St Stephen's Cathedral history of political advocacy and links with labour movement

The synage of St Stephen's Church Along Jogoo Road July 29, 2023. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

In the 1930s, the colonial government permitted the formation of unions for African workers in a restricted way as far as their rights and operations were concerned.

In the 1950s, Tom Mboya became the secretary general of the Kenya Federation of Labour (KFL). At the time, nearly all the politicians were detained and Tom Mboya took on the struggle for political freedom and workers' rights.

His activities coincided with the relocation of St. Stephen's Church to Eastlands. St. Stephen's Church, which was a place of worship for working class Africans, became a focal point for the trade union movement.

Notable political and labour movement leaders who used the church as a base for advocating the rights of workers included Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Fred Kubai, Makhan Singh, Bildad Kaggia, Thomas Joseph Mboya, Charles Rubia, Fredrick Esau Omido, Juma Boy and Joseph Mugalla. Some of them lived in Eastlands and its environs.

In 1965, a government-led initiative established a new national labour organisation, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), which replaced KFL. The new leaders continued to use St. Stephen's Cathedral for their activities... championing the freedom struggle. St. Stephen's Cathedral has continued with this legacy to this day.

The Cathedral's affiliation to the labour movement has seen it receive visitors from government circles as well as the labour movement. On 25 December 1981, Charles W. Rubia, the Minister of Labour and Housing, visited the church marking the first of a series of visits.

Kimani Wanyoike, the Assistant Minister of Labour, visited the church on December 7 1985, and Philip J.W. Masinde, the Minister of Labour and Manpower Development, visited on April 30, 1995. The church has also hosted officials in the labour movement such as James Awich, the first Cotu Chairperson, who visited on 25 April 1982 and Fredrick Esau Omido, MP and Chairperson of Cotu, who visited on 26 April 1981. Joseph J. Mugalla, the Secretary General of Cotu, visited the church on several occasions.

Every year on the last Sunday of April before the Labour Day celebrations, Cotu, headed by Secretary General Dr Francis Atwoli, visits the Cathedral to hold a prayer service for workers in the country. In addition, most political leaders including those in the opposition, have visited the church at critical stages in their advocacy of rights. Among them is Hon. Raila Odinga who has visited the church several times, particularly during political crises.

St. Stephen's Church has played host to many distinguished guests over the years, including presidents. On 10 September 1978, Daniel arap Moi made a visit to the church and returned on 29 April 1979, August 22 1983, and November 24 2002.

Mwai Kibaki also made a visit on September 27 2003, while his Vice President Moody Awori came on April 30 2004. In addition, President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the Cathedral for the memorial service of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of the Republic of Kenya, on August 22 2017.

St. Stephen's Church has welcomed not only presidents but also other important state officials. Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo visited the church on August 31 1980. On March 13 1981, Joseph Nyaga who was the Minister of Culture and Social Services also visited. Julia Ojiambo, by then the Assistant Minister for Basic Education, paid a visit to the church on November 8 1981. Additionally, Margaret Kenyatta, the Mayor of Nairobi County, visited on November 17 1974, and Nathan Kahara, the Mayor of Nairobi, visited on May 30 1982.

Over the years, St. Stephen's Church has had the honour of hosting numerous distinguished men of God too. Among these visitors were the Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rt. Rev. Geoffrey Fischer in May 1955, the Bishop of Sudan, and a Bishop from North Korea. In more recent times, The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Justin Portal Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury visited the Cathedral on January 26 2020.

St. Stephen's Church was one of the significant parishes in the historical Mombasa Diocese. In 1964, the Diocese of Nairobi was hived off the Mombasa Diocese and All Saints' became the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Nairobi. St. Stephen's Church was part of the Diocese of Nairobi but remained a parish. In the provincial synod of July 2000, a resolution was passed to divide the Diocese of Nairobi into two Sees - a small See carved out around All Saints' Cathedral, for the Archbishop, and the residual Diocese of Nairobi created to serve the rest of the city. This would then pave the way for the elevation of St. Stephen's Church into a Cathedral.

In 2001, The Most Rev. Dr David Gitari started the Synodal process of creating the division. A special Synod of the Diocese of Nairobi sitting at the All Saints' Cathedral hall on 29 May 2001 adopted the resolution of the 25th Ordinary Synod to subdivide the Diocese of Nairobi and mandated its standing committee to appoint a commission. The commission was appointed on June 5 2001 under the chairing of Ambassador John Mbugua. It comprised ten members including Lay Canon Naaman Aremo, a member of St. Stephen's Cathedral.

The terms of reference for the Mbugua Commission was to recommend to the Provincial and Diocesan synods a church that would become the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Nairobi. The criteria adopted for selecting the Cathedral included the size of the church building, catchment area, congregation size, resource base, accessibility and finally its place in Anglican history.

A number of churches were considered and a short list of three churches was drawn. The committee made wide consultations with the clergy and congregants and it emerged that St. Stephen's Church had the qualities to become a Cathedral.

