HISTORY OF THE DIOCESE OF NATAL
The history of the Diocese of Natal starts with the consecration of John William Colenso as Bishop on St Andrew’s Day, 30 November 1853, at Lambeth Parish Church. Hitherto Anglicans had been in Natal since the arrival of the first English settlers in 1824. The first missionaries came in the 1830’s, and in 1849 Colonial Chaplains were appointed for Pietermaritzburg and Durban. In 1847 Robert Gray was appointed Bishop of Cape Town and his vast Diocese included the Colony of Natal. Following his visitation to Natal in 1850 Gray saw the great need for mission and for a bishop who could lead that mission. He found and recommended Colenso to be the first Bishop of Natal. As with Bishop Gray, Colenso was appointed by letters patent, issued by Queen Victoria.
Bishop Colenso was highly gifted in many ways. He had a distinctive missionary theology and spoke and wrote widely on biblical criticism. He was severely critical of British political intentions towards the Zulu people. His preaching and writings brought about clashes between him and his Dean John Green and Bishop Gray, as well as with the leaders of the Colony. Colenso was tried and found guilty of heresy and in 1865 was deposed as Bishop. Civil law however supported him and enabled him to keep properties vested in his name, and he continued as Bishop of Natal until his death in 1883. This created a schism, and in 1867 William Kenneth Macrorie was appointed Bishop of Maritzburg. Macrorie had to start work again, both in towns and in rural areas. New parishes and missions were established throughout the Maritzburg Diocese, which now included Alfred County to the south and Newcastle and Dundee to the north.
Following the death of Colenso in 1883 and the resignation of Macrorie in 1892 the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed his Chaplain, Arthur Hamilton Baynes, as Bishop of both Anglican groups. Baynes was able to bring about a reconciliation of the two, and by the time he resigned in 1901 most of the Colenso churches had agreed to come under his jurisdiction. He was able to leave a Diocese consisting of eighteen parishes, six Zulu missions, two Indian missions, three schools and one mission hospital. For all this, Baynes had the assistance of two Archdeacons. A former Archdeacon, Frederick Samuel Baines, followed as Bishop from 1901 to 1928. With the Anglo-Boer War behind him, and the 1910 Act giving him the Colenso properties, Baines was able to forge ahead in both the mission work as well as in the growth of parishes. The Diocese experienced its greatest growth in Baines’s episcopate. Fred Roach from Zululand, a Zulu linguist, was appointed Assistant Bishop in 1912.
Leonard Noel Fisher was Bishop from 1928 until 1951. What with the depression of the early 1930’s and the Second World War this period covered severe social and economic hardships. Because of the need for providing Chaplains in the Second World War, Fisher was faced with a severe clergy shortage and little growth was attained. Greater progress was made during the episcopate of Vernon Inman, 1951 – 1974, with several new parishes being established. He was assisted by four Archdeacons and a Bishop Suffragan, Kenneth Hallowes, was appointed in 1969. This was the period which saw the onslaught of apartheid which proved to be a challenge to the church to remove racial discrimination from its structures. In 1964 the missions of the Diocese were given parochial status. All incumbents were now styled Rector and Zulu speaking Canons and Archdeacons were appointed. In 1972 Regional Councils were introduced, their jurisdictions coinciding with the Archdeaconries. In 1973 clergy stipends were given parity.
Philip Russell was Bishop from 1974 to 1981, at which time he was elected Archbishop of Cape Town. In 1980 Alfred Mkhize was elected Bishop Suffragan to succeed Ken Hallowes who had retired that year. The main achievement during Russell’s short episcopate was the uniting of the two city parishes in Pietermaritzburg and the building of the Cathedral of the Holy Nativity. Although already Archbishop he was able to dedicate the Cathedral on 22 November 1981. Michael Nuttall’s episcopate, 1982 – 2000, was marked by the Church’s response to the struggle to achieve democratic rule in our country. At times the Natal Diocese was considered to be among the most violent in the world. A great deal of blood and tears have been shed, but by and large we have come through encouraged by the role the Church has played in bringing about such a transition. Several parishes, Church Schools and United Churches were established during this period.
A second Bishop Suffragan, Matthew Makhaye, was elected in 1989, and was the first Bishop to be consecrated in the new Cathedral, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Diocese now had three Bishops, and each was given an episcopal area in which to minister. Alfred Mkhize retired in 1990 and was replaced by Ross Cuthbertson who resigned four years later. In 1995 Rubin Phillip was elected Suffragan and on 26 August of the same year was consecrated in the Cathedral by Archbishop Desmond. In 1999 Bishop Rubin Phillip was elected Diocesan, and on 12 February 2000 Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane enthroned him in the Cathedral. Following John Forbes’s decanal retirement Fred Pitout was Dean until 2008, and Ndabezinhle Sibisi from January 2009. In 2001 Elijah Thwala and Funginkosi Mbhele were both elected Suffragan, the former retiring in 2006, and the latter in 2011. They were replaced by Nkosinathi Ndwandwe in 2007 and Tsietsi Seleoane in 2011. In 2015 Bishop Rubin retired and the Bishop of Zululand, Dino Gabriel, was elected. The Diocese with its two episcopal regions and ten Archdeaconries has come a long way from its foundation 164 years ago.
BISHOPS OF THE DIOCESE
John William Colenso 1853 – 1883
William Kenneth Macrorie 1869 – 1892
Arthur Hamilton Baynes 1893 – 1901
Frederick Samuel Baines 1901 – 1928
Leonard Noel Fisher 1928 – 1951
Thomas George Vernon Inman 1951 – 1974
Philip Welsford Richmond Russell 1974 – 1981
Michael Nuttall 1982 – 2000
Rubin Phillip 2000 – 2015
Dino Gabriel 2015 –
Fred Roach 1912 – 1922
Kenneth Bernard Hallowes 1969 – 1980
Alfred Mkhize 1980 – 1990
Matthew Mandlenkosi Makhaye 1989 – 2000
Ross Gray Cuthbertson 1990 – 1994
Elijah Robert Thwala 2001 – 2006
Funginkosi Niclaus Mbhele 2001 – 2011
Hummingfield Charles Nkosinathi Ndwandwe 2007 –
Tsietsi Edward Seleoane 2011 –
Archibald Howard Cullen 1961 – 1967
Edward Francis Paget 1961 – 1971
Thomas William Stainton 1971 – 1987