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Anglican Church’s new power plan

Monday August 15, 2005
By Big Issue Writer

Kenya’s second largest Christian denomination could have at least five archbishops and one primate in two years if changes proposed by a committee of the Anglican Church are adopted.

The church, which has 5 million members, also intends to appoint two new bishops for mission work in reforms observers see as intended to manage the succession schisms that have followed the election of the archbishop.

Squabbling over the creation of new dioceses, notably Kajiado and Katakwa, over ethnicity, politics and personality clashes have always simmered under the surface of the church’s leadership.

Now the church plans to lump its 29 dioceses into regional archdioceses. Then it will appoint new bishops specifically for missionary work in areas where its influence has been weakened.

"These will be bishops without judicial authority or physical office and will be working under a senior bishop," said Bishop Eliud Wabukhala, who chaired the five-man committee that has recommended the reforms.

The Missionary Bishops will be assigned to remote parts of Kenya, mainly in the North Eastern and parts of Eastern Province, where members’ needs are not sufficiently catered for by the local diocese.

The creation of the archdioceses is expected to follow the pattern established by the Kenya Anglican Youth Organisation. The Anglican dioceses are grouped into six regions: Coast, Western, Nairobi Central, Lake, Mt Kenya and Kennard.

Coast comprises Kitui, Machakos, Taita Taveta and Mombasa dioceses; while Western brings together Butere, Katakwa, Maseno North, Mumias, Nambale and Bungoma dioceses. Nairobi Central holds Nairobi, All Saints and Kajiado dioceses.

Lake Region brings together Maseno West, Bondo, Southern Nyanza and the parent diocese of Maseno South.

The Mt Kenya Region lumps together the dioceses of Embu, Meru, Mt Kenya West, Thika and Mt Kenya South. Kennard, an acronym for the Kitale, Eldoret, Nakuru and Nyahururu dioceses, is also in the pipeline to become an archdiocese.

Wabukhala said the changes would be implemented if they find agreement with the wishes of church members, who are still being consulted through the diocesan synods. They will then be ratified by the Provincial Synod, the church’s parliament.

Wabukhala, the Bungoma Diocesan Bishop, is also the chairman of the National Council of Churches in Kenya. The committee also includes representatives of the laity and clergy, among them Mbeere Bishop Gideon Ireri, who heads the ACK Justice and Peace department.

The reforms were initiated by former Maseno South Bishop Henry Okullu in the 1980s and recently jumpstarted by Dr Eliud Wabukhala of Bungoma See after Okullu’s death in 1999.

Much of the technical work, based on reference of models in sister churches of South Africa, Nigeria and the parent church in England, has been done.

"We are now [engaging] the laity and clergy at the grassroots level to hear their views," Wabukala said.

Church members are submitting their recommendations through the respective parish councils and the diocesan council. The committee is seeking members’ views on how to name the proposed archdiocese and their seat.

They will, for instance decide if the seat of the archbishop should be at the parent diocese, in this case, the urban diocese would be at the provincial headquarters with all the facilities an archbishop would need for his work.

In the Anglican Church, the dioceses are autonomous, with their respective constitutions although when it comes to doctrinal issues they are subservient to the greater Anglican Church of Kenya under the archbishop.

Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi exercises spiritual authority and rights of supervision over the 29 dioceses, which in effect allows him to be involved in the election and ordination of bishops and cannons.

He convenes and presides over the Provincial Synod, the church’s parliament, or its Standing Committee and the House of Bishops and the Episcopal Synod.

The archbishop is also the church’s spokesman on international matters and can officially visit any diocese and represent the Kenyan Anglican Church in international Anglican fellowship, known as the Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Nzimbi, the diocesan bishop of All Saints Diocese, will rise to take the title of Primate, which will put him in the league with heads of churches such as Nigeria and Church of England — which have more than one archbishop.

Most of his current duties such as overseeing management of the dioceses, ordinations and chairing of the meetings will be taken over by the archbishops, who will chair the respective houses of bishops and synods to address local issues.

However, the Primate who will also be the archbishop of Nairobi, will retain his job as the premus inter pares (first among equals) and not only the spokesman but also the representative of the Kenyan Church.

Though regionally-based, the archbishop’s elections will be a national affair where all the bishops will participate as provided for in the church’s constitution.

Wabukhala said: "We would not be adding the numbers really, the new archbishops will be picked from those we already have and with minimal expense."

It is hoped that by decentralising the church’s operations, the bishops will be free to attend to the pastoral needs of their flock rather than spend most of their time in meetings and travelling to the headquarters, as is now the case.

"With a focused stewardship, the church will be spiritually and financially healthier," he said.

With the proposed arrangement, conflicts will be easily and quickly resolved by the regional House of Bishops instead of being channelled to Nairobi, where they could drag on for long.

The reform comes at a time when Kenyan Anglican Church is emerging as a crucial plank alongside Nigeria’s in the new awakening in Africa, aimed at charting an independent path from influential gay-embracing Western churches.

Kenya hosts the headquarters of the continental organisation of the Anglican bishops and is at the forefront of mobilising the Anglican affiliates across the globe to reassert the church’s orthodoxy.

The Church was now thinking outside the box and had borrowed heavily from the secular world in its strategy on management, said Bishop Wabukhala.

"Virtually, all the dioceses have set up special committees in charge of the recruitment and retention of staff," he said, and they are excited by the prospects of the premier theological college such St Paul’s United Theological College, Limuru, being elevated to a full-fledged university.

From seven prelates in 1970 to current 29 bishops, the Church’s House of Bishop is star-studded, bursting at its seams with a crop of youthful clerics who are well-educated, ambitious and progressive.

While the future looks seductive, the past has not always been rosy in what was once branded the Church of Politics of Kenya.

While critics may see the division as balkanising the church, proponents argue that it promotes unity besides raising the church’s profile and bringing it closer to the people.

The unity will be infused in the fact that all bishops will be participating in the election of new archbishop.

Ideally the archbishop’s seat is ceremonial and the holder is merely a first among equals, given that each diocese is autonomous and has its own constitution.

A bishop has more power than the archbishop given that he has judicial authority and oversight over his diocese and may ignore or even defy the archbishop.

What would have posed a problem would have been the distribution of the church’s property but this has been taken care of by a strategic policy in which resources are placed under a registered company.

It is expected that the decentralisation of a reformed Anglican Church would spur the revival of the church at the grassroots where it has been losing out to the robust evangelicals.

The history of the Anglican Church in Kenya dates back to 1844 when the first missionary from the church missionary (CMS), Dr Johann Ludwig Krapf, arrived in Mombasa and is bound to take a notable turn with the implementation of the new organisational structure and the changes that come with it.

Its first archbishop, Festo Habbakuk Olang, an alumni of Alliance Boys High School, led the church for 10 years, handing over to most the Rev Dr Manasses Kuria in 1980. Archbishop Kuria was later succeeded by Dr David Gitari, who retired in 2003.

The church acquired a notoriety in the 1980s and 1990s when its leaders, such as Dr David Gitari, Dr Henry Okullu and Dr Alexander Muge rubbed the political establishment the wrong way and offered refuge to anti-Government groups holding protests in Nairobi.

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August 15, 2005 in Africa, Church of Kenya | Permalink

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