A dispute over Freemasonry has split one of Kenya's largest churches, the PCEA, leading to the removal of priceless historical fittings from its prayer houses.
Two factions are locked in an expensive and potentially destructive wrangle over symbols and artefacts used in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa for many years, but which critics are now linking to Freemasonry and demanding they be destroyed.
The row found vent in a newspaper advertisement, last week, signed by four of the church's biggest names – including the Moderator, Rev Dr David Githii – which argued that one could not be a Christian and a Freemason at the same time.
At least 30 stained glass windows and metal grilles more than a century old have previously been removed from St Andrews Church – the main seat of the PCEA – and destroyed by supporters of one faction, who claim the designs are similar to symbols used by Freemasons, said by their critics to worship an alien God and to hold un-Christian principles.
Police have had to intervene at least once to quell confrontations between the two factions at St Andrews, which counts among its members prominent Kenyan businessmen and politicians.
The current crop of PCEA leaders have, however, vowed to destroy all "satanic and devil worship symbols" from all churches and plan to send a demolition squad to all sanctuaries built by Scottish missionaries at the beginning of the last century.
Targeted are the Church of the Torch at Kikuyu, PCEA Tumutumu Church and PCEA Chogoria in Meru South.
The anti-Freemason faction has also declared that architects hired to build PCEA churches and its institutions will be vetted to ensure that they do not include un-Christian symbols in the buildings.
"One cannot be a Christian and at the same time a member of Freemasonry," Rev David Githii told the Press after the church's Nairobi region meeting at St Andrews Church, recently. "We don't worship the same God the Freemasons worship.''
More than 100 delegates drawn from the seven presbyteries attended the meeting, including those from Milimani, Ngong, Pwani, Nairobi and Tanzania mission.
At the heart of the dispute are the heritage and traditions of Scottish missionaries, who established the PCEA, originally known as the Church of Scotland Mission.
Their defenders say the targeted symbols and designs have been in the PCEA churches for more than a century and were simple Scottish internal decor engravings and patterns on stained glass windows with links to Freemasonry but not necessarily satanic.
Others pushing for the destruction of "satanic or devil worship" symbols are the moderator of St Andrews, Rev Dr George Wanjau, PCEA secretary General Samuel Muriguh and Dr Eustace Kabue, who chaired a task force on Use of Symbols in Worship and Faith Practices.
On the opposite side are personalities such as Rev Dr Timothy Njoya, Mr Fred Mbiru, a retired banker and elder at St Andrews Church and scores of other parishioners.
Among the symbols already removed from the church are a compass and square on the grilles at the entrance to the church, masonic coffins on the church's 30 windows and celestial globes on stairs leading to the main sanctuary. Also destroyed were plaques on pews dedicated to members of the congregation, including those of the family of former nominated MP Eliud Mahihu.
Dr Wanjau and the clerk of the Kirk Session, engineer James Mureithi yesterday told the Nation that there were other symbols yet to be be destroyed, among them the spiral on the old church at St Andrews, made up of a spear on top of a hut.
Dr Githii said freemasonry and Christianity were incompatible. ''Freemasonry, which itself is a religion, is not at all compatible with Christianity," he declared. "These symbols and artefacts must be removed and destroyed. They are anti-Christ."
But church elder Fred Mbiru, writing to Dr Wanjau, has taken issue with destruction of parts of church, saying, they were not in accordance with the Practice and Procedures Manual of the PCEA .
''St Andrew's congregation has no track and no relationship with Freemasonry" Mr Mbiru said." It is a Christian congregation and any symbols in the sanctuary all depicts Christianity down the ages.''
Mr Mbiru described as "a big perversion to great work done all these years" the removal of church symbols adding:
''Inability to appreciate such Christian religious art should not be inflicted on the congregation.''
The destruction of the symbols was reported to the Kilimani police station, but the police backed off when they were told it was a spiritual matter.
Targeted by the "reformists" are St Andrews altar and pulpit and the baptismal font
A demolition squad will be sent to the PCEA's oldest church, the Church of the Torch, in Thogoto, in Kikuyu, on December 19.