I am writing this shortly after arriving back in the UK on Tuesday. The memories of Sunday however will linger long in the memory.
Sunday is anything other than a day of rest for the archdeacon and his family. Everyone was immaculately turned out and ready to leave by 7am. We dropped Nick off at a petrol station and hotel owned by Revd Solomon. This kind of arrangement is not unusual in Kenya where most vicars find some way of supplementing their income.
I arrived once again at the archdeacon’s parish of Kenyatta Road to await my lift. Ven David had been hard at work the day before sorting which member was going to pledge what amount for the gift day. This sort of gift day is a usual occurrence in the church here. Today, as Ven David explained later, this particular church raised 5 million shillings which will go a long way towards the building of a new church on that site.
But my focus was on Ruiru parish. The vicar’s warden Johnny picked me up in time for me to witness the end of KiSwahili service. Of course I couldn’t just slip in as an observer. I was invited to introduce myself and later on to bless the tithes individual worshippers brought kneeling at the communion rail. I discovered that I was also meant to bless each giver and shake their hand.
Joel the catechist then began to preach so I slipped out into the vestry and wait for the rest of the Devonport team. I don’t preach without notes as a rule but I had preached on Colossians 1:1-14 a couple of months ago and it seemed a very appropriate passage for the morning.
The English speaking service was in some ways a curious affair. The clergy processed in with a robed choir. It was due to kick off at 9.30am but there were only a handful of people present. The start of the service followed the prayer book rigidly and the songs were either Victorian hymns or 1970s choruses. Once the formal liturgy finished however the church quickly filled and there were upwards of 200 there. It was a great honour to preach and after a good 30 minutes I received a round of applause. I can only hope this meant my words really had been God’s word to them.
The sermon almost marked a change in the service as from that point the songs and prayers seemed far less inhibited. Again during the service I had to bless the tithe givers, and if anyone arrived too late for this a box on either side of the door marked “late tithes and offerings” indicated that giving was still expected. The offering itself was presented almost at the end during the singing of another oldie “Bringing in the sheaves.”
I pronounced the final blessing and we recessed to another Victorian hymn. After a vestry prayer and photos with the choir Jay, Pam and myself went to the old 1933 church next door for the Kikuyu service. That is when the morning really took off. This older church is smaller than the new but it was heaving. We were told yesterday the congregation was elderly but it seemed all ages were there, and the singing as we entered was filled with the Holy Spirit so that we couldn’t help raise our hands and voices in worship even if we were speaking a different language. That kind of difficulty, after all, presents no problem to the Holy Spirit. Beth joined us halfway through from the Sunday School where she had had a great time with the children and she too was caught up in the Spirit.
As in the English service we presented the scrapbook Pam had put together but the whole ceremony was so much more relaxed and full of humour. Perhaps it was the small size of the church, perhaps it was the fact everyone was speaking their native language. Either way the atmosphere was electric. We then witnessed a thanksgiving service for an elderly lady who came to church with several generations of her family to celebrate her recovery after six months of illness. They came to the front where this elderly lady gave her testimony and introduced each family member.
Once that finished it was the turn of Joel the catechist to preach again. Most people hereabouts are fluent in at least three languages, so it was no difficulty to preach the same sermon he had delivered in KiSwahili earlier in Kikuyu and he did so with great passion and fervour. Only he slightly deviated off script by first trying to marry Beth off with the youth worker Peter. Fortunately everyone appreciated the humour of the situation and I did say before the blessing that her Nan wanted a word with him!
We then dutifully shook the hands of every worshipper leaving the church, aware that in that gathering each of us had our own foretaste of heaven. We eventually made it to lunch in the vestry at 1.30pm. It had been a long time since breakfast and I was extremely hungry! However as always the hospitality shown to us was so warm and friendly. There is a local saying that no one will talk when they are hungry or thirsty and the generosity we have been showing has been overwhelming. Such practical acts of love and kindness show these wonderful people really are gospel folk and I can only hope that when they next visit us they will discover such hospitality on our part. They truly are our brothers and sisters in Christ and it has been privilege indeed to meet them and worship with them.
Today we forged a very special bond that I hope will continue for years to come.