Namirembe Cathedral Centenary Celebrations

Namirembe Cathedral Centenary Celebrations

Anne Peebles-Brown

Ebenezer: ‘Thus far the Lord has Blessed Us’                  1 Samuel 7, v12

In November 2015 I was privileged to join the Vice Dean, Canon Roly Reim, and Lay Canon George Medd of Winchester Cathedral in going to Uganda for the centenary celebrations of the Cathedral Church of St Paul, Namirembe, one of our Partners in Mission. I had been part of the group which welcomed Dean Benon Kityo of Namirembe with two colleagues and their wives when they visited Winchester in July.

We were welcomed at Entebbe airport by the Dean, and stayed in Namirembe Guesthouse, just below the cathedral. From our rooms we had an amazing view across the city of Kampala. The centenary celebrations extended over a full week, with events in the cathedral every day. The text quoted above was the week’s theme – and there were posters around and within the cathedral, and in other churches we visited.

The first Sunday commemorated the laying of the Cathedral Foundation Stone by the then Kabaka of Buganda. Many of the Buganda royal family attended this: the current Kabaka was represented by his wife as, traditionally, the Kabaka does not attend church services! The Kingdom of Buganda was abolished by Idi Amin, but there are now moves to restore to it some official role. Bishop Wilberforce preached at this service, which lasted about four hours! (We had already been to the two earlier services that Sunday morning, the 7am and the 8.45am.) Lunch was most welcome!

Each day of the week there were special services. All aspects of the life of the cathedral were celebrated, with services for the Mothers’ and Fathers’ Unions, the Men’s Fellowship, the ‘Daughters of the King’, the Sunday School and youth groups, the ordained ministry, and for those who had been married in the Cathedral. The celebrations included concerts and dance. Some of the services were in English, some in Luganda, and some in a combination of both.

Namirembe Cathedral Visitor Centre

The new visitor centre at  Namirembe Cathedral 

The Friday service, the celebration of lay and ordained ministry, culminated in a ceremony to open the new Visitors’ and Resource Centre, partially sponsored by the Uganda Church Association. The whole congregation moved to outside the new building, and Bishop Wiberforce unveiled a plaque commemorating the event, matching one he unveiled when the foundation was laid. Those who could then moved inside to get a first look at the exhibits which had been prepared.

After lunch, we returned to the cathedral, as speeches were made describing the history of the arrival of Christianity in Uganda and of its first Bishops. I found the story of Bishop Hannington, who was martyred on his way to take up his post, particularly interesting. We later spent some time in the Visitors’ Centre. While still requiring further work, the exhibits show the history of the development of Christianity in Uganda, the story of the Ugandan Martyrs, and of the succession of buildings which have been the successive Cathedral churches of Namirembe.

The final Sunday saw a great celebration service commemorating the actual centenary of the Cathedral. Balloons adorned the West door, several dignitaries from the city, and the Bishops of several other dioceses in Uganda were present. Archbishop Stanley preached and then unveiled two plaques in the cathedral, one in English and one in Luganda, commemorating the centenary. It was an occasion of great joy and celebration – with contributions from the Sunday School and local school choirs, and other musical groups and dancers. Again the service was followed by lunch for all.

We were shown many interesting parts nearby. We visited some historical sites including the Shrine of the Ugandan martyrs at Namugongo. This site also includes a Seminary at which many Ugandan Clergy study. Wearing hard hats, marvelling at the wooden scaffolding and trying not to fall over trailing electrical leads, we were particularly fascinated to see the new museum building, still under construction: it was obviously finished in time for the Pope’s visit three weeks later!

We were also taken to stand astride the Equator, to see the source of the Nile as it runs out of Lake Victoria and to the zoo (aka Wildlife Learning Centre) at Entebbe, so that we would not leave Uganda without seeing some animals! The bird life (for a birdwatcher) was amazing, even from the balconies of the guesthouse. We toured the old Parliament buildings, seat of the parliament of Buganda, and received wonderful hospitality throughout our stay.

While we had little contact with people outside the cathedral community, we could see the contrast of wealth and poverty, and heard from our hosts and others in the guesthouse much of the local villages, orphanages and hospitals. All around was evidence of the campaign for the upcoming elections and of those to prevent the spread of AIDS.

We returned home to a typically grey November, but with memories of friendship and generosity that are a continual sunshine. I, for one, would love to return.

Anne Peebles-Brown is a member of Winchester Diocese.