Court stops succession at ACK Mt Kenya West

ACK Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit with retired Nakuru ACK Bishop Joseph Muchai on November 26,2023. [Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

The High Court in Nyeri has slammed brakes on succession at the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Mt Kenya West Diocese.

The court issued an order restraining the church’s longest-serving Bishop Joseph Kagunda from convening the 16th ordinary session of the synod of the diocese.

Members of the diocese’s synod are supposed to pick 16 representatives, who will participate in electing the next bishop. Synod is the governing council of the church, which consists of the House of Bishops, the Clergy and the Laity.

In the injunction orders issued on Monday, Lady Justice Maureen Odero stopped the synod meeting that was scheduled to take place on April 9 and 10 at Othaya Boys High School in Nyeri county.

Bishop Kagunda, who was named as an interested party in the matter, was restrained from convening the meeting and the police ordered to ensure that it does not take place at the proposed venue or any other place.

Pharis Muriithi, one of the church members moved to court to seek the orders. Muriithi in his sworn affidavit dated February 27, told the court that the outgoing bishop ought to have proceeded on a three-month leave prior to his retirement. 

He argues that the ACK constitution stipulates that he should have proceeded on leave on January 15.

ACK Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, the provincial synod, ACK Mt Kenya West synod and the registered trustees of the ACK were named as respondents in the lawsuit. 

Muriithi says that the respondents had failed to kick start the requirement for election of the new bishop which is supposed to be held on April 15 this year in accordance to ACK Constitution.

".... that unless this honourable court intervenes urgently by granting the orders sort for the first instance, the respondents are likely to advance the acts of impunity by illegally failing to adhere to the ACK Constitution in filling the position held by the interested party (Kagunda)," Muriithi told the court.

"This is likely to throw ACK Diocese of Mt Kenya West leadership into anarchy resulting in possible exposure of its entire membership into suffering..." he added.

The case has derailed the succession process even as a retirement service for the outgoing bishop is expected to be held on Sunday at ACK St Peter’s Cathedral in Nyeri town.

Bishop Kagunda’s 20 years at the helm were marked with chaos, conflict and leadership wrangles.

He was in the spotlight when he engaged in a legal battle with three priests from the church who were expelled for allegedly practicing homosexuality.

Bishop Kagunda was consecrated on August 8, 2004, replacing his predecessor the Rt Rev Alfred Chipman.

The Diocese was created in 1993 after it was subdivided from the Mount Kenya Central Diocese. Chipman was consecrated on July 6, 1993.

After the retirement service, Archbishop Ole Sapit is expected to appoint a commissary who will oversee operations of the diocese before elections are held.

Archdeacons Edwin Mbiiri, Gerald Muriithi, Peter Ngumo, Samuel Mwangi, Charles Itegi, Isaac Wanjii and Rev Sospeter Kuria are eying the position.

The seven candidates will be vetted by the church’s committee and only three of them will be selected to battle it out at the ballot.

Rev Kuria said he seeks to use his expertise as a lawyer and a priest in the church.

“As a transformative learned friend, I will bring a lot of wealth to the church as a priest and a lawyer by embracing the adherence of the scriptures as well as the legal system. I have been doing pro bono legal awareness forums not only in ACK but also in other churches to promote ecumenical cohesion,” said Rev Kuria, who has served as a priest for 17 years.

“My experience in human resources management will help me address the clergy and other employees’ issues. With my legal expertise on labour laws, the diocese will not experience legal battles similar to those experienced before,” he added.

President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua are expected to attend Bishop Kagunda's retirement service at ACK St Peter's Cathedral in Nyeri town.

After the elections of the new diocese head, a winner will automatically assume the position of bishop-elect.

Ole Sapit will announce the consecration date and later conduct a special service of consecration and enthronement for the new bishop.

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