Arthur Shearly Cripps (1869-1952) spent 50 years of his life as an Anglican priest near Enkeldoorn (now know as Chivhu) in the then Southern Rhodesia. Before the phrase because popular, he took the “preferential option for the poor.”
He was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, where his father was a lawyer and his grandfather had been a builder. He studied modern history at Oxford with the intention of becoming a lawyer like his father, but there he came under the influence of Charles Gore. He joined the Christian Social Union, whose members exposed exploiting employers, and switched to service of the church.
After taking his degree, he went to Cuddeston Theological College, and was ordained deacon in 1892 and priest the following year, and served as assistant curate at Ickleham in Sussex. In 1894 he became Rector of Ford End in Essex. In 1897 Olive Schreiner’s book Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland was published. The book was a scathing attack on Cecil Rhodes and his Chartered Company, and reading it moved Cripps to offer himself to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) for service in Mashonaland.
In late 1900 he travelled through Italy to Naples where he boarded the German steamer Herzog for the voyage to Beira, and reached Umtali (now Mutare) on 6 January 1901. He spent two months there to get his bearings, and in March was put in charge, temporarily, of Wreningham, 12 miles from Enkeldoorn.
He walked throughout the distict, and refused lifts if offered, sharing his food and clothes with the poor. He fought with the British South Africa Company over its plans to deprive the black population of what little land was left to them, and lived an austere and simple life as one of the people. He raised money to buy his own farms where land-hungry Africans could settle, and continually urged the bishops and synods of the Diocese of Mashona and to take the concerns of their African flock more seriously.
He opposed government subsidies for church schools, and when the church accepted them, he returned to England, to his old parish of Ford End, which was once again vacant at the end of 1926, and the following year his book Africa for Africans, on the land question in Southern Rhodesia was published.
By August 1930, however, at the age of 61, he returned to Rhodesia, to his farm Muckleneuk, where he served the church Maronda Mashanu (Five Wounds), which he had built there. In effect he was now retired, with his only income the royalties from his books and small family trust. At the age of 60 he went blind, but continued his ministry, walking with a companion to guide him, and friends from Enkeldoorn to help him with reading and writing.
Steere, Douglas V. 1973. God’s irregular: Arthur Shearly Cripps. London SPCK.
This article is generated by the Database of African Church Leaders, which is part of the Database of African Independent Churches maintained by Stephen Hayes. All rights reserved.