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Church of God new Archbishop to be enthroned after 50 years of leadership wrangles

By Nathan Ochunge | March 27th 2021
Rev James Obunde during an interview with The Standard at Vihiga headquarters. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

James Obunde, 68, has been declared the Archbishop-elect of Church of God East Africa.

He replaces Archbishop Byrum Makokha, 88, who served at the helm of the church until he died in August last year.

Prior to his elevation to the new role, Rev Obunde served as the Deputy Archbishop in charge of Administration and doubled up as the Acting Archbishop.

He will be consecrated and enthroned tomorrow (Sunday) when he will officially take over as Archbishop of the church.

The ceremony will be graced by the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) Chairman and the leader of the African Brotherhood Church Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki.

Currently, the Church of God East Africa has over one million followers in the region, majority of them from Western Kenya.

The church headquarters is at Kima, a remote village in Luanda constituency, Vihiga County.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and a host of local leaders have been invited to attend the ceremony, however, it is not clear whether they will honour the invite following the upsurge in Covid-19 infections.

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This will be the first peaceful transfer of power in the church that has been dodged with controversies for the last two decades.

“I was elected in accordance to the church constitution and I will exit the stage on March 28, 2031 after serving for ten years. We have never had a transfer of power before since we had no laws governing us until the late Archbishop came up with the constitution we are using,” he said.

The constitution states that the top church organ will comprise the Archbishop and two deputies in charge of administration, and guidance and counseling respectively.

In the absence of the archbishop due to death or retirement, the deputy archbishop in charge of administration takes over in acting capacity awaiting a popular vote by the church senate.

“The two deputies are eligible candidates for nomination to the seat of the archbishop. The church Senate votes and picks one of them and forwards the name of the nominee to the Ministerial Authorization and Ordinances Board for approval,” said Rev Obunde.

If the board approves the name of the nominee, they forward it to the General Assembly and then the nominee becomes the Archbishop Elect awaiting enthronement.

Rev Obunde will be handed a Bible, Certificate of Consecration and the Church Constitution after the consecration ceremony symbolizing instruments of power.

Obunde is taking over the mantle at a time the church is facing disintegration over property and leadership row.

At least two splinter groups have split off the parent church and are now operating independently.

The church leadership and faithful have been embroiled in a land tussle located in Makadara Nairobi which was allegedly sold by Obunde's predecessor.

Those who opposed the sale were excommunicated by the clergy in a paid-up advert in leading local dailies.

Even at Buruburu Church, there was controversy pitting the late Archbishop and the flock with the matter ending in court.

Infuriated church members went a notch higher and welded doors leading to the pastor’s office.

But Obunde has defended the move to ex-communicate the disgruntled church members saying the due process was followed and the court upheld the church decision to expel them.

“Our constitution does not allow faithful to take the church to court as that is deemed as a revolt. It is only the executive council allowed to seek legal redress against the church leadership. If congregants (parish) take the church to court, it’s dissolved and ring leaders expelled,” argued Rev. Obunde.

He said the church has no problem with the worshipers who go astray since they can undergo the disciplinary process and be pardoned.

"Pastors who incite the congregation are made to bear the responsibility and risk expulsion from church."

Financial difficulties remain a major challenge the new Archbishop will have to deal with.

Obunde disclosed that donors from the United States pulled out "but we are determined to move the church forward by initiating income-generating projects in order to keep our church afloat and keep the gospel alive"

He is focused on developing the church prime plots within Nairobi Central Business District (CBD), Buruburu, South B, Mariakani, Kakamega, Eldoret and Kisumu.

"We shall be able to generate income from the properties once they are fully developed and the income will go into facilitating church activities."

Obunde was born on December 5, 1953 in Luanda Sub County and is married to Rev. Beatrice Mbelesha.

They have five children and five grandchildren. Obunde holds a diploma in Bible and Theology from Kima International School of Theology, Bachelors and Master’s Degree in Religion from Azusa Pacific University (USA) and a second Master’s degree in Business Administration from California State Polytechnic University (USA).

Earlier, Obunde served as the Director at the Board of Pensions (now pastor’s welfare) for two years, Administrative Assistant to the Executive Secretary, Treasurer and General Secretary and Administrative Church Coordinator for 14 years.

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