It is Sunday lunchtime in Nairobi and from my 6th floor hotel room I’m listening to a Pentecostal preacher being amplified from a church two blocks away. I can hear his every word clearly as he screams into the microphone. His words sound angry, demotic, as he whips the people in what I assume is a crowded auditorium into a frenzy. They are shouting and screaming in response.
Earlier I walked around the town and entered the auditoria of three different churches. The first, the Maximum Miracle Centre, meets in an old cinema. The auditorium was full, stalls and balcony, and the pastor was preaching, or rather screaming, about evil and the devil, manipulating the crowd with moments of quiet before he raised his voice to screaming pitch and his rhetoric to an extreme of passion. People were taken to the stage, some writhing and screaming on the floor, where he proceeded to exorcise demons by waving his white handkerchief over them.
I stood at the back for 15 minutes, reflecting on what I was observing. What came to mind was the plenary debate on Resolution 1.10 at the end of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. I remembered Bishop Peter Selby’s comment that the atmosphere felt akin to a Nazi rally, such a degree of hatred was present in the voices of some who spoke against homosexuality.
I left the Maximum Miracle Centre and walked 10 minutes to the Ushindi Baptist Church, which meets on the first floor of an industrial building. They had a choir that harmonised well, all women, and a pastor who has styled himself a bishop. The preaching here was less aggressively manipulative but the sound level assaulting my ears was so overpowering that I left after 10 minutes.
From the next building, an even more overpoweringly amplified sound was emanating. This turned out to be from the Jesus is Alive Ministries, Nairobi Miracle Centre Church, where the pastor is a flamboyant woman bishop. This church had a smartly dressed choir and the young men at the centre were moving with energy and style. I remembered that many choirs have at their core gay men with a flair for singing – All Saints Cathedral choir has a number of gay men. Jesus is Alive Ministries has flat screen monitors everywhere so at least I could follow the singing, but the assault on my ears was so great that this time I survived only 5 minutes before escaping to the comparative peace of Nairobi traffic.
I thought of returning to All Saints Anglican cathedral this morning to experience their Sunday morning worship, but after the dire experience of 1662 Choral Evensong two Sunday’s ago, my heart wasn’t motivated. A 22-year-old Anglican I met this week said he goes to the youth service rather than the main service because it’s over in 1 hour, and the entertainment value is higher.
It’s easy for me to criticise dull worship in the Church of England and describe to people here how less than 2% of the UK population attend a C of E church regularly. They are shocked. I tell them the energy of the Church is consumed by the need to maintain buildings and to uphold tradition.
I used to suppress my view that the loudly proclaimed success and growth of the church in the Global South isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not any more – it isn’t just the obsession with homosexuality that is a major problem for the Global South Churches – they are also affected by the insane preaching and church practice which I am listening to right now. Am I mad or are these preachers mad? Did Jesus live a life of poverty and self-giving or did he invite people to indulge themselves by seeking material wealth and riches?
We know the answer to that question even if we don’t know how to bring Christianity alive, not only for the younger generation, but for every generation in the church.
I’ve barely caught up with the news that the Archbishop of Canterbury has announced his intention to retire to academia, or that the Government has released the consultation into marriage equality, or that Dean Jeffrey John has given an outstanding interview to The Times.
I have observed change occurring in the Anglican Church of Kenya and hear the changes which are afoot in the Church of England. The Covenant is clearly dead – now we can begin to campaign for a Church in which true justice and full inclusion in the whole of the Communion can be granted to LGBTI people.