NAIROBI, Kenya — The Rev. Canon Evans Omollo has been installed the Provost of Kenya’s oldest Anglican house of worship.
As the new head of All Saints’ Cathedral in Nairobi, the 45 year old takes over from Reverend Sammy Wainaina, who is moving to the global Anglican Church headquarters in the United Kingdom as an advisor.
The Rev. Omollo was born in Siaya County, the same county where former President Obama’s father was born, and in his formative years grew up in Nanyuki Air Base (now Laikipia Air Base), where his father worked as a Senior Sergeant in Kenya’s Air Force.
“After his detention without trial by the [Daniel] Moi regime following the 1982 attempted coup, life plunged us into economic hardship as my mother had to relocate and start life from scratch in the village,” he said. “That was an awful turnaround of events and the scars remain fresh to date. I am a firstborn in a family of six — three boys and three girls and that order of birth placed leadership roles on me at a very tender age. I became a ‘deputy parent’ at a very tender age, navigating the contours of ‘parenting’ way before I founded my own family.”
He attended a local school as a child and high school in 1993. Unfortunately, he had to drop out because the family could not afford to pay his fees and he did not have relatives or well wishes to support him.
“Seven years later, I would bounce back to complete my high school education as a private student under the support of anonymous sponsors,” The Rev. Omollo said. “My faith in Jesus Christ was the sole reason for that determination to bounce back because the Lord had to work on my attitude and self-esteem. I did my formation training at Carlile College and later went to All Nations Christian College in England for my Bachelors and Masters degrees.”
The Rev. Omollo was ordained in 2004 and has served in various cathedrals before being named the head the Directorate of Mission at the ACK Head office, a role he played from 2011 to 2016.
“I did not know that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is what would later bring the difference I was looking for. During this time, I attended our local Anglican Church, ACK St Peter’s, where I received very good spiritual nurture as a Sunday school child. In May 1996, as a result of the convergence of many negative life experiences, I made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and this decision marked a turning point in my life,” he said.
The Rev. Omollo said it is often the case that church leaders and politicians are at loggerheads because some expect to always be praised. At the same time, the Rev. Omollo said he is a student of the political theology of the former head of Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), the late Archbishop David Gitari.
“Gitari’s entire political theology was that the church should not keep quiet when political actors do things wrongly. In fact, even our Lord Jesus Christ would not have kept quiet in such a situation,” he added.
The iconic cathedral is located near Uhuru Park and the city center. It has made a name both as an important religious institution and a symbol of Kenya’s struggles for a democratic system. The church’s foundation stone was laid in February 1917, but there were many delays in its construction and it was not until 1952 that the present building was opened by Bishop R. P. Crabbe.
Many influential Anglican Church leaders have worn the hat of the provost at All Saints’ and made a name for being fearless defenders of the rights of Kenyans. Bishop Henry Okullu served there in the early 1970s and later rose to be the Bishop of the Diocese of Maseno South. At one point, he threw his hat into the ring for the post of Archbishop. Bishop Okullu, who died in 1999, was later to allege that Attorney General Charles Njonjo blocked his ascension to the top seat due to ethnic considerations.
To many watchers of the Anglican church, the Okullu-Njonjo spat was just another day in the office for those in charge in the church. On the national platform, the Church of the Province of Kenya (as the Anglican Church of Kenya was known then) through its various bishops like Okullu, Gitari and Alexander Muge was a thorn in the flesh of the Kanu government, using the pulpit to offer an alternative voice since opposition parties were banned in Kenya during that period.
So much so that hardliners in the ruling party Kanu started calling it the “Church of Politics of Kenya”. The trend was the same during the struggle for multiparty democracy and the formative years of Kenya’s return to political plurality from 1991.
Another All Saints’ provost who ruffled feathers, especially those of Kanu mandarins, was Bishop Peter Njenga. The high point of Bishop Njenga’s defiance against the government was when he offered sanctuary at the Cathedral to mothers of political prisoners who were on a hunger strike at Uhuru Park’s Freedom Corner and had been evicted from there by armed policemen. They were led by political activist the late Prof. Wangari Maathai who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
Dismas Mokua, a political commentator, said the incoming provost must pay attention to societal issues.
“These issues include but are not limited to human dignity, social justice and boldly speaking out on national issues. He is also coming at a time when the Church in Kenya is witnessing unprecedented decrease in church attendance,” he said, adding, “One can say that globalisation and secularisation are key dynamics that have reduced attendance numbers.”