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Church known for conflicts poised for new beginning

BUSINESS
By | July 16th 2011

By MOSES NJAGIH

When the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) elected Evanson Ndung’u as its third head, it was a milestone for an institution that throughout its existence has courted controversy.

The church, whose immediate former Archbishop Samuel Mwangi Gaitho passed on this week, has often baffled many by the public manner in which it conducts its affairs . Its existence has largely been characterised by leadership wrangles, which have on many occasions degenerated into bloody confrontations.

Every time the church has been in a position of getting to office new leadership, it has always courted factional differences that cause split within the main union.

Archbishop Evanson Ndung’u inspects a parade after his installation. [PHOTO: ANNE KAMONI/STANDARD]

This is the typical AIPCA Church, a religious body that prides itself as having played a key role in the country’s independence struggles.

Rag-tag army

As Archbishop Ndung’u proudly reveals the church would during the day offer spiritual nourishment to its flock, but at night join the rag-tag army of Mau Mau in the fight against colonialism.

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"But after independence, we reformed our struggle traits and started the core business of winning souls for Christ," he says of a church whose radical ways and distinctive features are apparent.

To many, it was a break from the norm when the church last weekend ushered in a new spiritual leader, Ndung’u, without the ‘normal’ conflicts. To many, this was a milestone, possibly a turning point in one of the country’s ancient indigenous churches.

"It was such a big step and a break from what we largely perceive as the church’s tradition of constant turbulence," said Mathenge wa Simon, a resident of Kieni in Nyeri County.

Mathenge says it was even a major score for the church that it got the Interim Independent Electoral Commission to guide the election of the new archbishop that saw Ndung’u take over the reins of leadership from the former head, Samson Mwangi Gaitho.

Although the controversies in the church dates back to its inception, it was during the succession of its first spiritual leader, Archbishop Benjamin Kahihia, that it faced a real threat of split.

Ndung’u says that after the death of Kahihia in April 1998, squabbles emerged that caused the bloody confrontation that was witnessed in many churches in central Kenya region, where most of its branches are located.

Succession

He reveals that prior to Kahihia’s death, some people had started positioning themselves to take over leadership. Notable members of the clergy who were in the picture in the succession was Gaitho and the now Archbishop of the breakaway splinter group African Independent Pentecostal Church of Kenya (AIPCK), Archbishop John Baptista Mugecha.

It was the supporters of these two factions that were clashing, leading to the split. "Mugecha wanted to be the archbishop. Even before Kahihia died he had started positioning himself," he said, during an interview with The Standard On Saturday at his offices in Bahati, Nairobi.

The archbishop says that Mugecha and his followers split from the main church before Kahihia’s death, forming AIPCK, which he heads.

The split, which saw Mugecha leave with a sizeable number of followers, resulted in wars especially after Gaitho was elected the next Archbishop of AIPCA.

The church’s National Treasurer, David Ndiang’ui, says the confrontation was largely as result of the property that was owned by the church, including the its buildings, which both groups were laying claim to.

Many of the wrangles were witnessed in Nyeri, Murang’a and Kiambu, where the church draws its largest following. It is noteworthy that it was in these areas that the Mau Mau that had a close association with the church, waged its war of independence.

Archbishop Ndung’u says it is impossible to delink the church from Mau Mau, saying even the founder of the nation Jomo Kenyatta, associated himself with it despite having been a member of the predominant Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

Ndung’u and Ndiang’ui say that although the church’s chaotic nature remains part of its history, members are determined to make a break with the past.

The Chancellor of the church, Wahome Gikonyo, says that some of the troubles have been as a result of its weak constitution, which has since been amended.

Milestones

Indeed, the amendment was among one of the milestones that former Archbishop Gaitho listed as among successes of his tenure.

Gikonyo says the amendments addressed many loopholes that aided the chaos.

"The amended constitution which was approved by the Registrar General on December 23, last year, especially lays mechanisms on internal arbitration before one moves to court. One cannot move to court before exhausting internal arbitration, as used to happen before," said Gikonyo.

After seven decades of turbulent leadership, members say it is now time to change the perception of the church, a journey they started during the enthronement of Ndung’u at Nyayo National Stadium, last Sunday.

The church was also recently re-admitted to the National Council of Church’s of Kenya (NCCK), having pulled out of the umbrella body in the early 1990s when Kahihia was its head.

Archbishop Ndung’u says he will now unite the two factions of the original church – AIPCA and AIPCK.

"Our members do not even know why we fight. That is why I want to spearhead the move for reconciliation so that we can come back together as the indigenous church that we were. I am optimistic that I will succeed," says Ndung’u.

The interview was conducted before Archbishop Samuel Mwangi Gaitho died

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