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Eliud Wabukala gives last sermon as church head

By Lilian Aluanga-Delvaux | May 8th 2016 at 14:28:51 GMT +0300

The Most Reverend Dr Eliud Wabukala will today be thanking the congregation of the Anglican Church of Kenya as his tenure as the head of the church comes to an end.

Wabukala, who took office in July 2009 will officially step down on June 26.

His journey to that office was not a smooth one.

Sometime in the late 1960’s a young man in a shirt and a pair of shorts walked into a classroom at Butonge Secondary school, Bungoma County.

The rather worn out shorts he was in had been his uniform while at Kolanya High School, and now doubled up as his first outfit as an untrained teacher.

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In his hand was a book, An Introduction to Biology, which he confidently thumbed through as he stood before the Form Three class, ready to deliver his lesson. His audience stared at him in shock, wondering what a ‘Form One student was doing in a Seniors’ class. Undeterred, the lad delved into the day’s topic, and earned the students’ admiration.

“I was younger than the students hence the thinking that I was a Form One student,” he says as he reflects on his journey into priesthood and his time in office, says the man who, years later, would rise to head the Anglican Church of Kenya.

Regale classmates

Archbishop Wabukala chuckles as he recalls the incident and several others that, from an early age, set him apart for greater things.

As a student at Malakisi and Butonge primary schools, Wabukala exceled in his studies, and was among seven pupils selected to join Standard Eight straight from Standard Six.

He later joined Kolanya Boys High School in 1966 where he sat and passed his Cambridge School Certificate examinations. He then joined Butonge Secondary School as an untrained teacher.

While in primary school, Wabukala was singled out by his teachers for his story-telling abilities and would regale his classmates with tales of the fabled hare, tortoise, squirrel and ogres that he had heard from his grandfather. This love for story-telling would later develop into an interest in reading Bible stories.

Today, Wabukala, looks back at those years and the road he has travelled with gratitude.

“I am grateful for the opportunity I was given to serve God and his people,” he says.

He leaves office confident that he steered the church in the right direction and accomplished several things with his team that saw the church’s assets grow to Sh 4.5 billion from Sh 1.45 billion.

Laying the foundation for then establishment of the Anglican University and introduction of Divine Conferences for spiritual awakening, consecration of over 20 bishops and growth of dioceses from 32 to 38 also give him reason to smile as he retires.

He cherishes having worked with other religious leaders in seeking peace and reconciliation for the nation and says he will be praying for his successor who takes over at a time when the country is preparing for an election.

Wabukala’s enthronement as ACK’s fifth Archbishop in 2009 was accompanied by a six-point clarion call enshrined in the Biblical story where Jesus fed five thousand people.

From this, he drew principles that depict God as having compassion and mercy, being orderly, desiring unity of purpose, working through faithful servants and proactive leadership.

Those are the principles that guided him as the Church navigated through choppy waters. Wabukala took office slightly over a year after formation of a Grand Coalition Government which came to be after months of violence  because of the disputed 2007 polls.

As he got into office, the task of healing and reconciling the nation was still unaccomplished and even the Church was struggling to shake off the perception of having been partial in the political contest.

He admits to missing the Grand Coalition Government which, he says, provided for a good system of checks and balances and remains wary of the winner-takes-all system currently in place.

He recalls the difficult period the country went through after post election violence.

He was then serving as the chair of the National Council of Churches of Kenya and the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was reaching out for counsel.

Same-sex marriages

“I remember him (Annan) calling me and some other clergy one evening to ask us whether we thought he was doing the right thing,” says Wabukala.

The prelate talks about the Referendum in 2010 and the position taken by the Church which backed the No campaign.

He takes a No Compromise position on ordination of homosexuals as priests and will be remembered for hosting the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Nairobi in 2013.

GAFCON brings together Anglican Provinces opposed to proponents of same sex marriage and ordination of homosexuals. “We were not opposed to reforms but pointed out problems we saw in the proposed constitution,” he says on the 2010 Referendum.

He disagrees with the notion that the Church today has been anything but vocal compared to the outspoken clerics of the 1990’s and has failed to admonish the leadership over poor governance.

Slim, simple and soft spoken, Wabukala’s demeanour belies a man driven by a strong desire to serve and whose Christian life has been guided by three principles — to walk humbly with God, do justice and show mercy to all.

Born in 1951 to Samson and Rhoda Wamukekhe, in Namwesi village, Bungoma district, Wabukala was the first born among seven children in a Christian home.

Most of their evenings were marked by singing hymns and praying after dinner.

But two experiences he had as a child drew him closer to God.

“During one break time while playing with other children in school, God revealed to me a vision of my life. I was afraid to tell anyone and kept it to myself while deliberating it within myself,” he says.

Yet another time when he was out herding cows with his friend, he saw himself caught up in a whirlwind.

Pushed to work in order to help support his siblings after his schooling, Wabukala took up a job as a clerical officer in the then Provincial Commissioner’s office in Nakuru. He quit and returned to teaching.

Personal tragedies

He laughs as he recalls his encounter with the then Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Simeon Nyachae.

“He met me along the corridor and I did not have a tie. He gave me five minutes to get one and I had to use the little money I had to buy one in order to keep my job,” he says.

Wabukala joined Kaimosi Teachers Training College in 1972 and taught in several schools in Bungoma district. In 1985, he enrolled for a theology course at the St Paul’s Theological College in Limuru.

He would later serve as the institution’s first African Academic Dean. He continued teaching and preaching but could no longer ignore the call to full time church ministry which he joined in 1988 as Principal of St Philip’s Theological Colege, Maseno.

He went for further studies at the Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada and get consecrated in 1996 as the First Bishop of the Bungoma Diocese where he stayed until his elevation to head ACK.

But the father of six has also dealt with personal tragedies that struck just a few months after he took office. He lost a son in a road accident in 2009 and his wife, Karen, died the following year in what he describes as a “traumatic” experience.

“I went through it all by God’s grace. My children were very understanding and we walked through the loss together.

“The church members were always dropping in to make sure we were okay,” he says.

Wabukala found love again with Rev Rhoda Luvuno and remarried in 2012.

He is loking forward to his time in retirement, and wants to spend more time with his grandchildren, besides taking time out to reflect and pray. 

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