A new generation of bishops is taking over the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK).
This year alone, the Kenyan province is going to have five new bishops with one among the longest serving bishops of the previous generation – Bishop Joseph Otieno Wasonga of Maseno West Diocese – calling it a day. This will make a total of 11 new bishopssince 2016.
Bishop Wasonga has been at the helm of the diocese for 27 years since his consecration and enthronement in 1991. He retires at the mandatory retirement age of 65.
The other dioceses that are going to have new bishops include Mt Kenya South, Southern Nyanza, Kitui and Garissa.
In Kitui, Bishop Josephat Mule will be retiring this year after serving since 2002. The diocese was carved out of Machakos Diocese in 1995.
Garissa on the other hand will be getting a new bishop after it becomes the newest diocese in Kenya making a total of 38 dioceses.
It is under the All Saints Cathedral Diocese whose bishop is the archbishop of Kenya, the Most Rev Jackson ole Sapit who was elected in 2016 before his enthronement on June 3, 2016 to become the six archbishop of ACK.
“It is time to give autonomy to Garissa which has been under All Saints and this is part of growth in the church,” Dr Sapit said.
While the office of the bishop comes with trappings of power and privilege, two bishops have confounded faithful and left tongues wagging by choosing to retire early. Some of the changes have not been easy with some ending up in court like it happened in Mombasa where Rt Rev Alphonce Baya had to wait for a court decision before he could get into office.
Bishops Timothy Ranji and James Ochiel have decided to hang their boots before their term ends.
The Rt Rev Ochiel of Southern Nyanza Diocese has chosen to retire 10 years before his term ends while his counterpart in Mt Kenya South, Rt Rev Ranji, has also exits two years before his time.
Ochiel has in the past vied for two positions unsuccessfully; he vied to be the secretary general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) a post which went to Rev Canon Peter Karanja, a former provost of the All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi.
In 2016, the prelate vied for the office of the archbishop, a post which went to Ole Sapit. Others in the race were bishops Lawrence Dena (Malindi), Moses Nthuka (Mbeere), Joel Waweru (Nairobi) and Julius Wanyoike (Thika).
“A bishop can decide to retire early for various reasons at any stage of their service and the church has no option but to let them go. We will be praying to have the positions filled,” said Sapit.
Perhaps the one who has seen it all is Rt Rev Wasonga who has served under three Kenyan Presidents and five archbishops – the late Manasses Kuria and David Gitari; Benjamin Nzimbi, Eliud Wabukhala and Sapit.
Wasonga himself unsuccessfully ran for office of the archbishop three times. He is now the dean of the province (ACK congregation in Kenya).
Since he came into office, Sapit has overseen the consecration and enthronement of six bishops in the dioceses of Kericho, Kitale, Mombasa, Maseno South, Maseno North and Baringo which was carved out of Nakuru Diocese. With this new crop of bishops, there is bound to be a different outlook on how the church handles some issues including national and regional politics.
During the 2012 elections, the church faced a backlash for keeping quiet but this changed in 2017 when it came out and commented on matters affecting the nation.
In Nyanza, bishop of Bondo Diocese, Rt Rev David Kodia, was among church leaders who asked that elections be called off in the region.
This would bring back memories of leaders such as Gitari and bishops Henry Okullu as well as Alexander Kipsang Muge who spoke against the regime during the multiparty politics.
Ochiel was not left behind after he accused ODM of imposing leaders on the people of Nyanza, a statement that did not go well with some of the leaders in the region.
Other bishops who form the cohort of the 1990s in which Wasonga finds himself include retired bishops Stephen Kewasis of Kitale, Francis Mwayi Abiero of Maseno South and Julius Kalu of Mombasa.