For the last two Sundays, congregants at an Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) parish in Othaya, Nyeri County, have held service from just outside the church’s gates after their lead priest was sacked for failing to get a wife.
Ostracised by the Church but revered by his flock, Archdeacon John Gachau yesterday found himself at the centre of a dramatic morning during which worshippers escorted him to church from his home and demanded that he leads them in prayers.
This went against an order by Bishop Joseph Kagunda, who heads the Mt Kenya West diocese, banishing him from the church because he is unmarried.
Bishop Kagunda gave Mr Gachau six months to find a wife or else lose his job. When the ultimatum lapsed in December, Bishop Kagunda wrote to Mr Gachau demanding he hands over to the parish by January 1.
“Following our verbal conversation and your written request, we write to remind you that our deadline on the issue of re-establishing your dysfunctional family was 31 December, 2021,” reads the letter in part.
“Every priest is expected to fashion the lives of himself and that of the members of his family in such manner that they may adorn the Gospel of our Lord and his saviour and may serve a profitable example to the lay member of the fellowship. Kindly hand over the parish to Rev Karimi Gathuku. Organise [the handover] by January 1, 2022,” Bishop Kagunga decreed.
According to the ACK constitution, it is mandatory for a priest to have a wife. Since 2014, the bishop had been embroiled in a legal suit against three of his priests. He had accused Mr Gachau of homosexuality.
Ruling on the four-year court battle,Justice Byram Ongaya said the dismissal of the three clerics was unfair and ordered that they be reinstated. On October 1, 2018, the priests reported to Bishop Kagunda for redeployment.
Faced with these allegations, Mr Gachau’s wife deserted him and efforts to reunite her with her husband failed even after he was cleared by the court. But worshippers have defended Mr Gachau, saying, he was being victimised without cause.
Yesterday, they marched with him from his home and led him to the church, demanding his services. Holding placards written: “Wives are not bought in the supermarket”, and waving twigs, the worshippers sang and danced as they led him to the church more than 500 metres away.
At the gates, they read a decree to Mr Gachau asking him to continue leading them. He obliged, opened the gates and led them into the church. He said: “I am ready to serve you as per your wish and demands.” He, however, declined to speak to journalists.
“This [feud between Bishop Kagunda and Mr Gachau] has been going on for so long. It is starting to appear like a personal vendetta against our priest. The bishop should allow our archdeacon to continue leading us,” said Mr John Maina.
“He has done no wrong so we see no point in sacking him. Whoever they send [to replace Mr Gachau] is not welcome here,” said Ms Esther Kariuki.
“There are many priests without wives or husbands. This none [Mr Gachau] will go nowhere,” Ms Kariuki added.
His replacement, Rev Gathaku, has already reported at the church but worshippers have dismissed him and demanded that Mr Gachau leads them.
They have threatened to leave the diocese should the bishop continue with his demands that Mr Gachau marries first.