World Council of Churches

Office of Church and Ecumenical Relations

WCC - AIC Consultation and OAIC Assembly

Limuru, Kenya, 24 - 30 August 1997

Summary Report

During the week of 24 - 30 August 1997 representatives of African Instituted Churches and African Churches founded by foreign missions gathered at Limuru Conference Center near Nairobi, Kenya. The event was jointly organised by the Office of Church and Ecumenical Relations (OCER) of the World Council of Churches and the Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), based in Nairobi. The meeting had been scheduled to take place at Kanamai Conference Center near Mombasa but because of unrest in the area the venue was shifted at the last moment to Limuru.

The week was divided in two parts: a Consultation of WCC and African Instituted Churches (AICs) from 24 - 27 August, and a General Assembly of the OAIC from 28 - 30 August. The OAIC had originally planned to hold its Assembly in November 1996 but was unable to do so for lack of funds. For this reason OCER/WCC offered to combine the two meetings so that the OAIC could benefit from the presence of the AIC representatives. It should be noted that their last Assembly took place fifteen years ago, in 1982.

The arrangement was beneficial for the AICs; on the other hand it meant that, because of financial limitations, the number of representatives from mission-founded churches (MFCs - see ( (1) ) invited to the Consultation had to be somewhat reduced. Because of the events in the Mombasa area, the representatives of the Church of the Province of Kenya and the Methodist Church in Kenya were unable to attend.

Altogether there were 50 participants coming from some 13 countries in West, Central, East and Southern Africa, plus 2 visitors from the USA, and the OAIC staff. The OAIC had made a special effort to ensure the presence of the women coordinators from its 8 Regions (only one was missing).

1. The WCC - AIC Consultation

This consultation was the second of its kind, coming after the meeting held in Nigeria in January 1996. The intention was this time to bring together a more representative group from all over Africa and to deal with two issues: 1) the relationships between African Instituted Churches and mission-founded churches, and 2) the participation of AICs in the 8th Assembly of the WCC in December 1998 in Harare. Because of the size of the group and the shortness of time it was not possible to use the methodology of "story-telling" and "testimonies" as in the Nigeria meeting and in the consultations with Evangelicals and Pentecostals. The programme was more conventionally made up of plenary presentations and group work.

In the opening address on "African Instituted Churches Today in Africa", Archbishop Wambugu, Acting General Secretary of the OAIC, suggested to distinguish three categories of AICs: the Ethiopian or nationalist churches which parted ways with the missions for mainly political reasons, the Holy Spirit churches with a particular emphasis on culture and spiritual gifts, and the Pentecostals. The latter consist of the African Pentecostals which are close to the Holy Spirit churches and the Newer Pentecostals influenced by North American groups and visiting mass evangelists. Archbishop Wambugu pointed especially to the weaknesses of the AICs and some of the reasons for their vulnerability and poverty: the tendency of leaders and their families to treat the church as their property, the lack of giving in the biblical sense, weak administrative structures, political co-option by governments and an over-emphasis on spirituality. This critical self-examination was well received and seemed to reflect the sentiments of many of the participants.

The issue of relationships between African Instituted Churches and mission-founded churches was introduced by Primate G.O.S. Ositelu of the Church of the Lord (Aladura) from Nigeria and Rev. Yaw Danso of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. Both spoke of the hostile attitudes towards the AICs during the colonial time and both noted that in the last decade or two the two families of churches were gradually coming closer to one another. In Ghana local councils of churches have been formed which include the independent churches. The students at Trinity College in Accra spend the Sundays of their first year visiting the independent churches to get to know them. In Nigeria and elsewhere some MFCs have opened the doors of their seminaries for students from AICs. Primate Ositelu warned however that while the level of tolerance and cooperation was improving there were still instances of mistrust and resistance to interaction with AICs. He also pointed to the more recent phenomenon of the so-called gospel churches which denigrate the indigenous churches. The foreign influence behind these new groups carries the danger of a re-colonization of African christianity.

The discussion groups were asked to look at ways of improving the relationships between AICs and MFCs. Out of their deliberations came a number of ideas and suggestions:

- Education and training of AIC leaders in order to enable them to be equal partners with the leaders of the MFCs.

- More involvement of AICs in community development and civil society.

- Exchange of pulpits, ministers fraternals, joint youth programmes, cooperation of women departments.

- Mutual visits to build confidence and to lay the basis for joint workshops, seminars etc.

- Meetings of AICs at the national level where representatives of MFCs can be invited.

- The creation of national councils of AICs as a stepping stone to build better relations (such councils exist already in several countries in Africa).

- Closer relations of AICs with ecumenical bodies (e.g. AACC, WCC).

