Fulcrum obituary of David Gitari, third Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya
Archbishop David Gitari 1937-2013:
Evangelist, Prophet, Liturgist
By Graham Kings
Kenyan Archbishop David Gitari was one of the most influential and theologically astute Bishops in the Anglican Communion. His sermons, expounding the Scriptures, combined challenges to personal conversion with prophetic denunciations of local and national injustices.
He held a high doctrine of the authority and power of God’s Word in the Bible and applied it with shrewd and brave political acumen, reading the signs of the times and warning about hinges of history. In 1988 his courageous sermons led the national critique of replacing the secret ballot with voting by queuing up behind photos of candidates. He survived an assassination attempt on his life in April 1989.
At the 1988 Lambeth Conference, he chaired the resolutions committee and gave a paper on Evangelization and Culture; just before the 1998 Lambeth Conference, he received an honorary DD from the University of Kent and the opening Eucharist of the conference was the Kenyan Service of Holy Communion, which he inspired and shaped as the innovative chair of the Liturgical Commission.
Before consecration as a bishop, he was a student evangelist, leading missions in universities throughout Africa, and General Secretary of the Kenyan Bible Society. Both posts influenced his style of being a bishop: evangelism was central and the Bible foundational. He married Grace Wanjiru in 1966 and they had three children.
Evidence for the phenomenal growth of his diocese of Mount Kenya East, may be found in the archive of St Andrew’s College, Kabare, the theological and development college, Gitari founded in 1978. Between 1975 and 1990, the number of parishes rose from 19 to 93, vicars from 30 to 120, Deaconesses from 0 to 20, Community Health Workers from 0 to 308. Sixty-seven church buildings were consecrated, including Embu Cathedral. About 150,000 people were baptized and about 90,000 confirmed. Two missionaries were sent to other countries, to Zaire and West Germany.
Through this growth, the diocese divided into two and he became Bishop of Kirinyaga and then later the third Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya (1997-2003). In his retirement, he was a member of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission and, ever the entrepreneur, founded a conference centre, ‘Philadelphia’, on his farm in Kirinyaga. He died of a short illness on 30 September 2013 and was buried on his farm on 10 October.
David Gitari was a bridge builder between evangelical and ecumenical international movements, participating in Lausanne and World Evangelical Fellowship as well as the World Council of Churches. He was the African Anglican member on the second Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission.
His books include Let the Bishop Speak (Uzima Press, 1989); In Season and Out of Season: Sermons to a Nation (Regnum, 1996); and Responsible Church Leadership (Acton Publishers, 2005). He had six articles published in the journal Transformation. Ben Knighton edited his festschrift, Religion and Politics in Kenya: Essays in Honor of a Meddlesome Priest (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
David Gitari was an inspirational Bishop, Archbishop, expositor, theologian, evangelist, prophet, liturgist, entrepreneur and bridge-builder. His legacy in the Anglican Church of Kenya, the nation of Kenya, and the Anglican Communion is profound and will continue to bear fruit for many years to come.
Dr Graham Kings is the Bishop of Sherborne and theological secretary of Fulcrum. From 1985-91 he taught at St Andrew’s College, Kabare, in the Diocese of Mount Kenya East. Fulcrum is also republishing his article, ‘Archbishop David Gitari: Biblical Interpretation in Action in Kenya.’
The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings is Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Ely and Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide.