A visit to All Saints Cathedral Nairobi

I have just worshipped with bishops from the Gafcon Bishops Training Institute (where I have been privileged to teach) at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi.  The last time I worshipped here was in 2013 at the GAFCON Assembly.  Over a thousand delegates – laity, clergy, bishops and archbishops – from all corners of the Communion were there.  But this was the Fourth Sunday in Easter, an otherwise normal Sunday for this national cathedral.

The 9:30 service I attended was literally packed, standing room only.  Many hundreds filled this beautiful 102-year-old cathedral where Jesus has been preached continuously.  As I looked through the bulletin, I counted 15 services total with a total worship attendance of 6,000.  Services within the cathedral itself are at 7:00 and 8:00am (Holy Communion), 9:30 and 11:30am (Morning Prayer), 1:15pm (Holy Communion) and 6:00pm (Choral Evensong).

I attended the 9:30am service with the bishops.  During the 9:30 service, there were three other services running concurrently elsewhere on the “Close” – a service and Sunday School for primary grade children, a worship service for teens (ages 13-19), and a service for young adults (mostly university students at 9:30 and post-university young adults at 11:30am).  There is also an 11:30am service of several-hundred for the Deaf.  The 9:30 and 11:30am services regularly have 1,200 primary grade children; the young adult services have 1,800 meeting in the large auditorium built for GAFCON 2013.  The teens were less in number – less than a hundred.  I was told that many of them are away at boarding schools.  But in the holiday months they also number in the hundreds and overflow from the 200+ room set aside for them into the large patio outside.  For this reason, the cathedral is currently building a Children’s and Teens Center raising approximately 1 BILLION Ksh (approximately $10 million USD) to plan for future growth of these vital ministries.

While the style of liturgy and service varied from place to place, the scriptures and the message were exactly the same in every service.  The lessons of the day were from Proverbs 3:3-10 and Acts 4:32-37.  Both lessons shaped expository preaching on the importance of small groups as a place where followers of Jesus can “connect” to experience mutual love and faithfulness in Christ (“Let love and faithfulness never leave you” Prov. 3:3) and every-member ministry to each other (“They shared everything they had…” Acts 4:32).  A group of close to 100 cell-group members came forward after the sermon to give a testimony on their lives together and to lead the congregation in a hymn.  There was a tent outside after the services with immediate sign-ups for All Saints cell groups.

But that wasn’t all I experienced.  I was inspired by a traditional Anglican robed choir that led us in the great hymns of the Church and anthems that lifted our minds and hearts.  I was equally inspired by the praise band that led us in contemporary hymns that lifted the congregation into praise and dancing in the aisles!  Formal prayers were interspersed with spontaneous prayers by The Very Rev. Sammy Wainaina, the Provost of the cathedral, who invited the Holy Spirit to come upon the congregation and break any strongholds that would keep people from experiencing what the Lord had for them this day.  I counted almost 60 newcomers who had fulfilled the newcomers’ class and were formally welcomed liturgically as full members of the cathedral.  Two prominent members died this past week.  Their pictures were posted on the video screens as the Provost invited the congregation to pray for their families, grieve with them their loss, celebrate their homecoming in heaven, and come alongside them in service to their needs.  Meanwhile, the Banns of Marriage were announced for five couples, a “mass wedding” announced and scheduled for couples whose marriages have not yet been blessed in the church, as well as an adult’s baptism class and baptism, ministries to single mothers, widows and those with special needs, and an evangelistic outreach mission to a neighboring diocese.

Canon Ashey with Provost of Sammy Wainaina, All Saints, Nairobi.
Parishioners at All Saints, Nairobi engaged in conversation after Sunday worship.
Choir of All Saint’s Cathedral, Nairobi, Kenya.

Biblically-faithful Anglicanism is growing and flourishing in this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-generational cathedral congregation that serves the whole nation.  Provost Sammy Wainaina said that All Saints Cathedral is an ecumenical gathering place to which both Roman Catholics and Pentecostals will come.  God is blessing and growing these Christ-following, Biblically-faithful Anglicans.  The blessing and the anointing is visible in the traffic jams in and out of the parking lots from service to service, the crowds on the Close, and in every brick and beam giving rise to the new Children’s and Teens Center.

What’s their secret?  What can we learn from them?

Charity and Diversity in the Non-Essentials

 The Gafcon bishops and I were invited to visit the other services at 11:30am and then to come back and debrief with the Provost.  He spent time answering our questions but pointed us to the fact that Anglicans have a diversity or “spectrum” with regards to such non-essentials as vestments, style of music, Holy Communion vs. Morning Prayer as the principal service, formal vs. spontaneous prayer, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in worship.  The cathedral is very intentional in providing as many options as possible within the standards of Anglican worship as found in the BCP 1662 and the Church of Kenya Prayer Book to welcome and invite people into Anglican worship.  In other words, they intentionally provide worship options to invite and welcome as many people as possible.

This is a missional mindset.  It is a mindset of focusing on the needs of the community rather than the needs of the congregation.  More than that, it is a core value that recognizes the diversity of the culture they are seeking to reach:  “Diversity: We recognise and seek to harness our diversity to strengthen ministry.”  This diversity is also reflected in the variety of people (all ages, married, married- civilly-but-not-churched, single moms, widowed, special needs, the Deaf…) and the variety of ministries they offer (classes, equipping for specific ministry, retreats, couples’ weekends, evangelistic team outreach).

 Faithfulness to the clarity and authority of the Scriptures with courage:  “Being neutral and silent is dangerous”

 The cathedral is taking an unapologetic stand against a decision of the courts that would undermine the state’s definition of marriage (in the Constitution of Kenya) as between a man and a woman.  LGBTQ groups have sought registration in the courts which would legitimize same-sex unions and accord them such legal rights as would undermine the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage.

In his weekly PROVOSTS DESK“Christians: being neutral and silent is dangerous,” printed in the Sunday Bulletin for all to read, the Provost addressed this issue head on from the standpoint of Biblical truth:

The Kenyan courts are being used to legislate the LGBTQ agenda…This is part of the larger scheme by the proponents of this agenda to redefine human sexuality…”  

“It is not Christian to be neutral; silence encourages evil to prevail in our society. Jesus, though loving and welcoming, was not neutral when it came to challenging the ills of his community. In the name of being ‘good’, Christians have failed to challenge the evils of their time…”

“The historic Christian view according to accurate biblical interpretation is that sex outside of the sacred bonds of male-female marriage is wrong.”

“In God’s good design, sex is reserved for a man and a woman who have entered into a legally binding marriage covenant. This kind of life-long commitment forms the basis for a garden-like relationship in which true intimacy can grow into a loving family. Multiply that same model many times over and a healthy society blossoms and thrives.”

“In recent years, it has become unpopular to question the LGBT claim, “God made me this way.” Such a question is being defined as “hate” by some…It isn’t being judgmental to simply repeat what the Bible says is Christian activity and what isn’t. Sin is defined by God in His Word. We are meant to read God’s Word and understand it.”

Jesus said that Scripture stands permanently. It cannot be broken (John 10:35b). God’s Word, the Bible, is the binding authority over all people in all time periods, whether or not people acknowledge Scripture’s authority in the here and now or not.”

 “Those saying that homosexuality should be affirmed in the name of Christian love contradict the Bible. In the Bible, God exclusively blesses male-female marriage (Mark 10:6Hebrews 13:41 Timothy 1:9-10). He condemns all sexual activity outside of that sacred relationship.”

You can read the whole statement here. It is an unflinching, unapologetic affirmation of the clarity and authority of the Bible.  I encourage you to read the whole statement, because it is also a statement marked by humility, grace, love and hope in Christ for all sinners.

The cathedral is taking a stand against this secular agenda, as well as the false teaching among the secularizing leaders and churches of the Anglican Communion.  They are standing on the clarity and the authority of the Bible—over the Church, over society, and over all matters of life and practice.

But this stand is not just in words.  I discovered that All Saints Cathedral held an open forum on this issue at the cathedral several weeks ago. They invited all points of view to be heard!  Representatives of human rights and students’ groups came to oppose as “hate speech” the stand of the cathedral.  The discussion was robust.  A member of the cathedral leadership shared with me how cathedral leaders, lay and ordained, patiently exposed the misinterpretations of the Bible offered by the LGBTQ proponents.  When accused of being too preoccupied with sex, the cathedral leadership pointed out that they were equally contending against such issues as government corruption in another recent Provost’s Desk on “The challenge of corruption in Kenya,” also on the basis of Biblical truth.

The BBC was there and filmed the whole thing.  Interestingly, they have yet to post it!  Perhaps the discussion didn’t turn out the way the BBC had hoped.  But stay tuned to the All Saints website which you can find here, as they will be posting a video of that open meeting soon.

 Christ-centered vision, mission, values and generosity

 Their vision is to be a Christ-centered cathedral.  Their mission is “to transform people through the word of God.”  Not surprisingly, the core values which shape everything they do are simple, short and memorable:  Scripture, Prayer, Discipleship, Diversity, Excellence and Innovation.  They are the kind of missional values we would expect of those who are missionally-focused on the diversity of the people they are seeking to reach and willing to take courageous risks while being faithful to the Bible and ultimately resting in the power of God to make it all happen!  You can read these values here.

 I think there may also be another core value shaping this cathedral and its ministries: the value of generosity.  Generosity is the spirit in which they create space and easy access for newcomers and guests.  Generosity is the spirit in which they organize themselves for ministry to the community and the congregation.  But generosity is in the tangible plans they are making for their new Children and Teens Center.  “In the past, we have been guilty of focusing only on those who could support the cathedral financially,” said the Provost’s Sr. Warden as I debriefed with him.  “Children and teens can’t give us much of anything financially.  But we are investing in the future of this Anglican cathedral by investing in them.”  At a cost of 1 billion Ksh/10m USD, the cathedral is generously investing in a strategy that cathedrals in Europe should have done before it was too late.

 Excellence in everything they do

 Before we went into the 9:30 worship service, the Provost told us that excellence was one of the two values shaping every worship service on Sunday morning. (The other was getting people out in time so that there would not be a traffic jam in the parking lot between services!). Excellence is one of their six core values: “We uphold high standards in our ministry, work and service delivery.”  The liturgy and music we observed, both traditional and contemporary, was done with excellence.

So is the way they staff for excellence: with clergy and staff assigned not only to each of the “Four Pillars” of the cathedral (Worship, Pastoral Care & Sacraments, Education & Discipleship, and Evangelism & Outreach), but also to each age group represented.  Such assignment of human and financial resources creates a web of excellence in all that they do.  And why not?  It is in keeping with Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

I hope you feel as encouraged as I do about what Biblically-faithful and missionally-focused Anglicanism can look like.  It is alive and well at All Saints Cathedral Nairobi.  Perhaps there are some lessons we too could learn from them in our own context?

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