“The enemy will be defeated because God has those He works with.”
This is all Joseph Ntombura, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, has had to say lately, as he stares at the possibility of the institution he has led for five years tumbling down.
Wrangles are threatening the cohesion and vast investments the church has painstakingly made over the years when it enjoyed relative calm.
“A bad scenario is unfolding in Meru, as the fight against Bishop Ntombura escalates. Even we, as ordinary members, are lost on who to listen to and believe. We are left to pray that the church will stand and not disintegrate,” said Stephen Kaberia, a Methodist faithful.
Mr Kaberia was referring to opposition from former Presiding Bishop Stephen Kanyaru, who hails from the neighbouring Tharaka. Mr Kanyaru has been critical of Ntombura’s tenure, saying it saw poor management of resources.
Beyond Meru, which is considered the church’s stronghold, there is also strife at the Coast after Bishop Wellington Sanga declared the formation of a separate conference, of which he will be the president. This, in defiance of a court order secured by the mother church.
Bishop Sanga also accused Ntombura of failing to manage the church resources and said they would no longer remit collections to the headquarters in Meru. “We want devolution in the church. We want to appoint our own conference secretary, bishops, presiding bishop and manage our affairs. We want to be self-governed, self-supporting and self-propagating,” said Sanga.
The funds management matter might be why the Kenya Methodist University (Kemu), the church’s flagship project, is reeling under a Sh3 billion debt.
Bishops in Meru say this is the result of poor leadership and micro-management by the church.
Other institutions run by the church include schools, the multi-million shilling Maua Methodist Hospital, and the Methodist Resort in Nairobi. It is also building a Sh80 million office block in Meru.
Some of Ntombura’s fiercest detractors are senior university and church officials who were laid off after the bishop launched a restructuring exercise at the institution.
They claim Kemu once had the largest varsity student population in the country but the numbers have sharply dropped to nearly 7,000.
But Ntombura, who is also the Kemu chancellor, says he inherited an institution with huge loans that have now been paid off hence putting the university on the path to recovery.
The bishop has also told off Sanga and vowed that he will not allow any group to take over church property.
“God allows one to have enemies because they make one better,” he recently told congregants.
Ntombura is no stranger to tumult. In August 2017, he manoeuvred around court orders to be reelected and last year he led Kemu to hold a graduation ceremony that his rivals had claimed would be unlawful because the university congregation had to be convened by a substantive vice-chancellor, yet there was none in place.
Sanga, however, has the backing of some members of the Meru Synod, which comprises five circuits, under the leadership of the Reverend Misheck Kanake, formerly of Nyambene Circuit.
“They have told us that they are not running away from the Methodist Church but want to form their own conference. This could lead to big growth in that region for our church,” said Kanake.
He added: “We support the split because the church has reached a point where we can divide ourselves into three workable conferences. This split agenda came in 1989, but now we have to actuallise it.”
The Kanake group suggests that the three autonomous conferences - to be labeled Coast, Mt Kenya and Nairobi - will each be headed by a regional presiding bishop.
The Nairobi conference will also comprise the synods (or dioceses) in Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley.
Retired Bishop Jeremiah Anondo, who served the church for about four decades, said the call for a split was triggered by the “decline of the church, especially at the top leadership”.