Archbishop Donald Arden

Archbishop Donald Arden

12 April 1916 - 18 July 2014

Archbishop Donald was interviewed in January 2013 by Revd Richard Tucker, Malawi Partnership Officer for the Church of England - Birmingham, about his work in Malawi and the Malawi Birmingham Partnership. The Partnership has been a channel of support for Malawi since 1966.

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A Tribute to Donald Arden

Donald was born in Boscombe, Hampshire in 1916, the youngest of three sons, but grew up in Australia. Following university at Leeds, he trained for the priesthood at Mirfield and was ordained in 1939. He served as a curate in South London during the heavy bombing of The Blitz and later as chaplain to Charing Cross Hospital.

Donalds thirty-eight years in Africa began in South Africa in Pretoria in 1943, where he served 20 congregations, arranged a school feeding programme for 5,000 children and started a Scout Troop for mixed race boys.

From 1951-1961, Donald was Director of the Usuthu Mission in Swaziland, which was responsible for the work of the Anglican Church in half the country. It became the home of the Mirfield Old Students Mission to Swaziland for the next ten years.

He worked with a team of clergy and laypeople to increase the ministry to the many scattered congregations and built St Christophers Secondary School, to which the Paramount Chief sent his son. Donald was always interested in farming and surprised people by growing excellent pineapples. He had been told that pineapples would not grow in Swaziland. He was made Chairman of the Swaziland Pineapple Growers Association. Pineapples are now the countrys main crop.

The national newspaper was printed in English and Zulu but did not include anything in Siswati, the language of the people. Donald persuaded the paper to print articles in Siswati and encouraged people to send items to him for this. The paper began printing these each week. Siswati is now the official language of Swaziland.

In November 1961, Donald was consecrated Bishop of Nyasaland, now Malawi. Here he always worked to encourage the training and development of clergy and laypeople, welcoming the first Malawian bishop in 1964. He wrote in the June 1962 edition of the diocesan magazine, If the clergy are the lungs breathing in the fresh air of the Spirit, you laymen and laywomen are the hands and the feet and the mouth of the body of Christ.

He worked tirelessly to deepen understanding between the different Christian denominations. In his charge to Synod in 1962 he said, There is an urgent need to be at one with Christians of other traditions. We must be strong to bear witness against all the forces of the devil that divide us. In answer to the prayers of many people, Chilema Ecumenical Lay Training Centre held its first conference in May 1965, with Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics and Churches of Christ serving on its Board. It continues to this day.

Donald was equally energetic in encouraging Christians and Muslims to know each other better. He arranged for his Malawian colleague, Bishop Josiah Mtekateka, and a priest to attend a course in Mombasa, Kenya. After their return, they arranged many informal and formal meetings and gatherings between Christians and Muslims. A Muslim Chief spoke movingly at the requiem service for Donald in the Cathedral at Mpondas on 26 July.

Nearly half the medical work in Malawi was being provided by different Churches. In 1964, Donald invited the Christian Medical Commission in Geneva to send someone to Malawi. At the end of this visit, all twenty church hospitals agreed to work together in CHAM, the Christian Health Association of Malawi. Among its many achievements it made possible the building of ten nurse training schools. From 1962-1980, the number of health centres attached to the four Anglican hospitals increased from four to fourteen.

While taking confirmation services, Donald became increasingly concerned for the number of people with polio who had to crawl or be carried to him to be confirmed. He conducted a survey of cases over a wide area which convinced a leading government surgeon of the need to do something. Together, they worked to form MAP - Malawi Against Polio - and persuaded Rotary International to fund an eradication programme. Malawi was the first developing country to be declared free of polio.

In 1963, Donald spoke to the Convention of the Diocese of Texas, following which a diocesan partnership was established. There were a number of exchange visits and much mutual support and encouragement. Three years later a partnership was agreed with the Diocese of Birmingham. In 2016, Malawi and Birmingham will be giving thanks for an active and fruitful fifty years of learning and sharing together.

In 1971, Donald was elected Archbishop of the Province of Central Africa Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Southern Rhodesias Unilateral Declaration of Independence and the fighting that ensued, caused severe problems. He regularly visited each country, occasionally under dangerous circumstances. Provincial synods were the only gatherings where people from the four countries could meet together.

With the Archbishop of Kenya, Festo Olang, he founded CAPA the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa and was its first secretary. This brought together clergy and laypeople from the ten provinces in Africa. Its first meeting was held in Malawi at Chilema Ecumenical Lay Training Centre in 1979. Donald was made CBE for his work in Africa.

The week after his death two Requiem Masses were held in Malawi, one at Chilema and one in the Cathedral at Mpondas. The Cathedral service was broadcast on two national radio stations. At the request of people in Malawi, some of Donalds ashes will be placed in a memorial to be built there in thanksgiving for his life.

Donald returned to England in 1981 and became Priest-in-Charge of St Margarets in Uxbridge. Here he worked with the congregation to adapt this beautiful medieval town centre church into a two-floored flexible building for worship, coffee and much else. He also served as Visitor of the Magdalen Fellowship for clergy who had been divorced, Warden of the Friends of USPG, a trustee of Concern Universal supporting agriculture in many developing countries, board member of the Mines Advisory Group working to clear landmines in war zones, and Patron of MACS (Malawi Association for Christian Support).

On retirement at 70, Donald began twenty-five happy years as an Honorary Curate in St Albans, North Harrow. During this time he co-led several group visits to Malawi. Often he stayed on to visit neighbouring Mozambique where the struggle for independence was still being fought and where he experienced some anxious moments. In 1994, he was an official observer of the first democratic elections in Malawi. As a member of the Diocesan World Church Group, he played an active role in the formation of ALMA (Angola, London, Mozambique Association). He assisted with confirmations and ordinations throughout the Diocese.

The ordination of women to the priesthood was close to Donalds heart. In 1987, he and Bishop Hugh Montefiore went to New York to take part in the ordination of Dr Susan Cole King, to provide a link with the Church of England. Susan was a friend from Malawi days. In 1994 he delighted in being one of the two bishops taking part, on two consecutive days, in the ordination of ninety women in St Pauls Cathedral. Shortly before he died, his face lit up at the news that the Church of England will soon be consecrating its first women bishops.

In 2011, on the 50th anniversary of his consecration as a bishop, Donald celebrated the Eucharist in St Pauls Cathedral. In the same year he and Jane moved to Romsey.

Donald and Jane Riddle married in Malawi in 1962. Donald adored his two sons, Bazil and Chris, their wives Zo and Nadine and grandchildren Abigail, Lydia, Olivia and Tilly, and they adored him. While in Malawi Jane looked after the Diocesan Building Department. After returning to England she worked with the London Diocesan Board for Schools for sixteen years. She became a MBE for her work with school governors in the Diocese and nationally.

People who knew Donald have said of him: He was really our loved Father; a wonderfully loving and caring priest; a man of God; a wonderful irritant for the Kingdom; the most remarkable and inspiring person I have ever met; his quiet wisdom and impish wit; I always came away feeling better about the world and myself; his twinkling eyes and infectious smile; his wonderful voice and singing sea-shanties.