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My First Sunday in Chepkero Parish

My first Sunday in Chepkero Parish and I have had the most scary experience of my life! We had an 8am service of Morning Prayer in English in the church next to the Vicarage. After that, we met the children of Sunday school briefly -- they meet in an airless room with no windows. There were loads of them! All fascinated by and slightly apprehensive of the mzungu. For most if not all of them this is the first time they have seen a white person up close. They want to feel my skin and my hair. I had seen quite a few of these children during the week and found it touching to see that they were clearly wearing their Sunday best.

After the meeting with the Sunday School, we had to rush to get to the next church. We popped into a shop to buy sweets for the Sunday School at the next church. Rev. Edna has no transport of her own and the church in Kapitoi is poor and attended by farmers, few of whom have cars. So there aren't many who can pick up the Vicar for a service. Rev. Edna uses motorbike taxis: a man on a motorbike (with a helmet) gives someone a lift on his motorbike and you pay for the privilege. In Nairobi, many of these drivers have a helmet for their passenger. This area is too poor for that. So you sit on the back of a motorbike (in a skirt, trousers are not considered decent for a woman, especially a female priest), no helmet, no protective gear of any kind and the motorbike races over unpaved roads full of potholes and deep grooves left by lorries during the rains. I have never been so scared in my life! I was glad I had had a lift on my uncle's bike once and he'd explained to me what to do and not to do as a passenger, but I was still petrified. Can't believe that Edna does this on a regular basis! She admitted it is dangerous, and said she always prays and that she hopes that God by his grace will keep her safe.

The service in Kapitoi was long. We got there in time to meet the Sunday School, who meet in the church before the main service. So many kids! More than 80. I told them about Christ Church and talked to then a bit about Christ (prompted by Rev. Edna) and then we handed out the sweets. After that we had Morning Prayer and baptisms in Kiswahili and Kalenjin with a little bit of English thrown in. Most people here speak Kalenjin, nearly all speak Kiswahili and officially most also speak English. We had been expecting 3 children for baptism, but many more turned up and there was one adult candidate. I baptised all of them in English. Nearly all had an English name and a Kalenjin name and I had to try and get my tongue around those names. One child was dressed in pink and I made the assumption that it was a girl, only to discover, when the mother told me the name, that it was a boy (in Kalenjin, names for boys start with Kip and names for girls with Je). Before the service, all those who were being baptised or who were having a child baptised were expected to give a testimony. I tried to imagine introducing this at baptisms at CC.... All spoke fluently, but as they spoke in Kalenjin I couldn't follow what they said. It sounded impressive though.

After the baptism came the notices during which the new leaders who were elected at last week's AGM were welcomed. There are several churches in this parish and each and everyone of them has a people's warden and a vicar's warden! In fact, when the leaders in Kapitoi were asked to come forward, about a quarter of the congregation stood up. The congregations are not large. The English language congregation is about 20 strong and Kapitoi normally gets between 25 and 32 people. Impressive that they manage to find so many leaders from such a small group!

After the notices I spoke with the help of an interpreter. I talked about Christ Church and about how diverse a community we are. I spoke about myself and my background and then talked about the transfiguration. I'd been informed yesterday, just before leaving to go to a funeral, that I was expected to preach at the 8am service, but I had not realised that I was expected to preach in Kapitoi, too, until just before the service (while I was still struggling to recover from the motorbike ride). It's never easy to preach to a new congregation, because you don't know how much knowledge you can assume or what topics interest people. It's even more difficult in a completely different culture where people speak a different language. But I think it went OK. I even managed to weave the baptisms into it. There was me, improvising in a sermon, not using notes. I felt I was thrown into the deep end, but I somehow managed to swim.

At the end of the service, I was given a necklace as a welcoming present. I was told I now look like an African. The people here are so incredibly welcoming. Guests are clearly important in their culture, but they are also almost embarrassingly grateful that someone from Europe has come to their community. After the service there was food and then a kind man, a very kind man, gave us a lift home in his car! I couldn't have been more grateful!

It is now evening and apparently I am making ugali, the staple food here, made from maize flour and water. Tomorrow is our day off and we will be taking a matatu (small bus) to the big city (Eldoret), which is about 20 km away.

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