Luganda is an ancient African language spoken in southern Uganda primarily by the Baganda people. Buganda is the largest distinct ethnic group in Uganda with a rich cultural identity and a history that can be traced back thousands of years. The current Baganda population is approximately 8 million, over 22% of the total population of Uganda. There is much documented evidence of written Luganda, going back to the 18th century; indeed, the first Bible translation in Uganda was in Luganda. The language is widely spoken and understood in the east and western parts of Uganda, and in northern parts of Tanzania. It is considered the language of business in Uganda, especially in the capital, Kampala. Here in the United Kingdom, according to Home Office and census figures, Luganda is amongst the 20 most widely spoken or understood languages in London.
Language is critical to consciousness, culture, and participation in society. Many migrants living in the UK speak English as a second or third language, and yearn to be part of a community where they can articulate themselves efficiently, effectively and fluidly, without constant self consciousness and fear of criticism about use of the correct phrase, saying or vocabulary – which limits social participation. The need to worship in a language people understand most was a founding principle of Okusinza mu Luganda.
Early in 1991, Luganda speakers proposed to Reverend Henry Settimba, (then the vicar of All Saints West Ham) that he conduct a regular Luganda Anglican church service. He agreed, providing a rare opportunity for the large number of people to regularly worship in their first or second language. At the time, this was something that only happened at funerals, baptisms and weddings. Community members could put to good use their Luganda Baibuli (Bibles) and Njatula (Hymn Books). The service has been successful over the past 21 years and is the largest regular gathering of Luganda speakers in the UK.
OKUSINZA MU LUGANDA CHURCH SERVICES
The first service was held on 14 April, 1991, and a decision was made to hold services regularly on the first Sunday of each month. This is now an established item in community members’ monthly schedules. Initially, the incumbent Church was dependent upon the lead Vicar, and OmL followed Rev. Settimba from All Saints West Ham in 1991, to All Saints Forest Gate in 1992. The Luganda service was fortunate to have strong support from the area Bishop, the Right Reverend Roger Sainsbury. In October 1996, Rev Settimba moved outside the Diocese of Barking and Chelmsford, under a new Bishop. It was soon evident that OmL could not accompany him. The congregation, however, felt bold and mature enough to become independent. A senior congregation member, Dr. Sam Banyikidde, was a regular attendant of St John’s Church in Waterloo, a huge church, which at the time, was under-used by its local community. St John’s is wonderfully central in London, with Waterloo rail, bus and underground stations, attracting Luganda speakers previously deterred by distance from attending All Saints Forest Gate in east of London.
There were successful negotiations with the Vicar, Reverend Richard Truss, at the end of which OmL secured a regular 3 hour slot from 3 – 6 p.m., on the first Sunday of every month. Once again, fortune favoured OmL in that the then Bishop of Southwark, the Rt. Rev. Tom Butler, was a great promoter of ethnic minority involvement in the Church of England. The congregation was made particularly welcome in Southwark Diocese. Sixteen years since the move, St John’s Waterloo is the established home of OmL. Reverend Giles Goddard replaced Reverend Richard Truss on his retirement, and Bishop Christopher Chessun replaced Bishop Tom Butler on his retirement in 2010. There are only 12 services a year with predetermined monthly themes relevant to the community (itemised on the final page). The service is an opportunity for community prayer about issues of common concern. These include problems of Inner London parenting, adolescent involvement in illegal drugs, knife and gun crime, and poor education in our community. There is also a healthy concern about activities in Uganda, including natural disasters, political unrest, and the threat to land rights. The regular congregation has grown from 40 to over 250. St John’s Waterloo invested in over 200 folding chairs which are regularly wheeled out when the standard church seats have been filled. The majority congregation is in the age group of 25-45 with many children ages of 3-10 who attend a lively Sunday School run by volunteers. Adolescents also have a club downstairs, which they enjoy each month. Ugandans from other continents are warmly welcomed and there are regular guests from Europe, America, Canada, Asia and Africa.
