What you need to know:
- From a church for the colonialists since its foundation in 1917, the headquarters of the Anglican church has over the years established itself as an important place of worship and voice for Kenyan.
- Changing times: As it turns 100 years and being a microcosm of the bigger church, All Saints will be grappling with many challenges that threaten its existence.
- Ironically, it was a place where the flock was taught that all men are equal before God, yet those very grounds were a mark of racial segregation. Provost’s Warden Jared Ogutu, a member of the congregation since 1958, recalls, “As an African, going to the main sanctuary was a taboo.”
When Queen Elizabeth II arrives in Nairobi to attend the centennial service at the iconic All Saints Cathedral later this year as planned, it will be a powerful statement on the significance of the Anglican Church.
All Saints, the Anglican Church of Kenya’s seat of power, started activities to mark 100 years of its existence on Wednesday in a colourful ceremony that included a torch passed from a privileged club of older members — some in their 90s — who inherited it from the colonialists to a new breed of faithful in a symbolic gesture of renaissance into a stage dominated by the young and mostly restless. The inaugural service was held on Friday evening.
The Queen’s visit, expected in November even though she has in recent months faced health concerns, will crown the celebrations that are likely to involve thousands of people. The Cathedral’s provost, Canon Sammy Wainaina, says the royal visit will be nostalgic for the Queen who turns 91 in April.
“We secured the visit through the mother church, the Church of England. It would be an honour to host a dignitary of the Queen’s calibre in our lifetime,” he said.
Kenya offers a significant chapter in her life since it is while here some 65 years ago with her husband Prince Philip that she received news of her ascension to the throne.
It will be the fifth time she is visiting. Other than 1952, the country played host to the Queen in 1972, 1983 and during a night stopover in 1991.
Save for the imposing building that is today classified as a national monument, a lot has changed at the Cathedral that was until independence in 1963 largely a whites-only place of worship.
Ironically, it was a place where the flock was taught that all men are equal before God, yet those very grounds were a mark of racial segregation.
Provost’s Warden Jared Ogutu, a member of the congregation since 1958, recalls, “As an African, going to the main sanctuary was a taboo.”
He adds: “There were only two non-white entities allowed in; their dogs and the vergers (caretakers). Then gradually, a clique of African elites were permitted in the 1950s.”
RITUALS OF YORE
While many elderly faithful had different moving tales on transition to the “black era”, one account stood out about former Attorney General Charles Njonjo.
They say his wedding to Ms Margaret Bryson, a white woman, in 1972 was a sight to behold and offered a rare chance to interact with their white counterparts. And blacks were significantly outnumbered by whites.
Even after it opened its doors to all, All Saints has over the years struggled to shed off the tag of being “the church for the rich”.
“The real diversification phase came in the 1990s when the Cathedral started attracting members from all segments of the society like should be the case. I can say it is a traditional Anglican Church that has diversified over time to cater for spiritual and social needs of its members,” the administrator told Lifestyle.
It has a coffee house and meeting halls which offer an alternative source of income besides the offertory and tithes.
Mr Ogutu reminisces the old and the good he has seen, some preserved and others modified to temper the rigours of time.
“Taking tea in church on Sundays is a ritual that we have preserved over time, and together with the hymnal that is still the same, the red choir has withstood the test of time except for the actors,” he says.
He recalls how he would walk from King George IV Primary School (now Mbagathi Road Primary School) where he was a pupil to attend the Sunday school. The fact that his father was a telephone operator at the Medical Training Centre (now Kenya Medical Training College) made him privileged hence he could be allowed into the church premises.
“When we were not coming from school, we could walk from King George IV estate (Kenyatta estate) to Sunday school,” he said.
The church’s foundation Stone was laid on February 3, 1917 and information in its Website indicates it became a Cathedral of the Highlands equal in status to the Cathedral in Mombasa in November 1924 before finally being completed in 1952. World War II had disrupted its construction.
Ms Grace Madoka has attended the services at the cathedaral since the 1970s as a University student. Her father, Canon Allan Madoka, was pastor in charge of African Affairs in the 1950s.
“I have seen a deliberate effort to involve the congregation in the running of the church unlike in the past,” she says, adding that the racial composition has also significantly changed with whites no longer dominating.
Canon Madoka was among pioneer vicars for a separate “church” within All Saints for the Africans who by virtue of being servants or caretakers would accompany their masters there.
Instructively, initially located next to the current Parliament Buildings, the church was moved to its current location — opposite Serena Hotel and next to Uhuru Park — to pave way for the legislative arm of government. History shows that because the original church was so strongly built, dynamite had to be used to demolish it.
