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Bishop dedicates reconciling church in Kenya (UM News)

The dedication and consecration of a new church sanctuary in Kenya brought together United Methodists of varied perspectives on LGBTQ inclusion.  

East Africa Area Bishop Daniel Wandabula joined hundreds of congregants in celebrating the new sanctuary for First United Methodist Church Moheto.  

Also on hand were United Methodist district superintendents in Kenya and three U.S. representatives from Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial United Methodist advocacy group for LGBTQ equality in the life of the church.

“We have gathered here today to dedicate this building to God,” Wandabula told the joyful congregation at the July 31 dedication. The foundation of the building was laid on Jan. 2, 2021.

“It is God who made it possible to establish this church and build this building for his service and ministry in this community,” he continued. “Today, having completed the work necessary to fully make use of this building, we can now dedicate it and its functions to God.”

First United Methodist Church Moheto in 2019 voted to become the first congregation in Africa to identify as reconciling. This means the church is connected with over 1,300 other reconciling churches and communities around the globe (including at least two others in Kenya) that fully welcome and affirm LGBTQ people in the life of the church.

The congregation’s vision is to become a growing and vibrant place of ministry, living out the Great Commandment to love one another and the Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Addressing the wider responsibility of a church building, Wandabula said First Moheto must be a place of refuge for those in need and those whose needs have been met.

“Now that we have this place of worship, we must be attentive to what takes place in this house of the Lord and how we use it in our service to God and all God’s people both the born again and those who do not know the Lord.”

For Wandabula, the service concluded a busy month in Kenya’s Nyanza Province, some 450 kilometers (280 miles) from his home in Kampala, Uganda.

He joined in mourning the death of the Rev. Kennedy Opondo, who had just been ordained in March. 

He dedicated the home of a newly commissioned Deaconess Beautrice Asyago in Sindo Village. He also visited Sindo United Methodist Church where one family donated one acre of land for the church to build a school and women’s literacy center and a church for the community. This marked the first time the bishop visited the Sindo congregation and the community at large. 

A day later, the bishop held a meeting of the Kenya-Ethiopia Conference cabinet at John Wesley Oruba Parish in the town of Migori. 

At the dedication service, Wandabula called for the Christian church to live up to its purpose of providing people a place of refuge in a dangerous world. 

“Some people these days come to church and leave in much greater pain than when they first walked into the building,” he said. “We judge people by what they look like and what they dress; this is not the right thing for the church to do. We need to ensure that we have our act together so that we can effectively reach out to the world.”

He added that he wants The United Methodist Church to be different from those churches that are inward looking.

“Let us be outward-looking and embrace and welcome everyone,” he said. 

J.J. Warren was part of the Reconciling Ministries Network delegation and produced a documentary about the visit. He is the founder of the nonprofit Young Prophets Collective, which aims to “equip and empower a global community of young LGBTQIA+ religious leaders.”

After the visit, Warren marveled how the United Methodists of Moheto cared about understanding sexuality and affirming LGBTQ+ people when there are so many other pressing socioeconomic needs including for electricity, clean water, food and shelter.    

“FUMC Moheto embodies what it means to be the church and preach the Gospel — to be a people who, like Jesus said, ‘are known by their love for one another,’” said Warren, a speaker, author and certified United Methodist clergy candidate. 

“What this church demonstrates is the truth that affirming LGBTQIA+ people of faith isn’t a luxury for wealthy progressives in the U.S. — no, it is essential to our very claim to be the church, the people of God.”

He added that love and grace also abounded at the other reconciling congregations in Kenya — Christ Chapel United Methodist Church in Oyani and St. Paul’s Giosahi United Methodist Church in Kuria West.

“What many reconciling United Methodists in the U.S. have done is to celebrate and support what is already happening here in Moheto,” Warren said. “We’ve been very intentional about not leading the reconciling process here or imposing our ideas. They are our equal UMC siblings, and they are prophets for the rest of the connection.” 

Warren said the bishop’s presence was an important symbol to the rest of The United Methodist Church — not to say that every church must affirm LGBTQ people but that the denomination will celebrate faithful and fruitful ministry regardless of where a church stands theologically.

“This is the future of The UMC, and it’s a beautiful one.” 

Hellen Odira, women president at FUMC Moheto, thanked the bishop for presiding over the dedication service and the Reconciling Ministries Network fraternity for their continued partnership. 

“I truly believe the work we are doing is prophetic,” she said. “FUMC Moheto is a place for everyone.”

“Being able to visit FUMC Moheto has been an extraordinary experience and a gift,” Ryde said. “Seeing the amazing ministry this church is doing, transforming their local community in meaningful ways, and providing a fully affirming welcome to all people in that community honestly has brought back my faith in what the church can be, when we are being the church as Jesus called us to be.”

Ryde added that the delegation was encouraged and thankful to see the bishop at the consecration service. 

“I believe Bishop Wandabula can see clear evidence of the fruitful ministry that this church is doing and that he wanted to encourage that ministry by being willing to consecrate and dedicate the sanctuary,” Ryde said. “His presence with us in Moheto demonstrated his commitment to being a bishop for all United Methodists.”

The Rev. Kimberly Scott, a Reconciling board member and pastor in the Desert Southwest Conference, thanked the pastors and laypeople at First Moheto and urged them to hold onto their great vision of promoting inclusivity and expanding the work of the church in Moheto. 

On behalf of Grace Cox-Johnson from Kansas City, Missouri, Scott presented a stole created from pieces of other stoles designed for LGBTQ clergy and allies. 

The Rev. Kennedy Mwita, senior pastor at First Moheto as well as a board member of Reconciling Ministries Network, complimented the bishop’s leadership and commitment to an inclusive church.  

Mwita mentioned that First Moheto is a glimmer of the possibilities that exist when United Methodists around the world work together for transformation. 

“It was a day of rejoicing as we came together to consecrate the sanctuary of FUMC Moheto,” Mwita said. 

Citing The United Methodist Church’s slogan, he said, “We truly experienced ‘Open hearts, open minds and open doors’ as we celebrated the spirit of reconciliation and movement toward inclusiveness.”