There is more to Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) St Stephen’s Cathedral Kisumu than meets the eye.
The church, which is among the oldest buildings in Kisumu, is still remembered for its active participation in politics during former President Daniel Arap Moi’s era through Bishop Henry Okullu.
It’s from the church pulpit that Bishop Okullu issued some of his summons against President Moi and his government in the 1980s and 1990s, condemning the one party system that violated human rights and went ahead to call for multi-party system.
Bishop Okullu also advocated for policies promoting social justice and focused on poverty eradication in the country.
The history of the church, however, dates back to the colonial period when the Church Missionary Society from England visited Kenya.
Due to racial segregation and class systems during the colonial period, St Stephen’s Cathedral was built for the African Christian converts as a prayer ground similar to ACK St Peter’s Church that belonged to the whites.
The location of the church in Kisumu played a huge role as the city was a fast-growing administrative and commercial centre.
Building began in 1912 supervised by W. H. Wright, who later became the first minister of the church. Rev Wright led the church till 1924 when Rev Reuben Omulo took over and became its first African ordained minister.
It was after the first African Rev Omulo that the church was named ‘Komulo’ meaning Omulo’s place in Dholuo. “Most residents still refer to the church as Komulo,” Mr Zepharuah Kore, the church’s dean says.
Rev Omulo served both as a vicar and a headmaster since St Stephen Cathedral would act as a school on weekdays and a church on Sundays.
Every Sunday, worshippers called for prayers by beating drums for 30 to 40 minutes before prayers.
“Back in the day when there was little noise pollution, you would hear the sounds of drums beating from very far” reminisced Mr Boniface Obondi, the diocesan administrative secretary of the Diocese of Maseno South.
As Kisumu rapidly grew, so did the population and in turn, the number of worshippers at St Stephen’s Cathedral on Sundays.
Believers would flock the church in their thousands, and with time, the church could no longer accommodate the growing numbers, prompting expansion of the compound.
The need for St Stephen’s Cathedral’s expansion existed from the time it was built, but it was in 1962, through the direction of Bishop Festo Olang’, then Bishop of the Diocese of Maseno, that funds were raised for the same.
Mr Richard Hughes, an architect, was entrusted with drawing the plans.
The expansion saw the bishop’s throne and five canon stalls built, thus upgrading the church to a pro-cathedral, which Bishop Olang’ dedicated on February 2, 1964.
The church could then be used as the parish church and a pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Maseno. The expansion was, however, not enough and bigger space was needed for the growing number of worshippers.
Archdeacon Ken E. Stovold worked tirelessly in the expansion programme raising money locally and overseas for the project.
In January 1985, it was agreed that there would be a new building of the cathedral in Kisumu constructed just a few metres from the old church.
However, it wasn’t until 1993 that construction of the new St Stephen’s Cathedral began.
“Unknown to many, the land on which the new church building sits was initially the Kisumu Maximum Prison, that was later moved to Kodiaga,” Bishop Charles Ong’injo of Maseno South Diocese, reveals.
The new church building set to be opened in August 2020, is expected to host 2,500 believers.
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