St Stephen’s Church in Kisumu looks hollow from the inside. This should be the largest Anglican congregation on the lakeside town in this Diocese of Maseno South given the cosmopolitan nature of Kisumu and the proximity of the city to Maseno; a church historical site whose historicity should rub on to the church in the city. St Stephen’s should even have more claim to fame.
This is the church from where the late Bishop Henry Okullu, the journalist-turned-preacher, raised his voice to be heard all over Kenya. From St Stephen’s the mind races back to the days of the bishop who held the breath of the nation by every word he uttered. Those days it made sense to get to church early since every seat in the pew would be taken up long before Bishop Okullu took his cathedral.
Then the soft-spoken prelate would mount the pulpit and his voice—hardly raised—lay it out as it was. Many in his cross hairs would dread the moment as the media picked up the words and magnified them far and wide. By then the bishop would be about tending to his flock and there are many a development project that he kept going and still stand testimony to his work.
There are many attractions around the lakeside town that make it an appealing hideout during this Christmas season.
When the day of worship finds you in Kisumu, then St Stephen’s Cathedral appeals probably more than any other.
Last year Christmas worship was conducted in the yet to be finished sanctuary in the upscale Milimani neighbourhood.
The building under construction holds good promise as a future successor to the old St Stephen’s Church.
The older sanctuary is much smaller, less airy and certainly requiring change. But that change does not seem to be happening quickly enough.
Since 2016 Christmas, the new building seems to have stood still as time moved on. Apart from the main shell and electricity in the building, everything else seems as it was in 2016.
This Christmas the Dean of the Cathedral led the worship, choirs performed, probably better than they did last year, but a little girl stole the show with a poetry rendition of the plight of teachers.
The bishop preached, probably his last sermon as holder of that position at Christmas time. Like the old church, the songs were predictable Christmas renditions: As With Gladness, The First Nowell the Angel Did Say, Oh Come All Ye Faithful etc. And the congregation dutifully worked through the songs with more duty and little emotion. Then the lay leader in her overflowing vestments started a song in Luo.
And all of a sudden the congregation seems to come to life even though the song seemed to have little to do with Christmas. Although not a student of the late bishop, things would not be the same if the old lion were alive.
The state of this new sanctuary would not be the same. Where is the resource mobilisation to put a dent into the work of completing the Lord’s sanctuary in home to one of the icon’s of the Anglican clergy and Kenya’s most renowned preachers of all time?
That the completion of the church would take time is given, but the passing of a year should show a dent into the progress of this project. While certainly not part of the rags-to-riches prosperity gospel, the Bible still remains true that the Lord has cattle on a thousand hills, and as a cheeky preacher once said, if He, the Lord, just sold a few of those cattle then the work of the Lord would be completed.
That work must include the completion of that church. But secondly, why do the old Christmas carols hold such a central place in the celebration of Christmas so many years after the Presbyterian Church of East Africa launched jitegemee and a great effort made to Africanise the church? The work of the church is not just in the building but in the worship experience as well.
It is alright to sing all those carols such as Silent Night; Oh Holy Night; Away in a Manger; While Shepherds Watched and Joy to the World, but Africa’s authentic music must find way its way into church and light up the worship experience. St Stephen’s indeed shows that the Lord’s work is incomplete. Writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language & Performing Arts at Daystar University