Thousands of Zimbabwean Anglicans are being locked out of churches and cathedrals and forced to hold services in the street amid a worsening row between two Church factions that mirrors the country's political crisis.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have condemned Zimbabwean authorities for siding with Nolbert Kunonga, the dismissed former bishop of Harare.
Archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu said the “unprovoked intimidation of worshippers” reflected the ongoing oppression of those perceived to be sympathetic to the opposition.
Mr Kunonga, who claims to be a fervent supporter of President Robert Mugabe, was sacked in February 2008 by his superiors in the Church of the Province of Central Africa.
He claimed to be unconvinced by the province's stand against Anglican moves to ordain homosexuals.
But critics of Mr Kunonga say he is simply power-hungry and is using the homosexuality issue as an excuse to ingratiate himself with President Mugabe, even though Mr Mugabe is a Catholic. Mr Kunonga has claimed his opponents are supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, which they deny.
The scene on a recent Sunday on the corner of Baker Avenue and Second Street, where the stone cathedral of St Mary's and All Saints has stood since 1934, is being replicated at churches all over the country. Congregants, two drummers and members of the choir arrived in dribs and drabs and gathered around the heavy oak doors, waiting for someone to turn up with the key.
“We never know from one Sunday to the next whether we are going to gain access,'' said Father Farai Mutamiri. Members of the congregation recalled being tear-gassed last March by riot police loyal to Mr Kunonga who burst into the cathedral during the service. “That is when we took the issue to court,'' said the Rev Phineas Fundira.
Mr Kunonga's appointed replacement as head of the diocese of Harare, Bishop Chad Gandiya, has been fighting court battles ever since. At St Mary's the congregation finally decided to hold their service on a lawn next to the cathedral car park.
Fr Mutamiri and Mr Fundira set an altar on a small table and produced wafers from a picnic basket. Fr Mutamiri said the congregation had remained united and that most regulars supported Bishop Gandiya.
“We are holding house services and sticking together,” he said.