From All Saints, Orton to All Saints, Kasese

From All Saints, Orton, to All Saints, Kasese

Ian Elliott

A few years ago retired clergyman Chris Jenkin and his wife Mary visited missionary friends in Kasese at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains. Among the kaleidoscope of churches, schools and projects to which they were introduced was the relatively new congregation of All Saints, close to the busy town centre where they were warmly welcomed.

Back home in the village of Orton in Cumbria, Chris and Mary decided to sound out the PCC of their local church (which also happened to be called All Saints) about the possibility of forming a link with their namesakes in Uganda. Not only did such an idea sound quite radical in the context of our rather conservative Cumbrian parish, but the two churches were about as different as chalk and cheese!

All Saints, Orton, is a parish with a long history stretching back over the centuries to the Middle Ages. Nowadays, as in many rural areas around the UK, the congregation is small, elderly, and decidedly traditional in its style of worship and seems to face a constant uphill struggle to maintain its historic, Grade II listed church building. All Saints’, Kasese, is still a relatively new mission congregation (started in 2004) and not yet officially a parish (though this should change in 2016). The congregation is large and rapidly expanding, as is Kasese town itself. The all-age congregation (grandparents to toddlers) is lively, outward-looking, and typically African in the exuberance of its worship. When the link between the two churches was first established this worship was being conducted in the less-than-inspiring setting of a dilapidated wooden-boarded building, but on my own first visit there in 2010 I was taken outside and proudly shown a small pile of bricks – “the start of our new church!” which they were planning to build on a fair-sized plot of land they had been allocated immediately behind the existing building. Two years later I returned to find this new building already up to the top of the ground floor windows and was told that they had recently taken the decision to incorporate an upstairs balcony as the rapid growth of the congregation meant that the building as originally designed was already too small!

Early in 2015 Chris and Mary received an email from the vicar saying that the building was now more or less complete and that Bishop Jackson of South Rwenzori Diocese would be coming to dedicate it at the end of November. “Could you please bring a group of about twenty people from our link church of All Saints, Orton, to share with us in the celebration?” They replied that they would see what they could do, but that if they brought twenty there would be nobody left in the church at home!

In the end five of us travelled to Uganda for two weeks, including a week at Kasese. On our arrival (after a rather gruelling 11-hour drive down from Murchison Falls National Park) we were greeted like royalty on the outskirts of the town by a group of forty or so church members (a couple of us wondered whether they were really Roman Catholics practising for welcoming the Pope, who was due in Kampala three days later!). The fact that they had been awaiting our arrival for the best part of four hours seemed to do nothing to dampen their enthusiasm!

After an “all singing, all dancing” reception we found ourselves caught up in a motorcade with horns blaring and hazard lights flashing as we followed a band that had been hired for the occasion – not only into the town, but around it in a sort of spiral before finally ending up outside the church in the centre. Chris (who plays the trumpet) was amazed by the band’s ability to keep playing non-stop for the 45 minutes or so that this lasted! Inside the church we were welcomed with more singing and a number of speeches by different church officials (and a string of notices regarding the various outreach activities taking place in the week leading up to the dedication service). Thankfully this only lasted about half an hour, as our excellent driver was practically asleep at the wheel after the long day’s drive – but he did manage to stay awake to drive us round to our hotel afterwards.

The rest of the week consisted of a series of invitations to meals (with both Ugandan and expat families), sharing in the midweek fellowship meeting at All Saints, visiting a street kids project on the outskirts of Kasese, and calling to deliver greetings and gifts to two primary schools linked with schools in our Cumbrian parish (Busunga – twinned with Orton C of E Primary, and St John’s, Kitswamba linked with Shap School). We also managed an overnight expedition to Kisiizi Christian Hospital (in the hills a little over 100 miles south of Kasese) and the Chilli Children Project in Rukungiri which does an amazing job of supporting disabled children and their families, including teaching the families to grow (and helping them to market) chillies as a way of raising money to provide for the particular needs of their children.

However the highlight (and primary purpose) of our visit was joining in the dedication of the new All Saints’ Church on the Sunday. After the early English-language service (reduced(!) to an hour and a half on this occasion) we joined the Bishop and other diocesan staff members for breakfast at a nearby hotel owned by a church member.

We returned to the church to find many others arriving to join the surprisingly large congregation from the earlier service who had (naturally) stayed on for the main event. Soon after 10.00 we followed the Bishop outside the building and then back in through the main door after he had knocked on it with his staff to request admission by the churchwardens. They and the stewards (all in uniform) were kept busy bringing in extra chairs as more people kept arriving to swell the congregation until the church was filled to overflowing for the service which lasted well over four hours.

The opening procession, taking in the main focal points of the building, included the baptism of a couple of babies in the newly-dedicated font (an essential part of the dedication of a new church in the Church of Uganda) and a suggestion that anyone who could reach any part of the wall of the church should place a hand on it while the Bishop prayed for the whole building. As well as dedicating the building itself and its main features, the Bishop invited all the church officers and staff to come to the front while the whole congregation joined him in praying for them. The sermon (which took quite a time as the Bishop was switching between English and two local languages to make sure everyone got the message) was a call to make sure that All Saints would use its strategic location in the town centre to be truly a church for everyone – local council, the business community, police, hospital, newcomers to the town arriving at the nearby bus station… and (we were pleased to hear) the street children, some of whom are already part of the congregation.

Some parts of the Communion service were quite hard to hear due to the tropical downpour that started at this point. Putting glass in the windows was one of the jobs still to be completed so some got quite wet! But the storm passed as suddenly as it had arrived and by the time we emerged at the end of the service it was hotter than ever and everything dried off very quickly.

Towards the end we had not one, but two collections (the second a ‘thank offering’ for those with some particular personal cause for gratitude that day). Both involved people crowding up to the front, in no special order, to place their offerings in large baskets held by stewards. Not all the gifts could be received in this way, however, as some brought ‘gifts in kind’ – including goats, chickens and an assortment of produce. The chickens were trussed and couldn’t move about (much!) and the goats were tethered to a window bar behind the Bishop’s chair where they proceeded to do what goats do. Nobody seemed the least put out by this and a few minutes later one of the choir ladies appeared with small brush and pan to clear up. At the end they were brought across to the front of the church and exchanged for cash in an auction (though not as we know one in the UK!). This was handled very professionally by one of the church leaders, and gave rise to considerable merriment and good-natured banter all round!

The next day while Chris and Mary met with the trustees of the ‘SKILLS’ ((Street Kids Information & Learning for Life) Project the rest of us enjoyed a walk in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains with a couple of very well-informed young men to guide us. We returned from our visit with much to reflect on and thank God for – and much to share with our friends at home. Hopefully the link between our two churches (and also the schools) can continue to flourish and be a source of much prayer and mutual encouragement as we both seek to serve our one Lord in our very different situations.

Revd Ian Elliott is a retired clergyman in Carlisle Diocese.