Manasses Kuria was the second African archbishop and bishop of Nairobi in the Anglican Church of Kenya.
Kuria was born on July 22, 1929 at Pumwani Home in Nairobi to John Njoroge and Kezia Wambui. He was their first son, but the third born of ten. He brought great joy to the family because, in the Gikuyu tribe, sons held a special position, being the ones to continue the family line and to provide for the home. Kuria grew up at Kabuku in Limuru, Kiambu district, where his parents lived. It was a safe environment which enabled him to develop self-confidence from an early age.
Since Kuria’s parents were devoted Christians, they took him to church when he was an infant. Rev. Jusufu Magu baptized him on August 8, 1929 at Kabete Anglican Church, only seventeen days after he was born. Kuria was also exposed to Christian ministry at an early age because even before he was eleven, he began to accompany his father, a lay evangelist in the Anglican church, on evangelism trips.
Kuria was a well-behaved boy, thanks to his father’s discipline. He went to school at the age of four, which was very young in those days. Kuria loved school and knew very well that, having come from a humble family, education was the only inheritance he would receive from his parents. He first studied at St. Paul’s School in Limuru in 1933 where he received preparatory education and started to learn Kiswahili, the language of instruction at the time. After two years at St. Paul’s, he went to Ngecha School for three years before going to Kabete Mission School. After three years at Kabete he took the Kenya African Preliminary Examination in 1940. Kuria was greatly influenced on a spiritual level not only by the missionaries at school, but also by church life. Missionary Canon Harry Leakey in particular had a remarkable impact on him, in his education as well as his Christian faith.
In 1941, at the age of twelve, Kuria was circumcised together with his younger brother, Amon Mbugua, by a European medical doctor in Kiambu hospital. This contrasted sharply with Gikuyu tradition which required circumcision ceremonies to be performed in a chosen homestead.
Kuria’s father, Njoroge, did not allow him to pursue telecommunications training in Dares Salaam (Tanzania) preferring that he work as a teacher in a Christian school where threats to the Christian faith were minimal. Thus, at age sixteen, following his father’s advice, Kuria took up teaching. His first posting in 1945 was at St. Peter’s Wangige school, run by the CMS. After about three years at St. Peter’s he moved to Ngecha Junior High School. At Ngecha Kuria met the lady whose beauty and charm captured his heart and with whom he was to share the rest of his life. She was his student at Ngecha and her name was Mary Nyambura. On August 27, 1947, Kuria and Mary were married in Ngecha Presbyterian Church. Mary’s father, Jackson Njuguna was a lay pastor at Ngecha Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA).
The teaching profession armed Kuria with communication skills and provided him with opportunities to develop abilities in dealing with different kinds of people, something that later helped him in his church leadership.
In 1948, Kuria left Ngecha Junior High School to join Rironi Orthodox School. But after only two years at Rironi, his life took a dramatic turn when, in the early hours of September 3, 1950 during a Christian convention at Kabete, he received salvation after experiencing an inner spiritual change that compelled him to repent from his previous sinful life.
Kuria had a strong sense of God’s calling and resigned from teaching work to begin full-time church work. In January 1954, he enrolled in St. Paul’s United Theological College, Limuru. Due to the scarcity of church ministers at that time, Kuria was ordained deacon in 1955 while still a student at St. Paul’s. In December of 1955, Kuria was posted to Weithaga parish for the first six months of his internship. He was then posted to Kahuhia for another six months. Although he was only a deacon, he served as acting parish vicar due to a lack of qualified clergy.
After his training at St. Paul’s, Kuria was first posted to Embu, as a special chaplain to the Mau-Mau detainees at the Mwea rehabilitation camp. In spite of many challenges, including strong opposition from the detainees who suspected him of being a spy for the colonial powers, he preached the Good News. In 1959, while still serving at Mwea, he was sent on a special study tour of eight Southeast Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam. Singapore, Thailand, and Pakistan. In 1964, Kuria also visited Papua New Guinea together with Rev. Geoffrey Mbugua of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) and Raymond Chuma of the Lutheran church of Tanzania. The purpose of the visit was to enable them to gain an understanding of collective Christianity as it was being practiced in that part of the world. From Papua New Guinea, Kuria went on to Australia for a fourteen month study program, graduating with a licentiate in theology.
Kuria also served as an archdeacon, stationed in Eldoret. He was deeply involved in the Diocesan Missionary Association (DMA), preaching the gospel with both a spiritual and a socio-economic dimension. He was consecrated assistant bishop of the diocese of Nakuru on April 25, 1970 by Archbishop Beecher. As assistant bishop, he moved around the entire diocese (covering all of the Rift Valley) interacting with different ethnic groups in the Rift Valley. In January 1976, he was enthroned bishop of the diocese of Nakuru by Archbishop Festo Olang.
As bishop, Kuria sought to nourish the church spiritually but also to foster physical and social development. As he believed that it was wrong to insist only on spiritual growth among people suffering from hunger, poverty, and ignorance, he strongly advocated the simultaneous healing of spirit, soul, and body as he saw it expounded in the Bible. He promoted farming by encouraging churches to establish farmer-training centers and by providing agricultural field officers to train the people. The church established schools. In addition, Kuria founded Uzima Press, an Anglican publisher of Christian literature not only for the Anglican Church but for other churches as well.
On June 29,1980 at the age of fifty-one, Kuria was enthroned as the second African Anglican archbishop of Kenya. Under his archbishopric, the church grew dramatically. The number of dioceses went from seven to twenty by the time Kuria retired in 1994. Numbers of churches, Christians, and clergy rose tremendously. Theological institutions were also expanded in order to train the new clergy. In order to meet the needs of men and to strengthen their fellowship in the church, Kuria started the Fathers’ Union, patterned along the sames lines as the Mothers’ Union. The Fathers’ Union later became the Kenya Anglican Men’s Association (KAMA).
Kuria also had to confront tribalism and sex scandals in the church. He openly critiqued the Kenyan government when it acted contrary to its obligations. He spoke out against corruption and other social evils in the government. He stated time and time again that the church should never abdicate its role in shaping the political destiny of Kenya because it was the church’s responsibility to give politicians a sense of direction. He fought for a human rights. He opposed the mlolongo (queuing) voting system and one party leadership, advocating a multiparty system.
In 1994, Kuria retired as the head of the Anglican Church in Kenya and stepped down from the church’s mainstream administrative duties. But Kuria firmly believed that God’s work never ends even in retirement. After retirement, he started Jehovah Jireh Children homes and schools for the education and pastoral care of poor street children. Kuria’s wife, Mary, died on July 6, 2002 at the age of seventy-three.
Alfred Sheunda Keyas
“History of the Anglican Church of Kenya” at www.ackenya.org/history.htm (accessed February 16, 2005).
Martha Wangari Musalia, Archbishop Manasses Kuria, A Biography: Strong in the Storms (Nairobi, Kenya: Cana Pub., 2001).
Rabai to Mumias: A Short History of the Church of the Province of Kenya, 1844-1994, compiled by Provincial Unit of Research, Church of the Province of Kenya (Nairobi: Uzima, c1994).
This story, submitted in 2005, was researched and written by Rev. Alfred Sheunda Keyas, a priest in the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), diocese of Mumias, serving as a missionary in Mwingi, Eastern Kenya Province, and DACB Project Luke fellow (2004-2005).