Fiery Rev. Timothy Njoya's sermon that left church divided

Retired PCEA minister Rev Timothy Njoya. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

An urgent meeting of the appointments committee of the Presbyterian Church was called in March 1987. It was during this meeting that a decision to remove Timothy Njoya from St Andrew’s Parish was made. He was posted to Nyeri.

This posting was unusual as deployment of ministers was usually done in November.

“When moderator George Wanjau told me about the decision the following morning, I warned him that this would have grave repercussions, coming so soon after the controversial Njonjo sermon,” Rev John Gatu narrates in his autobiography, Fan into Flame.

Njoya had delivered a provocative sermon, urging Christians not to be like Charles Njonjo who was sacked “for being a traitor”.

“Then I shared the news of the decision with Timothy. I must admit, he was very calm about it and told me that if the Lord had decided that the time had come for him to leave St Andrew’s, he would leave,” Gatu writes.

The man, who worked in the army during the Second World War before joining the church ministry, says he does not know what happened but two days later, matters took a different turn.

“Timothy accused me of having advised the head office to remove him from St Andrew’s. He insisted that the head office would never have taken such an action without my recommendation,” he writes.


Njoya told him that he knew the posting was tied to his sermon on Njonjo and said he would not accept such corruption in the church.

“The truth of the matter was that I knew nothing about the posting until George Wanjau told me about it,” he narrates. This is what set in motion events that saw deterioration of relations for the two men of the cloth.

“I personally found nothing wrong with Timothy’s sermons. Unfortunately, his manner of speech rubbed some people the wrong way.”

While the situation lasted, Gatu said it was ugly. It split the congregation right down the middle.

One of the elders sent 30 coins to me with a note that read, “These are the thirty pieces of silver for which Judas sold Jesus.” The elder believed Gatu had betrayed Njoya.

“For some odd reason, Timothy thought I had made a deal with the Government to get him thrown out of St Andrew’s Parish so that my son, Kibacia, who had gone into self-exile in Zimbabwe in connection with Mwakenya, would be allowed to return home without repercussions,” he says.

Gatu describes the accusation as painful, adding that it challenged his Christianity, honesty and personal integrity.

“Of all things, I never thought that anyone would have a reason to accuse me of employing the same dirty tactics commonly used by politicians,” he writes.

Gatu describes this episode as among one of the most trying moments after he retired as the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA).

Gatu had just taken three month leave pending his retirement when he was posted to St Andrew’s Church to serve as a Parish Minister.

“I had retired but was definitely not tired. I was eager to serve. I was, therefore, overjoyed and grateful to St Andrew’s for the confidence they had in me,” he narrates.

He looked forward to teaming up with Rev Njoya and his wife, Leah Wambui.

“In retrospect, I believe that the Lord wanted me to learn firsthand the real meaning of servant leadership,” he says. At that time, Njoya preached what many considered “provocative sermons”.

Although they were never heretical, many of Njoya’s sermons ruffled the feathers of those in authority.

“For instance, after Charles Njonjo, a Cabinet minister in the Moi government, had been relieved of his ministerial duties and branded a traitor, Timothy (Njoya) gave a sermon which was broadcast live, suggesting that the congregation should pray for people like Njonjo,” he writes.

Njoya did not stop there, he went ahead and castigated the Government. This was not well-received by the Government of the day.

When Gatu realised that PCEA’s head office was uncomfortable with the sermon, he says, he took the initiative to request a copy of the tape from Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.

The tape was transcribed and given to a lawyer, a member of the church, to know if there was anything that offended the law. The lawyer said, after studying the sermon, there was nothing illegal about the contents.

“He did add, however, that he would not have used the kind of language Timothy had used. I was relieved,” Gatu narrates.

There were threats from the church to defrock Njoya. But later the Ngong Hills Presbytery under whose oversight Njoya served, declared that the sermon followed the true practice of the reformed tradition and, therefore, was not heretical. Gatu says he thought this would be the end of the matter. He was wrong.

The two later met and made peace.

Elsewhere in his book, Gatu says the last time he saw Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was in early August 1978. Rev Gatu, recalls that he saw Mzee just before he traveled to Mombasa.

“He (Kenyatta) looked extremely tired. Mzee did not normally travel by air and, therefore, he would travel long distances by road, such as between Nairobi and Mombasa (a distance of about 500km) and between Nairobi and Nakuru (over 150km),” Gatu writes.

The former PCEA moderator says he sometimes complained to the officers making the presidents travel arrangements.

“Surely, it was taxing to make the long journey from Nakuru to Mombasa (over 650km) in one day. On that particular day, however, I was informed that it was urgent for Mzee to reach Mombasa as quickly as possible,” he narrates.

The death of Kenyatta reached him while on his way to a conference in India. He had missed his connecting flight to Mumbai and had to wait in Addis Ababa for two days waiting for the next connecting flight.

“It was while I was in Addis on Tuesday, August 22, that I learnt of the death of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in his sleep in Mombasa. I cancelled my trip to India and returned to Nairobi the following day,” he writes.

On arrival, Gatu joined the clergy who were invited to State House to view the body. Drama unfolded when they arrived at State House. They found that the Roman Catholic priests came in their purple cassocks. That is when someone at State House suggested that since they were robed, they could view the body first.

“We protested and argued that we, too, would have brought our cassocks if we had known that we needed to be robed.”

After viewing the body, the protestant clergy met at the NCCK offices at Church House to discuss the funeral service for the fallen president.

There were uncertainties about the day of Kenyatta’s burial. In some quarters, it was feared that there would be bloodshed.

“However it turned out to be a beautiful, solemn, well attended memorable day. Kenyans buried their leader with the dignity and honour he deserved. Dignitaries from all over the world were in attendance,” Gatu writes.

Kenyatta’s remains, flanked by a magnificent guard of honour, were ferried from State House to Uhuru Park for the service and later Parliament grounds where a mausoleum had been constructed.

“His coffin was carried in the same golden carriage that had ferried the body of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to his burial place many years before,” Gatu narrates.

Gatu’s last meeting with retired President Daniel arap Moi was on the evening of December 11, 2002, before he addressed his last Jamhuri Day celebrations.

“Among the many things we talked about that evening was the possibility that his party, Kenya African National Union (Kanu), could be defeated at the December 27 General Election,” he writes.

Gatu adds that he advised Moi that if this happened, he should hand over power peacefully, without resistance.

They also suggested that Moi makes the next day, Jamhuri Day, a time to seek forgiveness, by asking wananchi to forgive him for any shortcomings on his part and that he, too, would forgive them for whatever wrongs they had done to him.

“We were moved when he said exactly those words in his last Jamhuri Day address. Indeed, when he handed over power on December 30, 2002, in spite of the great tension, including someone throwing mud at him, he was calm,” he narrates, adding that it was a great pity that no one remembered to thank him, not even his successor, President Mwai Kibaki in his acceptance speech.

Gatu recalls one day when he confronted him over the sacking of public officials without warning.

“Our relationship was such that, if I thought he was running the Government in a manner that would adversely affect the nation, I was able to point this out to him,” he writes.

“For example, I told him that the public had considerable disillusionment with his method of sacking senior government officials without warning. The President exonerated himself and said that those he sacks will have ample warning.”

He says that at times he was of the view that Moi was too quick to act, thus making mistakes.

“I also appreciated that being decisive and quick at taking action are positive attributes in a leader. It was my strong conviction that had Moi been in office during the early 2007/2008 post-election chaos, he would have quelled the violence faster.”