- The establishment of fora where AICs and MFCs can meet and interact regularly, especially at national level.

- The integration of AICs in local and national councils of churches.

- Making more use of the theological institutions of MFCs to train AIC students.

- Joint efforts of AICs and MFCs to improve African singing and music.

The issue of education, especially in the areas of theology and church administration, was seen as one of the key factors to overcome the prejudices, mistrust and lack of understanding on the side of the mission-founded churches. On the other hand, there was a caution against sending more AIC students to the theological seminaries of the mainline churches. Certain things which are vital to AICs, such as healing, prophesying, speaking in tongues cannot be taught. The AICs should choose the institutions and the students going there should be mature.

The AICs feel an urgent need to do research and write about their history and identity. This came also up in the consultation in Nigeria. The WCC was asked to assist in this regard. Another request was to help with the creation of national fora where AICs and MFCs could get together. One way of doing this could be to encourage the national councils of churches in Africa to put this concern on their agenda. Several of these councils do have now a few AICs in their membership (e.g. Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe).

The 8th Assembly, the history, life and work of the World Council of Churches and the current reflection on the vision and common understanding of the WCC were introduced by the author of this summary report. Following this, Bishop Harun Kereda of the African Church of the Holy Spirit (Kenya) and Rev. Woungly-Massaga of the Eglise protestante africaine (Cameroon) spoke about the African input to the Assembly and the reflection process. Bishop Kereda said the specific contribution of the AICs to the ecumenical movement was in their way of approaching things. They are led by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit rather than theology. They believe in African culture and African values which they hold up in worship and community life. These are the sources of their strength from where to what, as equal partners, deal with issues such as unity, justice and mission. From the experience of his own church, which has gone through a process of transformation, Rev. Woungly-Massaga said the churches should reflect in their structure the ministry of Jesus in its wholeness. He called the WCC a "fire-place" and the churches "fire-wood" to be consumed as a sacrifice for the world.

In this second stage of the consultation the discussion groups had two assignments: to reflect on the African theological input to the ecumenical movement, and to make concrete proposals about AIC participation at Harare, especially in the Padare (i.e. the "open space" of the 8th Assembly).

Some of the ideas which emerged from the reflection on theology were to set up a theological commission of the OAIC and a joint commission of the AACC and OAIC on African theology. There was also a call to the ecumenical movement to invite AIC scholars to write on ecumenical issues and publish their work. AICs should participate fully in issues of justice, peace and integrity of creation and in the search for the biblical understanding of gospel and culture. Women and youth should be empowered to take their full part in the life of the church. One group focused on the African understanding of the christian religion and the church. The AICs seek to put life in all they do. They are the church of the poor who thirst for God. Their center is mission, not management or structures. They have no theology separate from African values and make no distinction between the sacred and the secular. For instance water is a whole, it is used for drinking and washing, and for healing and praying. The essence of the church is to be a refuge for all, a self-supporting fellowship. Another group identified some aspects of African theology: the sens of the community, the ability of the African to speak freely about faith, the immediacy of God in the African life, the presence of God the Creator in nature, the reality of the workings of the Holy Spirit. The God of our ancestors is the same as the God of the Bible, it was said, and the Creator they adored is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Concerning the presence of the AICs in Harare and their participation in the Padare a wealth of ideas and suggestions was put on the table:

- Cultural manifestations such as drama, dance etc.

- A choir or choirs, preferably from the Southern Region (e.g. Swaziland or Lesotho).

- An exhibition on AICs and their history, to show what the missionaries missed.

- Videos on AIC life and worship.

- AIC liturgy.

- A stand with arts and crafts.

- Welcoming of the participants, e.g. at the airport, in the traditional way of the AICs.

- If possible, an explanation of healing and of the experience of divine power.

- Lectures on the AICs and on theological issues.

- Papers and/or lectures on the theme of the Assembly, from the perspective of the AICs.

- Articles on AICs in the press, in the period before the Assembly.

- An update of the flyer on OAIC (produced with the help of the WCC some years ago).

- A new Risk Book on AICs (there was one done in 1972 by David Barrett).

- A "Harare Week" in the OAIC regions, to inform the churches about the Assembly and to pray and fast for God's blessing.

- Fund-raising in the AICs to make their participation possible.

- Accommodation of delegates, especially from "mainline churches", by AIC church members in Harare.

- A small working group of OAIC to work with the WCC Planning Committee.

- A "Harare Committee" to be set up by the OAIC.

