The Church of Uganda

How would you like to be at a clergy conference of four thousand? Kanishka Raffel brings us a snapshot of his recent visit to Uganda, where he discovered some important spiritual roots of the church in missionaries, martyrs and revival.

Recently I had the great privilege of taking part in the Provincial All Clergy Conference of the Church of Uganda, a member church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and a founding member of the doctrinally orthodox renewal movement, the Global Anglican Future Conference. The conference was presided over by the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Rev’d Stanley Ntagali and all 35 Diocesan Bishops were in attendance along with no less than 2500 clergy. This was only the third time in the history of the Province that a national clergy conference has taken place, the last having occurred 35 years ago.

The Church of Uganda was established through the pioneering work of two English CMS missionaries in 1877. In 1885 another CMS missionary, James Hannington was consecrated the first Bishop of East Africa but he was murdered at the order of the King of Buganda before taking up his ministry. Bishop Hannington was among the first of 55 Anglican and Roman Catholic martyrs put to death between 1885 and 1887 for refusing to renounce their Christian faith and participate in immoral and idolatrous activity commanded by the King. The sacrificial, gospel-minded zeal of the early CMS missionaries and the bravery and faithfulness of the Uganda Martyrs are much honoured roots of the spiritual life of the Ugandan church.

In 1929 another CMS missionary, Dr Joe Church joined in a few days of prayer with a Ugandan Christian, Simeon Nsibambi. From their encounter with God through close study of the Scriptures and a deep work of repentance and unity through the Holy Spirit, a movement of God began that saw thousands of people come to Christ in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. This movement which lasted well into the 1940s came to be known as the East Africa Revival. The East Africa Revival is a third taproot of the spiritual life of the Church of Uganda. It is an evangelical Anglican church with a deep confidence in the bible as the Word of God, the necessity of prayer and godly living, and the urgency of the task of making known the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

From the earliest days of the Church of Uganda the church has been at the forefront of providing education and medical care to the citizens of Uganda at a local and affordable level (which often means, without charge). As a result, the church is deeply connected with the local communities in which it is placed. Clergy are involved not only in the spiritual nurture and ‘cure of souls’ but as advocates for justice and equity and mediators between government, business and local communities. But in the midst of this there is an abiding commitment to the proclamation of the gospel and the call to personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

The conference was held in the ground of the Uganda Christian University which began its life in the 1920s at the Bishop Tucker School of Divinity. In the mid-1990s, the school expanded to become a full university offering degrees in nursing, business, communications, teaching, law and medicine. All students at the University undertake foundation courses in Old and New Testament and Christian Ethics. The School of Divinity continues to train the clergy of the Church of Uganda and is in the process of developing a qualification in Child Development. Seventy seven per cent of the population of Uganda is under the age of 30 years. Dr Alfred Olwa, the Principal of the School of Divinity is eager to take up the opportunity to train Child Development officers (the expected need is 5000) who will be competent not only in social and health sciences but also theology and ministry, so that their work can be approached from a ‘whole person’ perspective. A wonderful and timely vision for a new era of Christian service in Uganda!