LIFE BY LOUIS: My first English church service

Monday May 06 2019

By attending this church that sunny Sunday morning, I took the leap of faith, literally. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH


My experience with holy places of worship took a completely new dimension when I joined college.

I had not set my foot in Nairobi until the day I reported to the prestigious institution of higher learning where I taught myself to picket and prepare entrails and ugali from an electric coil.

I therefore had to go through an accelerated one-week induction program before I was deemed fit to be admitted into the city life.

The crash course experience that I went through was barely enough to teach me the basic ropes. I still insist it is gravely wrong to pluck someone straight from the farms of Matimbei and throw them right into the city centre without a comprehensive induction course with practical lessons.


There should be a tertiary college at Muthaiga or Pangani for orientation purposes before one reaches the city. One should not be allowed to proceed past the college without passing with a distinction.


On my first Sunday in the city, I attended a church service at the college chapel.

My head was undergoing a complete spin. First of all, I did not know what to wear. All my clothes were former farm clothing and personal protection equipment from odd construction jobs.

I also struggled with how much offertory to carry because I had been told by a person who had attended churches in Nairobi before that people wrote fat cheques and deposited them into the offertory box.

I was also apprehensive about the content of the service.

Apart from my days in high school where we sat in the back and had no idea what was happening during the Sunday service that we were forced to attend, all the other services that I had attended in my life had been conducted in my mother tongue.

I knew that the service I was going to attend was in English and was actually presided over by a white priest.

I knew only two English songs, the choruses of which I sung with a lot of zeal.

By attending this church that sunny Sunday morning, I took the leap of faith, literally.

I wore a baggy t-shirt and my favourite three quarters trousers that I considered real hip and sophisticated.


When I walked in, the first thing I realised was that unlike my church in Matimbei where men and women sat in different columns separated by a ten metre ‘no man’s land’ which was illegal to cross, here everyone sat and  mingled freely.

I strolled inside feigning confidence and trying to establish a sitting pattern, like which side had more men who looked like they were visiting the church for the first time like yours truly.

The sitting arrangement was not making any particular sense, so I slipped onto a random pew. Any time I expected a matronly looking CWA woman to come and pluck me from their territory and shepherd me to where men sat. I was spared the agony since everyone seemed to mind their business.

More shock awaited me ahead. I was seated next to this young couple who were holding hands and the lady leaning close on her spouse’s ample shoulder.

In Matimbei, this would have been considered profane and immoral and would have attracted dire wrath from the catechist.

I expected lightning from above to come and strike all of us down to atone for the misdeeds of that sinning couple.

I got nothing from the homily despite trying to focus all my attention to the man on the pulpit.


The priest seemed to speak through his nose, and he cracked Irish jokes that passed me by like a speeding Githurai bus.

When offertory time came, I fished into my pocket and felt the big coin with seven corners called kobole which I held tightly into my palm ready for sowing.

The couple next to me had more surprises in store for me. The lady reached into the man’s coat pocket and retrieved an obese looking wallet from where she proceeded to peel off some few crisp notes that were equivalent of my students loan.

I swallowed hard and decided to focus on more pressing matters.

The songs were out of this world, I wondered how people could sing so many English songs without referring to a book.

There was a student who was working magic on the piano and I spent most of my time staring at him.

The choir master held a thin stick that he swung vigorously above his head.  

As I staggered outside and back to my hostel, I knew I had stories to regale my friends back in the village with.

I also bought an English hymn book on my way out. I had almost eaten all my teeth while other people sang and it was not going to happen again in my next visit.


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