In the plenary sessions following the group reports several points were thoroughly discussed. Regarding the presence of AIC representatives at the Assembly, it was noted that the delegates of the AICs members of the WCC would be there and possibly also the representatives of a few AICs to be received into membership. Others might want to apply for observer status or come as visitors. Women should be enabled to participate fully in all the activities. The Southern Region of the OAIC (which includes Zimbabwe) should have a major role in coordinating the presence and participation of the AICs, especially in the Padare. There was a proposal that a whole day in the Assembly be set aside for the AICs, but this was abandoned after further explanation of the purpose of a WCC assembly and the programme. Two specific requests were made to the WCC: to include AICs in the planning of the Africa Plenary, and to ensure a visible presence of AICs in whatever opening ceremony would take place. Finally, the consultation participants agreed on the following:

That the OAIC should apply for a stand at the Padare.

That the participation of the AICs will be through the Regions and coordinated by the OAIC. Individual churches are free to make their own application but that will not be under the umbrella of the OAIC.

That the OAIC Office in Nairobi together with a Sub-committee of the Southern Region will be responsible for implementation.

That a target of US $500 per church be set to finance the OAIC participation; contributions should be received by May 1998.

At the end of the Consultation the representatives of the Southern Region, the General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the General Secretary of the OAIC had a meeting to begin planning for Harare. The Southern region is holding an assembly in Harare in August 1998. This will be an opportunity to involve as many people as possible and to strengthen the cooperation between the ZCC and the AICs, especially those in Zimbabwe. The WCC will be invited to this meeting.

2. The 3rd General Assembly of the OAIC

As already said, it was fifteen years ago that the last assembly was held (the second; the founding assembly took place in 1978 in Cairo). The sens of excitement and gratitude that it finally had become possible to meet again was expressed all through the week.

Since 1992 the OAIC is organised in 8 Regions: Northern Africa, (i.e. Egypt, the Coptic Orthodox Church), East Africa, Central Africa, Francophone West Africa, Anglophone West Africa, Nigeria, Southern Africa and Madagascar. The General Assembly is composed of the Executive Committee which includes the chairpersons of the Regions and 2 - 4 representatives per Region.

This Assembly provided the much-awaited opportunity to elect new Officers. Archbishop Matthew Ajuoga of the Church of Christ in Africa, President since 1982, stepped down. The new President is Baba Aladura Dr G.I. Otubu of the Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim, Nigeria; as Vice-president was elected Rev. Zeyi Ndingambote of the Kimbanguist Church, Congo. For the first time a woman is among the four Officers: Mrs. Roseanne Onyango from God's Last Appeal Church, Kenya, as Assistant Honorary Treasurer. Mr. Money Akwa II from the Native Baptist Church (Cameroon) is Honorary Treasurer. Archbishop Njeru Wambugu of the National Independent Church of Africa (Kenya) who had been Acting General Secretary since 1995 was confirmed as General Secretary for three years.

Another major agenda item was a revision of the Constitution. This caused a deadlock however because no translations were available in French and the francophone delegates refused to debate. After much discussion (and genuine prayer) a solution was found. The changes to the Constitution are to be circulated to the Regions and an enlarged Executive Committee will meet for final approval.

The various departments of the OAIC reported and the Assembly had some frank discussions. For instance the report of the TEE Programme (Theological Education by Extension) was not approved by the delegates because too many questions remained unanswered. This is the oldest activity of the OAIC and the one from which the other departments have developed. The TEE programme will be evaluated by an ad-hoc committee which will also set new directions. The Rural Development by Extension Programme had gone through such a process since 1995 and its new orientation towards participatory and community development was welcomed. It is now called: Programme for Participatory Development. The Women's Programme was another subject of debate. Their report - which in content could match any WCC document on women's concerns - was well received but their proposal to appoint on the spot a permanent coordinator met with resistance for procedural reasons. But the women won! An excellent report came from the HIV-Aids Programme which is in operation since about a year. A remarkable piece of work is done (especially in Uganda and Kenya) among these AICs which tend to be conservative in issues touching on sexuality. Finally, there was much appreciation for the Programme on Research and Communication, particulary the new magazine of OAIC, "BARAGUMU".

Finances are a perennial problem for the organisation. Donor funding is decreasing and new solutions must be found. It was the subject of much discussion, which resulted in resolutions to increase membership fees, to do a feasibility study of property development and to launch an OAIC Sunday in the member AICs.

At the end of three packed days the Assembly managed to receive also reports from the seven Regions present. These revealed the need to reflect much more on how these regions operate, and how they can be related to the international office in Nairobi. In this relationship and interaction lies much of the heart of the OAIC. The hope is that this Assembly will have been the time of a new commitment (its theme was "Renewing our Commitment") and the beginning of a new start.

Geneva, 1 September 1997 Hubert van Beek

1. This terminology is not entirely satisfactory but more appropriate than expressions such as "mainline" or "historic" churches.