Every church has worshippers who have been attending prayers every week without fail for a long time and do not show signs of stopping.
These worshippers have seen the church sprout. They have witnessed transition of church leadership over the years. They have attended weddings, funerals, fundraisers — name them.
Often, they have a favourite spot in their preferred churches. There, their elders’ greying selves feel one with their maker.
Other worshippers have seen these elders sit and worship for as long as they can remember.
If the pews could talk, they could tell you they know the time to expect these churchgoers and what time they will leave.
They have probably held leadership positions at the church and wield some influence there, for institutional memory goes a long way in church leadership matters.
As Christians mark Easter Sunday, the day believers revisit the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its significance in the origins of Christianity, Lifestyle had a chat with five such elders across Kenya.
They tell us about what motivates them to attend prayers every week in an era when people are seemingly too busy to regularly attend church.
ROSE KAVWAGI Church: All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi
At the service that starts at 11.30am on Sundays, you will find Mrs Kavwagi seated at the backmost pew of the All Saints’ Cathedral located on Nairobi’s Kenyatta Avenue.
She grew fond of that backbench during the years when her four children needed to be attended to as they shuttled between Sunday school and the main church.
Long after the children became adults, with her last-born Jolly now in her forties, Mrs Kavwagi still finds the back pew convenient.
“When I sit in the front I feel misplaced,” says a youthful-looking Mrs Kavwagi who retired as primary schoolteacher in 2002.
The first time Mrs Kavwagi stepped into the All Saints Cathedral was in November 2, 1970, months after wedding her late husband Eliud Muthengei Kavwagi.
For some reason, she says, that date has been etched in her memory.
“Ever since, I’ve never left,” she tells Lifestyle, adding in November 2020, she will be celebrating 50 years at the church.
Her Sundays start by waking up at 5.30am. That is the time she wakes up every day “to have a quiet time with my God before everybody else is awake”.
After the morning meditation on Sundays, she attends to her morning duties and tries to be in church latest 10.45am for the 11.30am service. This is because she is usually on duty — ushering and helping in collecting offering and tithe.
“The church is quite big. You cannot collect the offertory alone. It needs more than 10 or 15 people,” she says, adding that she is also among the people who count the cash offering before it is banked every Sunday.
She does not remember missing church except when she could not help it. So, what motivates her to go to church so religiously?
“Going to church is not proof that you are Christian. It is proof that you need to be blessed together with other Christians,” she says. “I come here to be blessed together with others.”
She says she cannot have a clear-cut answer why many people, especially the youth, shun going to church, but calls for paying attention to days of worship.
“You have been having six days and God has been taking care of you in those days. This is a day to go and give thanks for the care, praise God for that,” she reasons.
Mrs Kavwagi was born to Anglican parents, was baptised early in her life and confirmed in 1960 at St James’ Karungu in Kieni, Embu County.
She has seen Anglican archbishops, provosts and other church officials transfer from whites to blacks, and she has also witnessed new structures being erected at the cathedral compound.
This Easter, Ms Kavwagi does not have any special plans, other than attending prayers at the cathedral.
On Thursday, she was among thousands of Anglicans who turned up for a service to commemorate the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples and which marks the beginning of the Easter weekend.
Her parting shot was that Easter is not a holiday. “It is a time to reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” she said, taking us back to the days when her church used to oppose Safari Rally tournaments over Easter because they diluted the essence of the weekend.
ROBINA MOIGE Church: Girango Catholic Church, Nyamira
Every Sunday before 8am, 89-year-old Robina Moige will be seen walking laboriously through the hills of Kiomonso in Nyamira County as she heads to Girango Catholic Church.
She started going to that church since the 1930s when she was a small girl. She was baptised in 1948.
“I was born in a Catholic family. Our parents used to tell us to stick to the teachings so that our days could be multiplied in this world,” she says.
In the year 2000, she formally wedded her husband Moywaywa Mabeya, now deceased, according to the church’s rules.
Ms Moige laments that at times she fails to attend mass because her legs have started developing age-related complications.
When that happens, a priest usually delivers the Holy Communion to her home.
“If l fail to go to church, church members will always come to check on me,” she says.
In church, she is always recognised and given a chance to great church members.
Ms Moige says she is looking forward to continuing serving God “in all days I will be in this world”.
She is blessed with 10 children but lamented that a majority of them changed to other denominations once they got married.
“I tried to talk to them to remain in Catholic but said they are now adults and they can make their own decisions,” she regrets.
JOSEPH BORO NG’ERA Church: Christ the King, Nakuru
As he calmly steps into the expansive Christ the King Cathedral in Nakuru, Mr Joseph Boro Ng’era can easily pass as one of the ordinary faithful who flock this magnificent church every Sunday.
But when the history of the 51-year-old Catholic Diocese of Nakuru will be written, his name is sure to occupy a place in the story due to his immense contribution.
This is a man who has donated more than 40 acres of his land in Gilgil Sub-County where church members have constructed three facilities: St Mary’s Mission Hospital, a children’s home run by Sisters of St Theresa’s, and an imposing chapel.
Mr Ng’era has faithfully been attending the Sunday church service for nearly five decades, and has seen the church grow in Nakuru from humble beginnings to where it is now.
Mr Ng’era, whose robust frame and energy do not betray his 77 years, says his strong Christian faith and dedication to the church are the secrets to his good health.
What motivates this septuagenarian to attend early morning church service regularly without failure?
“There are two greatest and most important commands which keep me going. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’, and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Without a right relationship with God, our relationships with others will not be right, either,” says Mr Ng’era.
