Who is equal to the task?

During his enthronement as the 3rd Anglican Archbishop January 1997, Bishop David Gitari publicly announced in his speech, that he would retire midnight of 16th September 2002. To many he seemed to be clarifying the ambiguity and drama that emerged at the end of archbishop Festo Olang’s service. But underneath was the prophetic challenge to president Daniel Arap Moi, who was attending the function, to also be clear on his retirement. Moi’s rule had dragged on such that no one was sure he would leave power. Such a prophetic valor was rare at the time and came at great personal cost. Bishop David Gitari, among others, was willing to pay that cost. In the chaos characteristic of Kenya today, the incoming archbishop will be expected to be prophetic, fearlessly reprimanding, calling out and confronting impending dangers to the society.

The issues in Kenya’s current socio-political landscape would challenge any formidable leader. The ICC conundrum which goes back almost 8 years since 2008, got the political establishment, the IDPs and the opposition all pulling in different directions, at different times. The ethnic undercurrents that emerged in the period could have pulled the Anglican church apart given its strong representation from opposing poles of the PEV divide. That the Anglican church remained largely united under this environment will be a feather in Archbishop Wabukala’s cap in times to come. The challenge of the incoming primate will be to preserve the legacy of an Anglican church that has remained united despise such great odds.

The 2013 transition between regimes, compounded by a contested election result, all in an ethnically divided nation, made for an eventful time in Kenya’s political history. While the voice of the Anglican church was not as loud as it has been in the past, it did maintain a concerned, if not muted, aura. The outgoing archbishop’s quiet mien and deliberate manner provided the Kenyan public with this lower key demeanor of Anglican leadership in the public sphere. The incoming archbishop will have a variety of precedents in terms of leadership postures. If national leadership is a reflection, at least partly, of personal leadership practices, then the election of the archbishop will need to factor in the leadership personalities of the individuals in the run.

It is corruption and economic crimes that, for good or ill, prompted a forceful response from the otherwise reserved outgoing Archbishop. In his call for the declaration of corruption as a national disaster in 2015, Archbishop Wabukala resonated with the public sentiment, and the opposition’s fever pitched protest that saw the exit of key government officials. A case could be made against his uncritical stance on the opposition’s lack of cohesion around a solid national agenda. Then again, one could say the same of key church leaders across the board on that subject. The church leadership must be ready to confront irresponsibility in any sitting government. It must also be willing to call into account potentially debilitating failure and lack of focus among the opposition. Going forward this will be an important area of meaningful engagement within the church generally, and for the incoming Anglican archbishop in particular.

The outgoing archbishop’s tenure also coincided with the transformation of All Saints Cathedral into a bustling hub of activity. The completion of the ministry centre and its commissioning into service surfaced a unique ecumenical dimension of the Anglican church’s relations with the wider church in Nairobi. While it will not escape notice that the centre provides a valuable income stream, what is noteworthy is the nature of activity at the centre. Multiple church traditions take part in the daylong and evening activities. This hopefully points to an important unifying role that the Anglican church is increasingly playing outside its engagement with the NCCK.

While the election of the archbishop will not have a direct effect on this ecumenical perspective, there will likely be a residual impact of the incoming prelate’s preferences, which could reverberate through out the church. In recent years, Anglican church has been more congenial in its interaction with the more established charismatic and pentecostal communities. The continuation of this will serve the prophetic cause of the Kenyan church going forward.

Kenya is a young nation. Researchers put the median age at 18 and postulate that the nation will remain young for the next 50 years. The ability of the Anglican church to keep the youth engaged and focussed falls squarely on the laps of the leadership of the church under the direction of the archbishop. Various initiatives have experienced mixed success with some congregations reporting high retention of young people, and others lamenting the loss of their youth to “these mushrooming churches.” Capturing the soul of the youth must remain on the front burner for all churches, new and historic alike, if we are to safeguard the nation’s moral fibre and spiritual future. Even if the incoming archbishop were to do nothing else, this is such a mammoth task that it would instantly fill his hands, and keep them that way for the rest of his tenure.

We must add a final word about the voice of the Kenyan Anglican church on the global platform. It would not be an understatement to say that if the Anglican church in Africa sneezes the Anglican church in the global West could be checking into ICU comatose with severe flu. The Anglican church in Kenya is demographically significant. There are more Anglicans in Kenya than there are in all of North America. Kenya has more than twice as many Anglicans as the average weekly attendance of the church of England in the UK. To its credit, in matters doctrine, the church in Africa has fiercely held to the evangelical tenets of traditional Anglicanism. A notable example is the question of the ordination of gay clergy. Kenyan Anglicans through the outgoing Archbishop have played their part valiantly. The incoming archbishop carries with him a big responsibility to speak into the life of the entire denomination, more than half of who reside in Africa south of the Sahara.

Good leadership, like good sorghum porridge, takes the shape of the container that holds it, warming the container and its surroundings, while nourishing its beneficiary. The shape of the Kenyan political, social, economic, and spiritual landscape is clear. With this there is clarity on how the leadership of the church generally, and the anglican church in particular can respond to, influence and serve the public. We know the container, and what type of heat we need!

The incoming archbishop needs to be a shepherd, spiritually and physically attending to the needs of a nation in need of truth, light and comfort. It is abundantly clear now that the state of the Anglican denomination, locally and globally, points us to the need for a prophet. A leader who will speak authoritatively to the prime movers on all sides of the political divide calling them to account. He needs to be a prophet who will keep the church united and focussed forwards a brighter national future, at a time of ethnic, political, and economic travails. The chosen leader will automatically have a global platform with which to affirm and, where necessary, defend the strength of the communion. He will also be faced with an internal challenge, God helping him, to sustain initiatives to corral the youth into the fold and engage them meaningfully, as a deposit for the future of the denomination. Who is equal to the task?

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