In December 2011, my friend David invited me to the centennial celebrations of his church, St Paul’s Anglican Church, Kiambu. I remember seeing this quaint little church on my many bicycle rides from Ruiru to Riara Ridge during the mid 1960s.
St Paul’s Anglican Church is situated on a grassy, red soil knoll to the east of Kiambu Golf Club. The main building was completed in 1911 with other additions over later years.
The construction is neo-Gothic in style; external walls are dressed stone buttressed at regular intervals, the main door is made of double hinged carved timber set in a recessed decorated pointed arch frame, windows in wooden clear glazed casements with pointed arch frames. The roof was originally covered with treated timber shingles, but was re-roofed with Harvey’s bituminous tiles in 2003 due to frequent leaks.
A magnificent bell-tower was added in 1961. Internal walls are finished in a tapestry of grey and pink stone, the floor is finished in brick red coloured cement slabs, the knave is supported by intricate treated timber trusses while the ceiling is made of polished tongued and grooved timber boards, creating a mystical feeling. Pews are made out of highly polished, hand-crafted indigenous hardwood.
Kiambu area was well endowed with natural beauty, fertile red soils suitable for coffee growing and being in close proximity to the capital city, Nairobi, was attractive to settlers.
Celebration of divine services
The church was built to cater for the many white settlers, mostly of British stock, owing allegiance to the Church of England which had established coffee plantations in southern Kiambu.
The church was dedicated as a place for the celebration of divine services and administration of sacraments according to the liturgy and rites of the Church of England. It was the first Anglican Church in the Highlands.
Chaplaincies were specifically set up to serve European pastoral interests and were mainly in the areas of European settlement. European chaplaincies were sponsored by the Colonial and Continental Church Society, while those for Africans were ministered to by local clergy working under white missionaries sponsored by the Church Missionary Society.
One of the greatest assets of the church is a well maintained graveyard situated behind the main building. The headstones carry names of many early settlers. The graveyard was for the exclusive use of parishioners, but deserving outsiders could be considered provided they paid four times the normal fees.
One surprise headstone belongs to Joslyn Victor Hay, the 22nd Earl of Errol hereditary high constable of Scotland, commonly known as Lord Errol, who died on January 24, 1941. I dare say he must have paid considerably more than four times the normal fees for his indulgencies!
The other name that reminds us of more recent history is that of Michael Blundell, who was buried there in 1993; and that of his wife Geraldine Lotte who died before him.
As it became increasingly clear that Kenya was headed for independence and self rule, St Paul’s was incorporated into a parish within the diocese of Fort Hall in 1961, effectively bringing to an end the divide between settler and African Anglican churches.
Thereafter, many of the white settlers sold their farms to Kenyans and by 1974 only about 20 European worshippers were attending church services at St Paul’s. They were held twice a month.
In 1976, the Reverend Josiah Magu, a senior clergyman of long experience, was posted to Kiambu Parish and he immediately embarked on a programme of recruiting African families into the congregation of St Paul’s. Unfortunately, Rev Magu passed away in 1978 but his work of expanding the congregation was ably taken over by Leonard Matthew Kabetu, one of the pioneer African worshippers at St Paul’s.
The recruitment programme was successful because of the many Africans who bought coffee farms, but the real boost to the congregation came in the 1990s when the same coffee farms were subdivided into residential holdings, bringing many young families to establish homes, either as owner occupiers or tenants.
Of course the church had to adopt a more modern order of service and drop the use of traditional Anglican English service using a 1662 Prayer Book! Today, St Paul’s is a fully fledged Parish and is one of the most vibrant English-speaking congregations.