Dean's Blog

Three-Dioceses Link Gathering in Thika – October 2016

Three-Dioceses Link Gathering in Thika: Monday 17th – Wednesday 26th October 2016

Tricia and I were invited by Bishop Michael to join the Cyprus and Gulf delegation to meet with oct-001groups from our link Dioceses of Exeter and Thika, in Thika, Kenya. We flew out arriving in the early hours of Monday morning, staying in the heart of Nairobi for a couple of nights thanks to the gracious hospitality of Catherine and Rob here in Bahrain and Catherine’s sister Rahab in Nairobi. One of the joys of this trip was the possibility of connecting with family members of our congregation here. Rahab took us to both the oct-003David Sheldrick orphanage for elephants, who had been mostly orphaned as a result of the scourge of poachers hunting elephants for ivory and also to sanctuary for giraffes. oct-002We had a late lunch at Carnivore, not a place for vegetarians (!), having visited her home and met her new baby. In the evening we met Grace, Sam’s wife and his father Nelson who joined us for tea at the hotel we were staying at; Sam is one of our Sunday morning congregation.

oct-004We met up with the arriving group from our Diocese on Tuesday afternoon at Nairobi Airport and were entertained by the arrival of Daniel Wanjiru, the winner of the Amsterdam Marathon, that had taken place two days earlier. The fact that Kenyans had won the first eight places of this race demonstrates the depth of their running!

From the airport we were taken to Thika Cathedral oct-oo6and were met by our dear hosts for the next ten days Fred and Margaret Gathatwa, who not only took us into their homes but into their hearts. We were overwhelmed by the graciousness of their hospitality and we had to learn afresh the preciousness of water, especially when the rains had not yet come. Over the ten days both their daughter and son came up from Nairobi to meet us; it was a joy to meet with them. We had a few expeditions together to meet up with Lucy and William’s two children (more Sunday 10.30am congregation), who are looked after by Lucy’s mother Christine, and another visit to have a meal with a fellow PhD student of Tricia’s at octo-007Birmingham, Mary and her husband George, who is the National Director of FOCUS (the Fellowship of Christian Unions). Mary and Fred knew one another from University days, but had long since lost touch, so it was good to be able to reconnect them. We joined with Fred and Mary at their weekly cell group and joined them for worship at oct-010Kenyatta Road Church on the Sunday. It was here after the service, that a former student of mine, Bethuel Chege, from forty one years earlier in Form 1 in Koimbi Secondary School, came up after the service and introduced himself. He is now a Librarian in the University of Nairobi Architecture Faculty and we had our final evening in Kenya in their home. It was a wonderful reunion.

The Diocesan Link experience was an amazing one, a mixture of the formal – the renewal of the oct-011Covenant by the three Diocesan Bishops – and the much more informal, usually taking place over the never-ending stream of meals that host parishes would provide whenever there was an opportunity. We visited several parishes in different areas of the Diocese. The story of the Diocese in Thika is a story of growth and transformation. Since its formation in 1998, the Diocese has grown from 9000 members to 33,000; 26 parishes to 72 parishes; 26 clergy to 107 clergy 115 congregations to 187 congregations. Of course that growth is not easy to manage and this was apparent in the Sunday School classes we attended 250 oct-012children in about four classes without the opportunity to do anything very imaginative with their limited resources. But perhaps the most impressive examples of transformation were in the testimonies of individuals, often women through the Church Community Mobilization Process that the Diocese of Thika has adopted. It has the motto Where God has placed his people, He has provided enough resources if the people there look carefully. The process begins with studying the Bible, encourages individuals reflect on the change that they want to see in themselves and in the life of their congregations and leads on to the change they want to see in their community. It oct-013is occasionally primed through small loans to enable people to start something new and we saw several examples: a young man who had been able to build a metal workshop and buy the necessary tools, a woman who had been able to expand her poultry business. All this enabled them to feed their families more nutritionally and pay for their children’s school fees and, they almost invariably said, from their tithing to give more to their church communities.

oct-008One other feature, of both individual, family and church life in Kenya, is the rhythm of prayer that is part and parcel of their lives: the gratitude to God expressed for a cup of tea, the prayer together in every place for parishes, for poultry farms, for the metal workshop, for a newly opened auto parts shop, for a market stall selling textiles, for a water harvesting project, a micro- finance bank…. Haven’t we lost that sense of God imbuing all things with his presence and blessing that such a rhythm helps restore?

The Diocese of Thika’s vision is to be a caring Diocese holistically transforming society with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From what we saw it is doing that and both the groups from Exeter and Cyprus and the Gulf felt energized by what we had seen and that we had much to learn from their experience, though recognizing the very different histories and contexts each of our Dioceses is working in.

oct-009On our last day we paid a visit to the newly elected Archbishop of Kenya the Most Rev’d Jackson Nasoore Ole Sapit in the Provincial Office in Nairobi. He outlined his vision for the Province which included not just the transformation of individual lives and the renewal of the Church but also the transformation of the structures of society and in the coming years he highlighted a variety of areas that he would be encouraging the church nationally to focus on, each year addressing one. These included education, health and the environment. While in Nairobi, we shared in the regular Eucharist at all Saints Cathedral, and after all the busy days it was good to be experience a quieter service gently led by a woman priest. As a group we also had the opportunity to reflect on the experience of the ten days. There was huge gratitude for the hospitality that we had received, and for those who’d worked so hard on the programme and given us so much time, not least Bishop Julius, but also Archdeacon David and Provost Joseph, but there was clearly a felt need for more time to reflect and discuss together on our experiences and how they might be related to our different contexts.