“Waking up every morning feeling energetic is a blessing. God has given me a lot of good things in life, but one blessing that I count every morning I wake up is good health.
"This makes me head to church and thank Him for giving me yet another opportunity to live and serve Him,” he says.
Mr Ng’era, who was baptised at the age of eight at Kamirithu village in Limuru, is especially fond of the part of the scripture in the Bible that says: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously …”
Mr Ngera did not stop at the donation of his 40-acre plot.
“I have added another piece of land next to the chapel where a Sh170 million retirement home for the clergy and a prayer centre will be constructed. There is more joy in giving than receiving, and what I have acquired belongs to God. I came naked and I will return to my Maker naked,” he says.
“Over the years, I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver,” adds Mr Ng’era, a retired catechist.
Mr Ng’era has also been a key figure in the formation of some of the parishes in Nakuru diocese that have in the past been shepherded by Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana ’a Nzeki, Archbishop Peter Kairu and the current bishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba.
Some of the parishes which he has seen start from scratch include St Joseph the Worker, St Monica, St Peter’s Lanet and Holy Cross, among others.
WINFRED MUNGERESA Church: St Ursula Chamakanga, Vihiga
One of the developments Mrs Winfred Mungeresa has witnessed in her six-decade journey with the church is the progression from not allowing believers to touch the Holy Communion to nowadays placing it in their hands.
“Christians were not allowed to touch the sacrament. The Eucharist was put on a special plate where a Christian picked it using his or her tongue,” recalls the 67-year-old.
Nowadays, faithful extend their hands and a priest places the sacrament on them.
Mrs Mungeresa worships at St Ursula Chamakanga Catholic church in Vihiga County.
At her church, she belongs to the prayerful group “Legion of Mary”, which is seen as the pillar of the Catholic churches.
She is also the chairlady of a Small Christian Community, a grassroots unit within the church.
While preparing to celebrate Easter last week, she told Lifestyle that a lot of practices have changed in the church.
She was baptised at a young age. At the time, mothers were first taken through a month-long learning process on behalf of their infants before the minors were eventually baptised.
The church believed that the mothers would later teach the children the faith.
“Today it is not the case. Infants are baptised, and later when they are of age go for catechumen classes where they are taken through church teachings before they receive the first Holy Communion.”
When she was growing up, everyone in church — including the priest — faced the altar during mass unlike today when only the congregants face the altar and the priest stands in front of them (just after the altar) to lead the mass. No one was allowed to step on the altar then.
Before mass started, all the Christians took part in early morning prayers that paved the way for mass to begin.
“People observed a lot of silence during mass. There were no greetings during mass as it is the case today,” she recalls.
Mrs Mungeresa says during the older days, Christians had the urge to attend church services each day of the week unlike today when most Christians only worship on Sunday.
She advises the current generation to be humble before God and sever their attachment to the many worldly things they are clinging onto.
She urges them to exercise humility and patience and take the church teachings and doctrines seriously.
The Catholic Church has a total of seven sacraments. Mrs Mungeresa advises the current generation to embrace all the sacraments as this is the hallmark of a good believer.
Traditionally, church leaders such as priests, bishops and deacons were always consulted by believers while making decisions. But nowadays, she says, most of that has petered out.
PETER BARACK OKUMU Church: St Joseph’s Milimani, Kisumu
There was a tradition in Mr Peter Barack Okumu’s family that no one would take breakfast on Sunday before attending mass. He has maintained it to date.
“On Sundays, the first meal we had as a family was the Holy Eucharist. If you wanted to have the early breakfast, it meant you had to attend the 6am mass,” he says.
“That is a tradition I have kept to date. Every Sunday, before I do breakfast, the Eucharist is my first meal,” he adds.
Mr Okumu is the chairman of St Joseph’s Milimani Parish and also the Lay Pastoral Council of Archdiocese of Kisumu.
“I was baptised almost 50 years ago as an infant, and my journey in faith has been consistent. I attribute this to my mother who was a staunch Catholic,” says Mr Okumu.
Much of his leadership capability was nurtured at Christ the King in Nakuru and briefly in Nairobi before he moved to Kisumu.
“I have been in the church leadership for seven years now as the Chairman of St Joseph’s Milimani Parish,” he says.
He has served under the former Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth (who was the archbishop of Kisumu for 40 years) and recently participated in his handing over to Archbishop Philip Anyolo.
“We did all to make sure the transition celebration was a success,” he recalls.
The joy he gets when serving God and church is what drives Mr Okumu to come for prayers regularly.
“I get inner fulfilment when I participate in the activities of the church. There are those blessings I experience individually and as family,” he says.
“For the past 12 years, I have never consulted a doctor for major ailments. I can attribute this for the service I do for the church. God somehow takes care of my health so that I can serve with a lot of zeal,” he adds.
Mr Okumu believes that for one to excel in life, one should have close communion with God.
“I don’t think you can be a total person without the presence of God in your life. God is the giver of life and therefore we must respect that,” he observes.
The moral decay and negativity we see in the society is a result of running away from God, he believes.
“An example is the recent scenario of a young man hacking [to death a] young lady who was a Moi University student. It’s because the youth have some emptiness in them. If only they could come back to God!” he says.
His desire to help the church has earned him good working relations with the priests and the archbishop.
“My priest and the archbishop are spiritual leaders. While they do our spiritual formation, we on the other side drive the development aspects of the church,” says Mr Okumu.
Reporting by Elvis Ondieki, Francis Mureithi, Derick Luvega, Elizabeth Ojina and Benson Ayienda