On 4th May 2019, I attended Mass at the Saint Joseph’s Cathedral at Hartford, Connecticut. The Cathedral is majestic, colorful and beautiful and capable of holding hundreds of people. Churches which used to be full of people in North America and Europe are now almost empty. In the next five years, the trend may worsen. The reasons behind the movement of people out of churches in America are many from relativism, sex scandals, church-state relationships, and the position the church has taken over many issues.
The church in Africa in general and Kenya in particular needs to evaluate its decision on many issues it is making today and how they will affect the church in future. One such issue is whether the church should accept money from corrupt politicians.
I am a Roman Catholic who was taught catechism by a Consolata Missionary Sister called Igidia. Her Catechism Classes were full of life and inspiration. I remember her teaching about the sin of stealing. She told as that after one confesses the sin of theft she should make an effort to return the stolen items. Personally, I get concerned about the money usually allocated by my church as yearly contributions labeled ‘family days.’ The bible and the church’s catechism are clear about how and what kind of disposition should one have when making offerings. The Sanctuary should not be stained with sin.
We need to build peoples’ hearts so that the word can spread from one generation to the next. If Empty North American Churches are anything to go by, we should learn that church buildings are not an indicator of Christianity. The people in America might have concentrated on buildings but not people’s hearts so that they can withstand the storms of life.
When Churches are making decisions to accept or not accept the money, they should think about everyone, the children whom we are teaching that it is wrong to steal, the youth who are beginning to seek the truth, the middle-aged who are struggling to make ends meet and feel betrayed by the runaway corruption and the elderly who have braved many storms and feel betrayed. All these people constitute the body of Christ and need to be taken care off when decisions are made to receive money or not. The church, as the late Bishop Okulu put it, is the ‘conscience of society.’ Today’s church in Kenya is far from being the conscience of society as far as money issues are concerned. The more money one has the more highly, they are regarded. The more they are likely to be accorded a decent burial.
One could argue that the church during the time of Bishop Okulu did not have to deal with how to fundraise money locally because it was dependent on donations from mother churches abroad. With external funding dwindling, the church has to fundraise locally hence the challenge of rejecting money, even if they know it is from corruption. Moreover, some of the churches constructed by missionaries are collapsing and new ones need to be built like my home Church in Kiriko, in Gatundu North, Kiambu County.
The prevailing circumstances need to be handled carefully without compromising faith with money. One of the way to deal with this issue is not to rush church projects. The Church is more than 2000 years and if we assume that the church will be there for the next one hundred years, there is no need to rush to complete buildings. It is also important to learn that church buildings will not transmit faith to the next generation. If churches do not nurture people and make them productive, they will be empty and become tourist attractions where people go to light candles and admire the architecture like in North America and Europe.
The phenomenon of empty churches in North America and Europe occurred over a span of time due to decisions and positions taken by the church and society and we need to learn from them. One may ask why donating to the church has become important now and not last year. The church has to be careful in handling this issue or might become the proverbial necklace that one found on the way and lost her treasure of jewelry.
By Mary Njeri Kinyanjui PhD.
The author is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org