ACK church in West Pokot calls on Archbishop Ole Sapit to sort out split

Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit

Anglican Church of Kenya led by Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit 

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Leadership tussle has divided ACK church in West Pokot
  • There is parallel tithing and division in the church

What started as an ordinary conflict at the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) St Andrews Church in Kapenguria has exploded into a major leadership tussle that has divided the church.

The long-running dispute, which pits two factions of the church against each other, has seen some members of the congregation denounce a section of the clergy, accusing them of poor leadership. The two factions are led by the Bishop of Kapenguria, Suffragan Bishop Samson Tuliapus and Jackson Ng'aritai.

The disputes have led to ACK churches in the region holding parallel Sunday services under police surveillance. Worshippers have even been forced to pay their tithes according to their affiliation.

"We attend sermons offered by one preacher, but we give tithes according to our factions. There are two different baskets for the tithe collection," revealed a worshipper who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation.

The dispute that has divided the church has now escalated to all ACK churches in West Pokot County, with Christians exchanging blows and even injuring each other in the church. Members often disrupt church activities, claiming poor leadership and perpetuating the fallout.

In an ugly incident three months ago, an elder at St Andrews Church, Makutano, allegedly caned some church members as punishment.

The power struggle dates back to 2018, when the former ACK Bishop of Kitale Diocese, Stephen Kewasis, retired.

For more than 30 years, the ACK church in Kitale diocese has been wrangling over the creation of the proposed Kapenguria diocese, which would incorporate worshippers from neighbouring West Pokot County.

The ACK Church appointed Dr. Emanuel Chemetich as the ACK Bishop of Kitale Diocese following the retirement of his predecessor, Bishop Kewasis. There was a need to fill the position of the proposed Kapenguria Diocese, which was to be carved out of the larger Kitale Diocese.

Retired Bishop Kewasis is leading a faction in support of Suffragan Bishop Tuliapus, while the other faction, led by Archdeacon Ng’aritai and Stephen Nalelio, is accusing the retired bishop of opposing the election of a new bishop. A suffragan is a bishop appointed to assist a diocesan bishop.

As it is, the diocese of Kapenguria remains without a bishop. This is because of the delay in holding elections due to the ongoing disputes.

At St Andrews Church in Makutano, the main ACK church where the suffragan bishop's office is located, the church door remains locked, forcing worshippers supporting the rival factions to worship from outside.

Nation.Africa has since established that the infighting between church leaders has been exacerbated by a dispute over church funds.

With more than 50,000 worshippers in West Pokot County, the church collects a considerable amount of money that has been seen as a source of conflict.

The church also owns land on which financial institutions have leased plots.

"The church gets a lot of donations from donors and that is the bone of contention. It is a shame that we are now called the Sadaka Mbili Church," says our source.

Who is to blame for this mess?

Some blame ACK Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit for failing to provide leadership and siding with one faction.

Others blame retired Bishop Kewasis for failing to leave the stage, and instead supporting a successor.

“Kewasis and Ole Sapit have failed to unite the church. What is it that Kewasis left behind that he doesn't want people to know?” says elder Samuel Kamar, a congregant of Kayesu ACK church, who accuses Bishop Kewasis of being a stumbling block to the diocese having a Bishop.

Mr Eric Kalikwon, a worshipper from Sigor parish, said the collection of parallel tithes was a great shame to the church.

"We are the donors of the church. Suffragan Bishop Tuliapus should go for a retreat," he said.

On the other hand, Bishop Kewasis accuses the breakaway group of various offences, including facilitating illegal church services.

"Some people have been collecting money, promoting division, discord and disharmony among the faithful. They have been advocating the creation of the proposed Kapenguria diocese, campaigning against tithing and inciting church officials against transfers," he claimed.

Bishop Kewasis, who retired after 27 years in the post, denied claims that he ran the diocese as if it were his personal property.

"These people would not be causing problems if I had chosen one of them as bishop. They are power-hungry. They want to become bishops by any means...including dividing the Church. They think they can become bishops through the back door," he claimed.

The 'rebel' group, on the other hand, accused diocesan leaders of misleading Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit about what was happening in Kitale diocese.

"The constitution does not allow a bishop to run the diocese single-handedly. All decisions are made by committees and the highest organ of the committees is the diocesan synod. If I had misbehaved and led the diocese in the wrong way, I would not be here and I might even have been taken to court. We are their employers and our decision is final. We have taken this direction because the bishops are confused," said Isaac Makaliko, a faithful.

Julius Merikit, a parishioner, urged Archbishop Ole Sapit to make Kapenguria a diocese to end the church feuds.

"Our church is split. Let the church be closed. We feel bitter because we contributed to building the church and yet we are locked out," he said.

Mr Merikit said the church was open to all and that the church leadership disputes should not be extended to divide the church.

“We are not showing a good picture to the public. A church should be a unifying place,” he said.

He accused Archbishop Ole Sapit of not respecting the rule of law.

“The ACK church is now divided in two. Ole Sapit did not listen to the voices of Christians,” Mr Merikit claimed.

A month ago, a faction claiming to have the majority of church members rejected Archbishop Ole Sapit's choice of a commissioner to lead the church in West Pokot before the newly proposed Kapenguria diocese was established.

Elder Jackson Kakuko said that in January last year, the archbishop told them that the Kapenguria diocesan area would become a diocese and that the process of electing a bishop would begin soon. "In May, he began another process with groups from the Suffragan Bishop and us, but we refused," he said.

Mr Kakuko said they want the Archbishop to stay away from the wrangles being witnessed at the church, noting that they are capable of solving the issues on their own.

“We want the ACK Constitution to be followed by the latter. We want the process to start with the transition committee that was put in place based on the constitution of the church. This will give us peace. Instead of the Archbishop following the law, he sided with the retired Bishop Stephen Kewasis,” said Mr Kakuko.

Mr James Akoret, an elder from Kamuino Parish, claimed that the church leadership was forcing a Bishop on them, noting that they had no trust in the Commissary.

“The commissary has been doing badly threatening and discriminating against other contestants. We don’t want transfers of pastors,” he said.

He claimed that Archbishop Ole Sapit wanted four members from each side to decide and choose the new bishop, a move that did not go down well with one faction.

Mrs Regina Chetodum, a member of the Mothers' Union at St Andrews Church Makutano, called on the Archbishop to make Kapenguria a diocese to restore calm.

"We need peace in the church," she said.

Mr Isaac Kide, another member of the church, said 80 per cent of the members were unaware of what was happening.

"This is a shame to the church of God. We need unity and the church to continue. We are unable to pay our tithes," he said.

ACK Suffragan Bishop Tuliapus, however, dismissed the allegations as mere politics.

He said the protesters had not consulted the church's constitution.

"[The] ACK follows its constitution. This is the politics of a few people who are pursuing their selfish interests. The archbishop will have to iron out the issues," he said.

Kitale Diocese Bishop Emanuel Chemengich said Archbishop Ole Sapit had appointed a task force to look into the matter.

He said the creation of Kapenguria diocese was in the strategic plan and would happen soon, and called for unity among all church leaders in the region.

West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin has called on the ACK leadership to stop the infighting and shame in the church.