But like other erstwhile conservative churches, Canon Wainaina explains that they have been forced to change with the times to secure the future of the institution, adopting friendlier programmes to appeal to the youth.
“For them, and without discarding Anglicanism, we do a bit of evangelical Pentecostalism to appeal to their needs.”
Canon Philip Njuki, who has worshiped at the Cathedral for the last 34 years, says the church suffered exodus of the youth as a result of “rigidity” of the mode of worship, something that triggered an adjustment to the worship regime.
“We didn’t have room and space for them to worship. The multipurpose Hall has helped us a great deal, they are comfortable,” he says.
He has equally seen myriad changes.
“In the 1980s, for instance, we were hardly 2,000 members. Today we have close to 8,000 people,” he says.
This, he notes, has also strengthened the church’s financial position and stability.
“Around 1984, we had an average of Sh70,000 every Sunday. Towards the end of the same year, we reached Sh100,000 and there was a big celebration,” he says, adding that the amount has now increased to an average of Sh4 million.
The Canon sought to allay fears expressed by a section of believers that with the new generation taking over, key tenets of Anglicanism – the tradition and liturgical practices — may erode fast.
“It will be in good hands, that I can assure you. You may think that our youth are not mature, that’s not strange. Every generation thinks that those behind them are not mature enough but come the right moment, they rise up to the occasion and take charge. We are training them well and they will not disappoint. God equips his people according to the need of the church, there would be no void,” he says.
To keep those rooted in the traditional liturgy, there are services conducted with the old prayer books presided over by elderly prelates.
As part of the broader campaign to invest in younger generations, Canon Wainaina says ground-breaking for construction of children and teens centre will begin in June.
And at times the Church in general has come under intense criticism for placing an undue premium on material investment at the expense of its core function of spiritual nourishment. But Mr Samuel Kiraka, the vice chairman of the governing council and director of finance, says they have managed to follow a different script.
“People give willingly, we do not blackmail anyone to give to the church. We encourage people to give thanks to God for what he has done in their lives. Our duty then is to ensure that their monies are prudently spent,” he says.
Canon Wainaina argues that the gospel is bigger than money and wealth, adding that the two should not come before the primary call.
“Any minister that emphasises on money and wealth is veering off the mark. The Bible is very clear about the concept of wealth.”
CHURCH OF POLITICS
Mr Kiraka, who started worshiping when the entire leadership was white, says the location of the church gives it an opportunity to reach more people in the city in terms of ministry and worship.
In any given Sunday, there are 14 services targeting various segments with programmes tailored along the needs of youth, teens, children and the old. More significant is the service for members with hearing impairment.
Serving as both the headquarters of All Saints Diocese as well as the headquarters of the Anglican Church from where the Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit operates, it follows the same model as The Church of England whose headquarters is in Westminster, next to the country’s centre of power.
All Saints was also close to the colonial governor’s residence in what is State House today. The official residence of Bishop Sapit is on State House Road.
“Where the flag was, the Bible was. Put differently, where the government was, the church was. It was the church of the state and the archbishop being the governor’s pastor needed to be nearby,” Canon Wainaina says.
Archbishop Festo Olang’ was the first head of the church since the Province of East Africa was split into Kenya and Tanzania provinces in 1970.
His successor, Manasses Kuria, led between 1980 and 1994 followed by David Gitari (1997-2002) before the Bishop of Kitui, Benjamin Nzimbi, took over until 2009. Bishop Nzimbi’s successor Eliud Wabukala who retired last year has since been appointed chairman of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.
During the one-party Kanu rule, the Anglican Church, then referred to as the Church of the Province of Kenya, was known for standing up to the government as it fought for civil liberties with bishops such as Henry Okullu and Alexander Muge speaking out openly.
Archbishop Gitari was also one of the most vocal heads of the church. But in recent years Anglicans and other mainstream churches have been accused of shying away from taking a firm stand on issues of national interest.
The Anglican Church has not been spared the diametrically opposed nature of Kenya’s politics with the state and other players seeking to influence who becomes its head at any given time. The considerations have often included ethnic balance.
As it turns 100 years and being a microcosm of the bigger church, All Saints will be grappling with many challenges that threaten its existence. Secularism is picking momentum and more flamboyant churches, sometimes preaching the so-called prosperity gospel, as well as other religions take root in the region.
There is the looming danger of diminishing financial and material support the church used to get from the West. In places like Germany, Britain and Scandinavian countries, some churches are either being closed or converted into social halls. But at 100 All Saints seems to be growing stronger.