Encouraging, challenging and exhausting; farewell to Kenya

Today was our last full day in Kenya.  Bishop Julius arranged for us to travel to Nairobi to meet the new Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Most Reverend Jackson ole Sapit. It proved to be a special occasion. After talking with the whole group and hearing something of the tripartite link which exists between our three Anglican dioceses, all located in very different contexts, Archbishop Jackson graciously received Bishop Michael of Cyprus and the Gulf, and myself for conversation in company with Bishop Julius. It was good to see the warm friendship between the Archbishop and Bishop Julius and to hear at first hand something of the Archbishop’s vision for the Anglican Church of Kenya.

thika_-visitors-and-archbishopA member of the Masai tribe, Archbishop Jackson cuts an impressive figure at well over six feet tall. He was elected Archbishop in May earlier this year so he’s very new to the job. Born into a large polygamous family some fifty-two years ago, Archbishop Jackson’s was the child of his father’s seventh wife – he had eleven wives! Not the usual background for a Primate of the Anglican Communion! Tragically, his father died and left his mother a widow when Jackson was only four years old. Worse still, it coincided with land reform and major changes in Kenyan agriculture. As a result of the changed legal situation his older step-brothers grabbed the opportunity to drive away their father’s younger wives and children to ensure the children of these younger wives didn’t inherit any of their family’s ancestral land. Jackson’s mother had no alternative but to return with her young son to live with her family. They existed on virtually nothing.

Jackson proved to be a bright child and thanks to a World Vision initiative his primary and secondary schooling was sponsored. He started cattle trading, walking his animals from his village to market in Nairobi, a journey that would take him seven or eight days. These early experiences were extremely formative and I’m sure they go some way to explain his passion for community development. The Archbishop speaks of ‘kingdom values’ and his longing for young Kenyans to have a solid foundation in life to equip them for the challenges of living in this global age. It was an honour to meet him and to hear his testimony.

Following our meeting with the Archbishop, Bishop Julius took us to All Saints’ Cathedral. Until his election as Bishop of Thika four years ago, Julius was Provost of the cathedral and he holds the place in special affection. Next year the cathedral celebrates its centenary. It is a handsome building, unmistakably Anglican, and would not look out of place in Buckinghamshire! Unbelievably it has a membership in excess of 8,500 and is staffed by nine clergy. On Sundays there are no less than 14 services, the first beginning at 7am, one of which is for deaf people. Most of the services have their own choir to lead the worship. Set close to the centre of Nairobi, the cathedral and its associated complex of buildings hum with life. It feels vibrant and engaged.

All Saints Cathedral, photo Sue Parks

Our final act of worship together took place in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral at a service of holy communion, followed by lunch together. At the end of this amazing ten days I am left with much to think about, to ponder and reflect on. It has been encouraging, challenging and exhausting in equal measure. Above all, there is so much to thank God for. As a diocesan group we look forward to sharing our thoughts and experiences at the Diocesan Synod in March. In 2018 it will be Exeter’s turn to welcome our friends from Thika and Cyprus and the Gulf. So watch out! A group may be descending on your parish soon!

God bless Kenya. God bless our sisters and brothers in the Diocese of Thika and in the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf. God bless our partnership in the Gospel.

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