Choruses and amen chants once reigned at Parliament


St Stephen's Church along Jogoo Road in 1907. [File, Standard]

Kenya's most heavily secured square, where more than 400 honourable members earn a living by shouting ayes and nays to make laws and in some instances trade blows and insults, was once holy grounds.

It may sound inconceivable that the Parliament Buildings, where over 416 politicians ply their trade earning fat sitting allowances amidst cries of "Order! Order!" was once dominated by pious, hymn singing, robed clerics.

A century and two decades ago only holy sounds emanated from the square along the then Jackson Road.

At the time, shouts of amen from reverent converts sounded like distant peal of thunder, from the wooden sanctuary roofed with iron sheets which had been erected at the place where the entrance of St John’s Ambulance stands today, as Reverend Donald Haultain wrote in 1916.

The foundation stone of St Stephen's Church, located on what is today's Parliament Road, was laid by Bishop William George Peel in December 1904 and was ready for consecration on December 26 that year. In 10 years, this church had grown to an extent it had to hold two services to accommodate the large number of Anglican faithful.

When Kenya became a colony in 1922, there were drastic changes at the Anglican Church, which necessitated the construction of a new church in Pumwani where African labourers were residing in the first organised estate for natives. St Stephen's at Jackson Road was left for whites.

When the government decided to construct a modern Parliament, the most ideal place was identified as the site where St Stephen's church was. The church was in turn relocated to Donholm along Jogoo Road on December 26, 1952. 

This was at a time when the country was engulfed in political flames following the declaration of the state of emergency two months earlier.

The new majestic church, in Gothic design, would not only become a symbolic landmark in the city but also the biggest church in East Africa, which some Christians claim could be visible from as far a Machakos.

At the time of its consecration on September 27, 1953, its beautifully carved wooden pews could accommodate a record 1,200 worshipers and African civil servants residing in Makongeni, Bahati, Makandara, Shauri Moyo and Maringo estate marveled at their church’s magnificent

It has lived up to its name as a spring of gospel music as well as the cradle for choral music in Kenya under the maestro Darius Mbela. The choir, whose directors have shaped the genre of patriotic songs and were members of the legendary Muungano National Choir, has made a name in Kenya throughout the ages.