The clergy must rethink their role in this new era

Saturday August 7 2010

National Council of Churches of Kenya Secretary General Canon Peter Karanja (left), chairman Dr Gerry Kibarabara and televangelist Mark Kariuki (right) during a media briefing at the Ufungamano house. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT

National Council of Churches of Kenya Secretary General Canon Peter Karanja (left), chairman Dr Gerry Kibarabara and televangelist Mark Kariuki (right) during a media briefing at the Ufungamano house. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT 

By WAMUGUNDA WAKIMANI

We are finally here with a brand new constitution. As a nation, we have done what we have never been able to do since independence. We have arrived at a point where we have crafted our own homegrown constitution. This indeed is a moment that calls not just for celebration but also for serious soul-searching.

Perhaps of more relevance here is the dynamic relationship between church leaders and their flock. In this respect, it may be worth noting that most of those who subscribe to any formal religious affiliation in Kenya are Christians.

With regard to the referendum, we know that most of our church leaders had taken a firm ‘No’ stand. Looking at the results and considers the overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote, it is imperative to wonder what connection there is between church leaders and their followers.

Clearly most Christian faithful did not heed the call of their shepherds. This state of affairs could be as a result of several reasons. One, it could be that the church leaders were not convincing enough.

An expression of disgust

Two, it may also mean that the followers wish to show their shepherds that they can make decisions for themselves on some matters that affect their social, economic, cultural and political lives.

Three, it could even be an expression of disgust at the manner in which church leaders went about the whole business.

Whatever the case, a question or two emerge. Who and what constitutes church? Is the credibility of the church leaders still intact?

On August 1, just three days before the referendum, I had been invited to preside over Mass for a church community around the Garden Estate area that had a fund-raiser for a church building. We had a beautiful celebration after which we raised over Sh3.5 million.

I was later informed that they had raised a similar amount at the beginning of July and have the intention of doing the same at the beginning of September. It is a truly determined community. They have already bought land on which they have a tent in which they worship and on which they intend to build their church.

Community effort

Apart from me and a few other friends, it was just members of that community that were involved in the fund-raising.

As a matter of fact, even their parish priest was not present.

It was simply members of the community confessing their faith by taking upon themselves the noble duty of building a house where they and their families will worship God.

They do not even need a priest or a bishop to organise them. It is their job and when the church is complete they will probably invite the bishop for the opening ceremony and their priest will then be involved in presiding over worship and the administration of sacraments in that church.

The scenario I have described above is a common phenomenon in most parts of this country. The Christian faith has found root in our society and as such, believers are doing whatever it takes to keep the faith and to spread it within their means.

Building churches, helping the poor, encouraging and praying for the sick are some of the ways in which the Christian faithful participate in reinforcing the body of Christ, which is the church.

As they do these things, they are also involved in the various other mundane activities such educating their children, running their businesses and even taking part in political decision making as has been seen in the just-concluded referendum.

The one big lesson that I have learnt during the period leading to the referendum is that, by and large, the pastoral ministry of the church has to be reconsidered.

In today’s Kenya, church behaviour has been influenced a great deal by evangelical thinking.

That may not be bad as such, but the amount of the freedom of worship in this country has made it possible for all manner of Christian ministries to emerge.

These are ministries that are defined and guided by the personal charisma of the person who founds such a ministry. In such a situation, there is very little consultation between the leader and the congregation. The latter just follow what the leader directs.

Another area in which church leaders need to redirect their strategic thinking and energy is the manner in which each individual church carries out the task of evangelisation. When the missionaries came to our country, they evangelised through the medium of secular education.

They established schools and as they imparted a secular education – thereby empowering people – they taught the faith and the moral value system by which to live. After that, they released the people they had taught into the world of work and production.

Obviously after one has empowered an individual to whom they have imparted good morals and a value system by which to live, there is really no need to try and micro-manage such an individual’s decision-making process as they go about their lives. It may indeed constitute a concession to failure if one tries to do so.

Church-citizens connection lost

At some point in the development of Christianity in Kenya, the connection between the church and citizens through education was lost. In fact, a church person directly involved in secular education became more the exception than the rule.

Isn’t it telling that when private schools – academies – became fashionable after the education system started failing during the Moi regime, it was mainly the business entrepreneurs and not the churches that ventured into this area of service provision?

In my considered view, if the modern-day Kenyan church really intends to truly evangelise her people in the gospel sense of evangelisation, it has to start with the intention to empower them.

The church may even consider going back to the roots and borrowing a leaf from the missionary style of evangelisation.

A properly educated society is a powerful society where people can do the thinking for themselves.