It had architectural finesse and rich historical background that was not only tied to the spread of Christianity in the region but also the birthing of the Kenyan nation. It also had a large and diverse congregation that made it best placed to become at Cathedral. St. Stephen's had a rich heritage of liturgy and choristers who made an immense contribution to the growth of Christianity not only in Kenya but also in the East African region.

Its adherence to Anglican traditions and ethos would make it a Cathedral of good standing.

The Mbugua Commission presented a report recommending the elevation of St. Stephen's Church to Cathedral status. A task team led by Rev. Canon Stephen Wamugi was appointed to implement the establishment of St. Stephen's Church as the Cathedral church.

They presented their implementation report dated October 18 2001 to the Archbishop and the Nairobi Synod. The Synod approved the report and forwarded it to the Provincial Synod. The Provincial Synod sat on 1 July 2002 and approved the creation of The All Saints' Cathedral Diocese as the See for the Archbishop. They also approved the establishment of St. Stephen's Jogoo Road as the Cathedral Church of the residual Diocese of Nairobi.

On September 1 2002, the Most Rev. Dr David Gitari who was the Archbishop of Kenya and Bishop of the Diocese of Nairobi led a procession to inaugurate and unveil the new Diocese of Nairobi. The procession of clergy and synod members started at Uhuru Park and walked through the streets of Nairobi City onto Jogoo Road. After the procession, Archbishop Gitari declared St. Stephen's Jogoo Road as the Cathedral Church for the residual Diocese of Nairobi.

In 2002, The Rt. Rev. Peter Njoka Njagi was elected as the first Bishop of the newly established Diocese of Nairobi, while the Most Rev. David Gitari continued to lead the All Saints' Cathedral diocese. After Bishop Njoka's retirement in July 2010, he was succeeded by The Rt. Rev. Joel Waweru Mwangi.

When St. Stephen's was made the Diocesan Cathedral, Canon John Ndung'u Muriithi was the Vicar. There was an attempt to competitively recruit the first Provost but the process ended acrimoniously after Rev. Canon Stephen Wamugi was appointed. Although Rev. Wamugi was appointed, he never took office because the congregation expressed their opinion that their Vicar should have been elevated to the office of Provost.

Subsequently, the Diocese of Nairobi appointed Canon John Ndung'u Muriithi as the first Provost of the Cathedral in 2004. Provost Ndung'u initially trained as a teacher at Mosoriot Teachers Training College before pursuing theological studies at St. Paul's United Theological College in Limuru, Daystar Communications College in Nairobi and St. George's College in Israel.

He was made a Deacon in 1978 and Priest in 1979. He served as a Parish Vicar at ACK St. Johns Parish, Pumwani from 1983 to 1991 and then as Vicar of ACK St. Francis, Karen from 1992. He was collated as a Canon at All Saints' Cathedral in 1996 and became Vicar of St. Stephen's Parish and Archdeacon of the Cathedral Archdeaconry in 1997. He was a long-serving member of the Provincial Synod and the Standing Committee of the Nairobi Diocesan Synod. He finished his term in 2012 and will be remembered as a priest who was modest and generous.

In 2013, Ven. Canon Joshua Omungo was appointed Provost replacing Canon Ndung'u. Canon Omungo previously served as a Deacon at St. Francis Karen and a Senior Minister at Lavington United Church before joining the Cathedral.

He graduated from the University of Nairobi with a degree in Economics in 1992 and worked for two years while pursuing a post-graduate diploma at the Kenya School of Management. In 1994, he left his job to pursue a Master of Divinity at the International Leadership University. He began his ministerial career as a Deacon in 2000.

Provost Omungo was a visionary leader who was uncomfortable with the status quo. He introduced annual themes, revival weeks and church planting. A notable feature of his tenure was his involvement of the congregation in leadership.

In close consultation with congregants, he wrote a Strategic Plan. He introduced a new tithing method that saw collections at the Cathedral triple. By the time his term was ending in 2018, he had built a perimeter wall around the Cathedral and laid Cabro blocks on the parking lot.

The Very Rev. Canon Paul Kariuki Mwangi became the Provost of St. Stephen's Cathedral in 2018 replacing Canon Omungo. He had obtained a Diploma in Theology from St. Paul's Theological College in Kapsabet in 2007 and a degree in Divinity from St. Paul's University in 2012. He later pursued a Master's degree in Systematic Theology from Catholic University of East Africa.

Provost Paul Kariuki was made a Deacon in 2007 and served at St. Elizabeth Church in Kahawa West. He was later transferred to ACK Maridadi Parish in 2008. In 2015, he was transferred to St. Anne's in Mwiki and later joined St. Stephen's Cathedral as Provost.

In his tenure, Provost Kariuki built an ablution block which cost over 10 million shillings and renovated the Church Hall. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, he laid the foundation of online church services. He also led the Cathedral in celebrating its Centenary this year.

Over the years, the Cathedral has established three churches: Kiambiu, Kaloleni and Lungalunga.

Furthermore, the church made significant improvements to its facilities.

Coming in tomorrow

St Stephen's Cathedral choir: From burying Mzee Kenyatta to mzee Moi and Kibaki, and producing some of the country's finest; a history of excellence.

The writer is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Humanities Department at Murang'a University