekateka had voiced his unhappiness over Arden's manner of handling the issue. [34] This and other episodes seem to suggest that Mtekateka did not trust some of his white colleagues.

Yet long after Mtekateka had retired, when the newly established diocese of Northern Malawi was looking for a bishop in 1995, he advised some electors to approach his former missionary chaplain, Father Bernard Sharp. [35] Though Sharp declined the offer, [36] because another of Mtekateka's chaplains, Jackson Biggers, became bishop, it is plausible that Mtekateka had something to do with his election. This suggests that despite his mistrust of some whites, Mtekateka still respected missionaries since missionary influence had played a formative role in his life while growing up.

Henry Mbaya


1. Likoma island was the first missionary station of the Anglican Church (UMCA) in Malawi from Zanzibar in 1885.
2. The Universities' Missions to Central Africa (UMCA) was a mission agency of the Church of England in East and Central Africa between 1861 and 1965.
3. Mpassou, D., Mktekateka, p. 1.
4. Ibid., p. 2.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., p. 3.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid., pp. 4-5.
9. Ibid., p. 5.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid., p. 6.
12. Ibid., p. 11.
13. Ibid.,p. 12.
14. Ibid., p. 14.
15. Ibid., p. 15.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid., p. 16.
18. Ibid., p. 18.
19. Ibid., pp. 20-21.
20. Ibid., p. 21.
21. Ibid., p. 25.
22. Ibid., p. 26.
23. Ibid.
24. Blood, A. G., The History of the UMCA 1957-1962, vol. 3 (London: UMCA), 273.
25. Ibid.
26. Weller, J and J. Linden. Mainstream Christianity to 1980 in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe (Gweru: Mambo Press, 1984), 140.
27. Minutes of the Provincial Synod held in Salisbury, Rhodesia, December 6, 1964. Archives of the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi, Malosa, Zomba, Malawi, cited in Mbaya, H., The Making of an African Anglican Clergy in the Anglican Church in Malawi with special focus on the Election of Bishops 1905-1996, forthcoming unpublished doctoral thesis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2004.
28. Ibid., p. 37.
29. Weller and Linden, Mainstream Christianity, p. 140.
30. Letter to the United Society For the Propagation of the Gospel from Bishop Donald Arden dated June 1965, File DU-1/A., archives of the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi, Zomba, Malawi.
31. Correspondence, Donald Arden to Bernard Sharp, June 21, 1971, archives of the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi, Zomba, Malawi.
32. Interview, Bishop Jackson Biggers with the author, October 24, 1999.
33. Correspondence, Father Rodney Hunter to the author, July 1999.
34. Correspondence, Bishop Josiah Mtekateka, a letter to Bishop Donald Arden, File WP-Zimba, 50/87, archives of the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi, Zomba, Malawi.
35. Correspondence, Father Bernard Sharp to the author, 2002.
36. Correspondence, Father Bernard Sharp to the author.


Blood, A. G. The History of the UMCA 1957-1962. Vol. 3. London: UMCA, 1962.
Mpassou, D. Josiah Mtekateka: From a Priest's Dog-boy to a Bishop. D. Mpassou in association with Bishop J. Mtekateka. Subscribers, P/A Chilema, 1979.
Weller, J. and J. Linden. Mainstream Christianity to 1980 in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Gweru: Mambo Press, 1984.

This article, received in 2004, was researched and written by Henry Mbaya, a doctoral student at the University of Natal School of Theology under the supervision of Dr. Philippe Denis, professor of the History of Christianity and DACB liaison coordinator.