100 years of the iconic All Saints Cathedral

To commemorate its century of life, the church published a book, All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi Centenary, 1917-2017, compiled by Gilbert E. M. Ogutu. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • To commemorate its century of life, the church published a book, All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi Centenary, 1917-2017, compiled by Gilbert E. M. Ogutu, a member of the Anglican Church of Kenya and a Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Nairobi.
  • Also titled Celebrating the Past: Seizing the Future, this book carries several stories, both of the particular church building and that of the Anglican Church in Kenya.

Major cities all over the world have their physical defining features. There are castles, shopping malls, cathedrals, palaces, parliaments, university lecture halls, and museums, which tell the visitor that they are in a particular town.

Such buildings convey histories that define the places in which they are found. They are a key part of the cultures of where they are found. They may have political significance, as many palaces or parliament buildings do.

They could stand for religious beliefs — think of the holy temples of Jerusalem. They may be monuments to a sport person or team, as many football stadia are these days; or a beloved one, as Taj Mahal is; or even a golden age of learning and culture such as the mosques and madrasas of Timbuktu.

Yet Nairobi is rarely defined by its monuments. In fact apart from the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), there are few buildings that tell the story of Nairobi, from its founding to today.

Many iconic buildings that mark Nairobi’s heritage have been demolished, especially since the 2000s, to be replaced by mortar and glass edifices that can hardly be remembered for their architectural brilliance or artistic expression.

Also titled Celebrating the Past: Seizing the Future, this book carries several stories, both of the particular church building and that of the Anglican Church in Kenya. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

But there is a building, if one drives on or walks along Kenyatta Avenue, towards Hurlingham, or strolls through Uhuru Park, that stands out architecturally. One will not miss the beauty of All Saints Cathedral. It is clearly different from other buildings nearby and in most of Nairobi.

This is the seat of the Anglican Church in Kenya (ACK). This church celebrated its 100 years of existence at the beginning of November, this year. The centennial celebrations on November 5 were graced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who represented Queen Elizabeth of England, the titular head of the Anglican faith in the world.

To commemorate its century of life, the church published a book, All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi Centenary, 1917-2017, compiled by Gilbert E. M. Ogutu, a member of the Anglican Church of Kenya and a Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Nairobi.

Also titled Celebrating the Past: Seizing the Future, this book carries several stories, both of the particular church building and that of the Anglican Church in Kenya.

On the one hand, this is the story of the Anglican Church in Kenya, from the colonial era to today; it tells stories of the pioneer Christian missionaries in Africa, East Africa and Kenya — these pathfinders being both Europeans and Africans; it takes the reader back to the foundations of the Anglican church, offering one the sources of the religious beliefs and practices that define who the Anglicans are.

If you wish to understand when the cathedral was planned, built and consecrated or how and why the structure of the cathedral came to be — its exterior and interior and the meaning attached to the different elements of the whole building, it is described in the book.

There are gems of info and ken in this book: For instance, how surprising is it to know that the first Bishop of Mauritius, Vincent W. Ryan, also administered the Diocese of Mombasa, which included the rest of the ACK faithful. Or that the late Bishop Henry Okullu’s ‘political sermons’ began when he was the Provost of All Saints Cathedral.

In this book, too, you will be introduced — I suppose for the sake of the believer without or with little knowledge of the Church and the general reader — to the roots of the Anglican Church in England, its spiritual rituals and practices over time, its hierarchy and key offices.

Here, you will also read about the Church’s major theologians and theological debates and decisions, such the one involving the ordination of women to minister. One gets to know of the many changes in the liturgy as well as pastoral practices that have defined priesthood in the Church, considering the special distinction that the author emphasises between the Church in England and the Church of England, with the latter being the different branches of the former, in the rest of the world.

INTERESTING FACT

For instance, the author explains an interesting fact about the Anglican Church as the differences within the “global Anglican Communion”, which has “three sub-churches namely: High Church, Broad Church and Low Church.” Ogutu notes that the High Anglican is closer to the Roman Catholic, while All Saints Cathedral is in the Broad Anglican or Midway category. He describes Low Anglican Churches as ‘mostly the least sophisticated Churches found in the rural areas of Kenya.’

On the other hand, All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi Centenary, 1917-2017, is also a narrative of the place of the ACK in the history of Kenya, showing the reader how the church has spread not just the word of God but also influenced the economic, cultural, political and social lives of Kenyans.

This was the Church of the colonial government. The governor of the colony of Kenya was a member of and attended service at the All Saints Cathedral.

The membership of All Saints Cathedral when it was built was largely European — the men and women who managed the affairs of the colony. How influential were the priests and bishops of the Church then, one is left asking? How central to the political thinking then were the individuals who cared spiritually to the ruling class?

It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the men of cloth of the Anglican Church of Kenya, retained an important place in the Kenyan public life as defenders of justice for the common people when the ruling elite became oppressive in the 1980s and 1990s. The All Saints Cathedral became what Ogutu calls “a national cathedral of protest” in 1992 when the mothers of “political prisoners” “camped in the basement for … eleven months.”

Thus the story of All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi Centenary, 1917-2017 is one of a church that has strived to take care of the various needs of its members — spiritual, political, cultural, social and economic.

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