There is always tea, cakes, mandaazi, and an opportunity for some serious social networking at the end of the service. This social hour solves the problem of isolation many face here. Outside the monthly service, congregation members are able to provide social and spiritual support to other members who suffer social alienation, ill health, bereavement, unemployment, imprisonment, drug and alcohol addiction, as well as survivors of crime incidents.
OmL is fortunate to have a consistent core group of talented, committed, and dedicated choristers who have sung regularly since 1991. The service has always attracted an accomplished organist, the current being Micaiah Mukiibi, a keen composer and musician. The expertise of the organist and choir are especially evidenced by the high standard of the music at the December service, an exquisite affair of Christmas carols and readings, which attracts audiences from far and wide.
SPRINGING UP OF OTHER LUGANDA CONGREGATIONS
There had initially been an aspiration that OmL be ecumenical, bringing together Luganda worshippers who were Roman Catholics, Pentecostal, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and other Free Churches. However, by 1993, the other denominations had replicated the model, holding their own regular Luganda services with varying levels of success. The Uganda Martyrs Catholic Community holds a Luganda Service on the last Sunday of every month at St Gabriel’s Church in Holloway (London); an Anglican service is held at St Johns the Evangelist, Brownswood Park, N4 2WL (Finsbury Park) on the 2nd Sunday of every month, and Luganda services are held at St Jude’s, Thornton Heath on the 2nd and 3rd Sundays. These have proved excellent opportunities for spiritual growth and conduits for greater social engagement for migrants living isolated lives in the UK.
SUPPORTING CHURCHES IN UGANDA
The increase in congregation numbers has enabled OmL to aspire to hold a fund able to support work in Ugandan churches. In 2002, OmL contributed towards the purchase of new pews after a fire at the Apollo Kivebulaya Church in Kansanga. In 2004, there was a contribution for the Most Reverend Livingstone Nkoyoyo fund raising for folding chairs for his charity supporting orphaned children in Kampala. There have been many other contributions. However, the capacity to support Ugandan churches is limited by the Congregation’s monthly collection.
Okusinza mu Luganda is registered Charity No 1109864, and is led by a Management Committee, on which the Vicar is an Ex Officio member. Regular elections are held. The Management Committee has overseen several changes in lead vicars. Reverend Henry Settimba 1991-1996, was replaced by Rev. Amos Kasibante, who led for 3 years before he moved to Cardiff. Rev. Nathan Ntege led from 1999 – 2005, and in addition was joined in 2000 by (the late) Rev John Kalungi who had moved from Sweden to London. Rev. Godfrey Kaziro was an ordinary congregation member who subsequently studied and was ordained. He began work in 2003 as support to Rev. Ntege, becoming lead vicar in 2006. Succession planning is an ongoing process. OmL strongly promotes the training of congregation members as a solution to vicars moving on. OmL also strongly encourages congregation members to participate in the Church of England generally. Godfrey Kaziro was the first member to graduate in 2003. In June 2008, Ida Serunjogi qualified as a Southwark Pastoral Auxiliary (SPA), and in October 2011, Ester Kawoya qualified as a Reader. The demand for more trained vicars continues.
The primary strategy of this mature congregation is for greater opportunities for growth in the Church of England. The political and social engagement of minority ethnic groups improves through organised, well attended programmes that give a voice to the most vulnerable. A significant proportion of the community suffer from poverty, poor quality of life, unemployment, or under employment. There is a need to establish structures or formal liaisons that address high unemployment, access to resources, and support to small businesses. As a registered British charity, OmL can legitimately approach the right authorities to try and improve the lives of so many. Public health reports indicate that Africans in England are disproportionately affected by specific health conditions including cancer, diabetes, strokes, mental illness and HIV. Indeed, each year a number of congregation members die from these conditions and are prayed for. As a British charity, OmL can facilitate improved access to prevention information.
BISHOP MISSION ORDER
The congregation had aspirations to become more established within the Church of England and, in May 2008, completed the necessary application for a Bishop Mission Order (BMO). For more information on the Bishop Mission Order, please click here