Bishop Neofitos Kongai is the head of the Orthodox Church’s Nyeri and Mt Kenya Diocese. He discusses his fears and hopes for 2022.
What distinguishes your church from other Christian denominations?
Our Church has a long history. It was founded in 33AD by Christ and the apostles. Our Church is apostolic and Christ-centered. That is, our connection from Christ to the holy apostles to our current priests and bishops has remained unchanged. When Mark the Apostle arrived in Africa, he ordained the first bishop, who in turn ordained others. That continuity has yet to be broken. As a result, our church is Christ-founded and hierarchical in nature. The church is neither a human institution nor a piece of personal property.
Why do independent churches fail to attract the well-educated and well-off?
No, we preach to everyone and invite everyone to receive Christ and be baptized. Church is a big family that includes both educated and uneducated people. Our main challenge is that we lack programs or institutions where the educated can find their place, so they are absorbed by other institutions.As orthodox, we are turning a corner, creating institutions and restructuring our church to accommodate our own professionals. Finally, given their level of education, most of our clergy did not want the educated to be near them because they felt threatened or intimidated. But, for the time being, we have clergy with PhDs.
Why is your church’s headquarters in Nyeri rather than Nairobi?
The Diocese of Nyeri and Mount Kenya is a separate jurisdiction. Nairobi is a separate metropolis with its own headquarters. For many years, there was only one headquarters in Nairobi, but that has changed with the formation of new dioceses. Each jurisdiction has its own headquarters and ruling bishop.
In most parts of Africa, every village has a church but no nursery school or health clinic. Why is this the case?
In previous years, church construction was given top priority. However, there has been a paradigm shift in recent years, and we are now focusing on schools and clinics. We were able to construct several of them in Nyeri and throughout Kenya in general.
The church is becoming a more welcoming environment for children and the elderly. Why are young people rejecting religion?
The church’s youth are a potent force. The growing generational gap between the young and the old is causing an increase in youth absenteeism. The majority of today’s youth do not want to hear only about the Bible and salvation. They find church programs and activities to be too regimented. They will always find ways to entertain themselves away from the church unless we develop systems and programs to keep them busy and entertained. We must be youth-friendly and understand how the world has changed in order to assist and change them from within rather than without.
Marital discord is becoming more prevalent. How do families dealing with such difficulties navigate the new year?
Marriage is a mystery that can never be fully comprehended. Families must make more time and space for themselves to bond, dream, visualize, and discuss their deep-seated issues. Families must also turn to God rather than themselves, making God the pillar and center of their lives.
The majority of Kenya’s public schools are sponsored by churches. What can religious leaders do to help reduce current indiscipline?
Our responsibility as religious leaders is to be more visible in our schools and, more importantly, to recognize that we cannot run schools the same way we run churches. Churches and schools are two distinct institutions that complement one another. We must avoid forcing our students to live saintly lives in our schools. We must assist them in learning and growing as students. Our problem is that as religious leaders, we must recognize that most students are dealing with issues that require more active listening than active preaching.A great deal of counseling is required because students go through a lot, beginning with their family backgrounds and upbringing. We need to be as close to our students as we are to our families in order to learn about their deep-seated issues. We need to deflate their hot issues before they explode. We must also allow students to express themselves rather than simply pressing them.
If Jesus Christ were to return today, what, in your opinion, would most disappoint him about Kenyans?
Kenya has been transformed into Sodom and Gomorrah. We’re hard at work on the Tower of Babel. Everyone is more concerned with his or her own concerns than with the concerns of God. He never created us to destroy his creation, but rather to protect it. Corruption has even infiltrated churches. Nobody cares about the sanctity of life any longer.He would marvel at how Kenyans, particularly those in power, are increasingly becoming small gods. They mark the beginning and end of Kenyans’ lives. There is only one God who is both the alpha and the omega. That replacement would be even more disappointing to him than the life isolation we are leaving behind. He never made us as solitary beings, but as a blessed family.