An attempt by President Uhuru Kenyatta to bring together two rival factions in the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) has collapsed.
The mediation efforts, said to have cost at least Sh12 million, failed after 20 meetings in which both sides adopted hard line positions.
At the centre of the dispute are two factions, one headed by Archbishop Julius Njoroge Gitau who was elected in 2017, the other headed by Archbishop Fredrick Wang'ombe said to have the backing of outgoing church head, Amos Kabuthu.
Uhuru is said to have been pushing the two claimants to the church throne to the negotiation table. But none has been willing to step down from their hard line positions leading to the collapse of the talks late last year.
The president had specifically invited two close confidants - retired Archbishop Lawi Imathiu of the Methodist Church and Bishop Peter Njenga, formerly of Mt Kenya South Diocese, to mediate the process. A State House official and the president's confidant was the mediation team's secretary.
"The president had good intentions but the crisis in AIPCA is a hard nut that can only be cracked by an insider with a good grasp of this church," said Bishop Samuel Njiriri, a former AIPCA minister who quit to start another church.
The current split started when Wang'ombe was installed by Kabuthu at AIPCA Bahati Cathedral even after Njoroge had won the church polls.
In what mirrors the underlying problems in AIPCA, Wang'ombe's ordination was attended by Deputy President Ruto while Uhuru would later grace Njoroge's installation at Moi Sports Centre, Kasarani.
After attending a funeral January 2018 of three Igembe AIPCA diocese bishops who died in a road accident in December 2017, the president appealed to the two factions to reconcile and heal a church he said he held dear to his heart.
Mediation meetings were later held at a hotel in Kenol, Murang’a County and The Methodist Guest House, Nairobi. The team consisted of 20 members: 10 members from each of the two factions.
Reports from both sides indicate that each member was earning Sh30,000 in daily allowances; although it is not clear who was bankrolling the team.
Sources say the venue of the meetings had been picked because it was not possible to hold the talks at either the traditional AIPCA headquarters at Bahati which is under Wang'ombe’s control or the Thika Diocese Cathedral that Archbishop Njoroge has been using, without appearing to take sides in the fallout.
Bishop Wang'ombe also included in his negotiation team, Samson Muthuri, who the Njoroge-faction accuses of breaking away from the main church almost a decade ago and now goes with the title of the Archbishop of the Eastern diocese.
Archbishop Njoroge is said to have been under siege by a formidable team of rebels assembled by Wang'ombe and Muthuri who have been insisting that the church be split into three archdioceses and that Njoroge's ordination be conducted afresh.
"A major issue of contention was that Njoroge was ordained by Bishop Kubai (one of the bishops who died in a road crash in 2017) which is improper because he (Kubai) was not an Archbishop," said Moses Kirima, the church chancellor in the Wang'ombe faction who is also the MP for Imenti Central, Meru county.
Observers say the mediation efforts were bound to collapse. This was confirmed by Njoroge last month. Speaking at Olkalou, Nyandarua county, Njoroge said the talks had collapsed and blamed the rival faction saying it was not ready for reconciliation.
Nyeri lawyer, Wahome Gikonyo, who is the chancellor of the Njoroge faction warned that the group was now exploring new options to deal with dissent.
“We wish to advise Bishop Wang'ombe to leave and form his own church because we shall finally resort to legal measures against disregard of church doctrines,” added Gikonyo.
A similar call has been made by the Wang'ombe faction.
At the crux of the crisis is that AIPCA, with 29 dioceses all headed by substantive bishops, is now saddled with as many as 50 extra bishops.
Many of these bishops have no dioceses to head and are confined to serving congregations as small as pastoral areas usually under a newly ordained priests or a deacon.
The church, which is best known for incubating nationalism and clamour for independence, was at some point last year preparing to ask some of the extra bishops to return their religious regalia and revert to their earlier positions as pastors and deacons.
Both factions support this, but blame their rivals for generating the problem and for being the hindrance to its resolution.
Both sides cannot even agree on whether the church is facing a crisis or not.
Wang'ombe's side insists that there is no crisis and accuses Njoroge's side of seeking to create one. It insists the mediation effort has not collapsed, and that it has only taken a break.
But Njoroge's side insists that the talks are over.