The history of Anglicanism in Kenya goes back to 1844, when the first Anglican missionaries arrived from the Church Missionary Society. All Saints Cathedral was completed and consecrated in 1952, the same year that the Kiswahili Bible was published. It's an English-style cathedral made out of Kenyan stone. Currently the cathedral is having a second extension hall built. Its grounds form a huge car-park but it is set by the side of Uhuru Park, which has a sense of open space all around. The interior is typically Gothic, with arches and ribbed ceiling. As you enter, you face the altar and choir, with a colourful round stained glass window above. Seats to accommodate the large congregation occupy most of the space all round the church.
A very large community of both English and Kiswahili speaking members. There were seven services on the Sunday I visited, both in Kiswahili (the native language of the Swahili people and the lingua franca of much of Africa's east coast) and English, Prayer Book and modern, eucharist and choral evensong. They conduct a wide range of ministries, including mothers' union, children's ministries, marriage preparation (weddings are big business in Kenya!) and an HIV/AIDS clinic in conjunction with a local hospital. A wide age range of people form the congregation. Many had put on their "Sunday best", but the community included many from every social background.
Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, has grown from a small town to become one of Africa's most modern cities. It is home to the Nairobi Stock Exchange as well as regional headquarters for several international companies and organisations. The city centre is small and accessible and boasts a fantastic music tradition and a colourful array of shops and markets. Beneath the veneer, however, poverty lurks close to the surface. The cathedral is just outside the city centre, next to (almost within) Uhuru Park, a recreational park noted for occasional religious and political gatherings. The church itself is set back from a busy road, so it has a sense of peace and calm.
The Revd Julius Wanyoike led the service, assisted by the Revd Geoffrey Njenga. The sermon was given by Mr Calisto Odede, a lay visiting preacher.
What was the name of the service?Parish Liturgical Service.
How full was the building?
Very full – and this was the fifth service that morning!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, there was a pile of books to collect your own. The peace was passed, but no opportunity for a chat.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, wooden but comfy!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The previous equally full congregation had just left, so people wandered in quietly. The organ played for a few minutes before the service started.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We will start our service by singing hymn number 183." A word of welcome came later in the service.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Songs of Fellowship hymnal and Our Modern Services, the Anglican Church of Kenya's collection of orders of service for every occasion.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The church was so full we were rather squashed together, which was distracting (although many churches would be glad to have such a "distraction").
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The style was formal but welcoming, even evangelistic, and open to wherever people might be spiritually. The service followed the order of the Our Modern Services book, but with flexibility and extempore prayer. A mixture of traditional and modern songs were included, and the congregation, especially the choir, sang with gusto. The peace was passed, but formally, and with no chance to have a chat at that time. There was an altar call at the end, but it felt very safe and natural (all credit to them for this). Not sure this would happen every week.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Enthusiastic, engaging, articulate and down to earth. Mr Odede used humour and fun and had something worthwhile to say. Excellent!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme was "Receiving Christ as Lord." He made it relevant to today and linked it with the day's Bible readings. He talked about the current generation as "elastic," trying to push things as far as possible and yet wanting to feel they are still following Christ. He challenged us to look at our own lives and see where we needed to receive Jesus as our Lord.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The organ and the singing. The variation on the organ and the descants were terrific and took us to a new place in our worship. The collection was taken at the front in beautiful Kenyan baskets – we all had to carry up our offerings. The process of all moving (rather like communion) was a wonderful experience and one I'd like to repeat.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being asked to stand up as a newcomer! It was done in an encouraging way, but some of us find this all rather embarrassing.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one was looking out for those who were on their own. Most seemed content to talk with their friends. This felt OK as there were lots of people there, but it would have been nice for someone to ask where I was from. The three priests all stood at one door, so anyone going through the other exits (there were a few) didn't even get a handshake.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very sweet milky tea, which was most welcome. There were eats too but I didn't partake. Had I stayed for all five services, they may have been a lifesaver!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The worship was great, but it seemed difficult to get to know anyone, or at least to be recognised and acknowledged on a first visit.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, especially the music.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The descants and hymn singing and the "offering on the move."