Today we were finally able to travel to our link parish: St Michael’s and All Angels, Ruiru with Emmanuel, Karoa.
Ruiru is the second largest town in Thika diocese with a population of about 100,000. It is a bustling industrial town that is known as the bedroom of Nairobi. The roads were busy that Saturday morning because many people live in the capital during the week and move out to Ruiru and beyond for the weekend. This also means that St Michael’s and All Angels hosts many of its activities on a Sunday as folk may be living away during the week.
I arrived before the others which gave me opportunity to look at the church site. It is a massive area of 2 acres. It has an original stone missionary church built in 1933 and right next door a spacious modern church dedicated in 2003. Opposite these churches stand the Sunday school rooms and to the left behind a hedge the vicarage. This is currently empty since Ven John retired earlier in the year. This is why Ven Joseph is currently overseeing the parish even though he is also an archdeacon and has a neighbouring parish with three churches and five Sunday services. He was one of our guides for the day along with one of the curates Revd Paul (the other curate Revd Erastus was on leave.) We need to pray for the right person to be appointed in the long term to take on the responsibilities for Ruiru.
Also on site stands a former primary school that used to belong to the church. It is now leased to a Roman Catholic hospital to serve the local community. Apparently somewhere else stand two houses leased for free to the local administrative police and there are plans to develop the rest of the space. All this was explained to me by Johnny, the vicar’s warden who spent a year doing a masters degree in education at York University while his wife was doing a PhD in Huddersfield. There was no trace of a Yorkshire accent however!
But further exploration of the church at Ruiru had to wait. When the others arrived we went off to the sister church of Emmanuel, Karoa. Ven Joseph, who was my driver, explained that Karoa used to be separate parish but could no longer pay its way. We travelled gingerly along a new road under construction thanks to Chinese money. On either side the scrubland had been subdivided into plots ready for the road to be finished. Ven Joseph explained the need for the church to acquire a plot of land before this new development was finished.
Eventually we turned off this road and we began to find ourselves in coffee plantations. We were approaching KAIRO the Kenyan Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation. We passed through the gates and followed the track through the estate out into quiet, peaceful country. Just as the lane ended we found Emmanuel Church. We were entertained with the inevitable arrowroot, sweet potato, boiled eggs and water melon in the unfinished hall just above the church that serves as a meeting place for the children. Most of the congregation is drawn from the staff and labourers of KAIRO – it is not the sort of place you would easily find on your own!
The church was built on land donated by a lady called Ruth who celebrated her 90th birthday recently. The adult congregation is small, about 40 with 30 young people and 30 children. We were warmly welcomed by various church members including Joel the parish catechist – the diocesan term for an evangelist, Dan the churchwarden and Ruth the secretary. They were clearly proud of their church and keen to keep it going. We were joined by about six children who sang a lovely song for us. We showed them Pam’s scrapbook with which they were delighted and it was agreed we would then take it over to Ruiru. They wanted to send their love to us and we bade a fond farewell after I had blessed them.
We then took the longer road back through more beautiful farmland which gradually turned into bush as we approached a nearby town, again being subdivided into plots, before turning back into Ruiru. Ruiru town centre is a busy, bustling place with the usual impossible traffic jams. The church stands a little way out. We were greeted by a group of elders. There would have been more but the KAME group which serves the men were out playing sport.
Ven Joseph and Revd Paul introduced the rest of the group. Joel the catechist had come over with us from Karoa. We also met two elderly readers called Agnes and Joshaphat, Peter the youth worker and Simon who is a reader in training. With the two church buildings there are three services in the morning, an 8am service in Swahili in the 1933 Church with about 70-80 people, a 9.30am service in English with about 180-300 people and a 10.30am service in the 1933 Church, mostly elderly, with about 110-120 people. There is also a parallel Sunday school service from 9 to 11 with about 200 children, and a teen service of about 30-50 at about the same time. Holy Communion is celebrated once a month.
There are also 9 cell groups which meet at 4pm on Sunday each with three leaders. They sing, pray, read God’s word and pray for individual needs. There is also a 6pm fellowship group. The choir meets for practice on Saturdays and Sundays and the men’s group on Saturday. Finally there is a ladies fellowship on Thursday morning from 8am to 9.30am.
We asked about links with the wider community. We were told that Ruiru has a university (plus a private one), a college and numerous schools but the church has at present no direct connection. Later in a private conversation Ven Joseph explained that the Bishop was looking for a younger, more dynamic Vicar who would build links and develop the potential of the church which is so strategically situated in a fast growing city.
We then had a no holds barred conversation about the state of the church. Our Kenyan brethren wanted to know why the church in the west was in such a state. Jay and I suggested a number of reasons: the church failing to value its freedom to share its faith, being more interested in rules and ceremonies than outreach, moving away from the teachings of the Bible in order to fit in with the world. I firmly stated my evangelical credentials and I think my position was appreciated. Beth’s perspective as a young believer was also helpful and we did stress we needed young people to come over on the link while Pam effectively challenged them about the inclusion of young people with disabilities.
By now we were as usual well behind schedule and my tiredness was starting to catch up with me. I had a brief sleep before the whole family went out to the bishop’s house for dinner. The food was the standard fare of white or pilau rice, chapatti, goat stew, chicken, cabbage and a few extras. There were plenty of thank yous and speeches which on another occasion I would have appreciated better. Certainly the link committees of both dioceses deserve enormous thanks and credit for working so hard and so efficiently to make this link work and I sincerely hope that others will come out to Thika in the future. There is so much learn, and a visit here really does reignite and refresh your faith.