By Walter Fenton
November 16, 2021
The Wesleyan Covenant Association is pleased to announce that Mr. Simon Mafunda has joined its leadership team. He will serve as the association’s Africa Coordinator, facilitating the flow of information between the Global WCA and Methodists in Africa, and communicating African Methodist perspectives to WCA council members and staff.
Born and raised in the Mutasa District in Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe, Mafunda, 54, is a life-long United Methodist who has served at all levels of the denomination. The Zimbabwe East Annual Conference elected him a delegate to the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences. By virtue of his 2016 election, he also represented his conference at the 2019 special General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. He is also a member of the UM Church’s Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, and for the past 13 years he has served as his conference’s lay leader.
“With the rising UM Church membership numbers in Africa, the anticipated passage of the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation at the denomination’s next General Conference, and the real possibility that many African United Methodists will join the Global Methodist Church [in formation], the WCA determine it needed a coordinator on the ground in Africa,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, WCA President. “Simon is widely known by United Methodists across Africa, and he knows well the challenges and opportunities confronting the church there. At this critical juncture we are richly blessed to have him join our team.”
UM Church membership growth in Africa has increased dramatically since the turn of the 21st century. According to the latest statistics from the General Council on Finance and Administration 6.2 million or 47.3 percent of global United Methodists live in Africa. It is anticipated its growing membership will or already has exceeded the 6.5 million members in the U.S. where membership is declining at a rate of approximately 2 percent per year.
It is also widely acknowledged that the vast majority of United Methodists in Africa are theologically conservative. Approximately 32 percent of the UM Church’s General Conference delegates come from Africa, and it is assumed over 90 percent of them have voted to sustain the church’s traditional positions on theological and ethical issues. Many United Methodists believe the church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards would have changed years ago had it not been for a strong coalition of theological conservatives from Africa and the U.S. that resisted proposed changes.
As a General Conference delegate, Mafunda has joined with others in the monumental task of helping rank-and-file United Methodists in Africa stay abreast of general church developments. Many Africans do not possess the vast array of communication resources United Methodists in Europe and U.S. readily have at their disposal. Often, delegates from Africa are forced to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to meet face-to-face to discuss the approximately 1,000 petitions they routinely have to wade through at any given General Conference.
“One of the greatest challenges for United Methodists in Africa is simply connecting with one another,” said Mafunda. “I’m afraid it’s easy for people in other parts of the world to think of Africa as one big country sharing one language, when in fact it a vast continent of many nations speaking many languages, but as Christians and Methodists we share many things in common. We know we must work together to overcome the challenges we face so we can continue to share the good news and make more disciples of Jesus Christ.”
In addition to official UM Church positions, Mafunda is also a leading member of Africa Initiative, a clergy and lay movement that promotes Bible teaching and fidelity to the great confessions of the faith. The organization also brings together General Conference delegates from countries across the continent to grapple with issues confronting Africa and the general church. Like United Methodists all around the world, Africa Initiative is considering the ramifications of the Protocol for local churches and conferences throughout the continent.
“Initially, Africa Initiative leaders had some reservations about the Protocol, and I think like everyone, we still have some things we don’t like about it,” said Mafunda. “But the more time we’ve had to review it and talk about it, the more comfortable we are becoming with its adoption. Africans are tired of voting to uphold the widely and long held teachings of the UM Church, only to have progressive and prosperous elites in the U.S. defy the will of our church. We’ve always liked the name United Methodist Church, but with each passing General Conference we have discovered many in the U.S. do not want to be truly united with us; they just want their own way.”
Mafunda attended Mt. Pleasant School in Harare, his nation’s capital city. He went on to receive an Honors Degree in Business Studies at the University of Zimbabwe. As an entrepreneur, he has worked in the automotive industry, dealing with the ups and downs of a difficult economic environment. Hyperinflation plagued Zimbabwe at the turn of the century, reaching as high at 157 percent. Despite the challenges, he has managed a thriving automotive enterprise.
“Though business is very tough, I have always learned important lessons when I work at things with my own mind and my own hands,” said Mafunda.
“Simon is an exceptional leader,” said the Rev. Forbes Matonga, a pastor in the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference and a member of the WCA Global Leadership Council. “He is a man of deep faith in Jesus, and a humble and wise lay leader respected throughout Africa. His faith is rooted in the Bible and the great teachings of Christianity. He is my colleague and personal friend whom I trust because of his integrity and dedication to Christ’s church.”
Hannah, Mafunda’s wife is a nurse, and they have been married for 30 years. They have two adult children, their son Tatenda, 29, and their daughter Tanya, 26. Tanya blessed her parents with her daughter Lala, 7, their only grandchild.
Simon and Hannah attend the Chisipiti UM Church in Harare, where they have been members for 22 years. Mafunda assumed his duties with the WCA on November 4. While his position will require frequent travel, he will be based in Harare.
The Rev. Walter Fenton is Vice President for Strategic Engagement for the Wesleyan Covenant Association and is an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.