First African cathedral celebrates 100th year

ACK St Stephen's Cathedral Jogoo Road carries rich church history

In Summary

• Founded in 1903, St Stephen’s Cathedral was a mid-seized church that was made of timber walls and corrugated iron sheets to serve the whites as well as black congregation

• The church was situated along Jackson Road (current Parliament Road), where Kenya’s National Assembly stands today

Present-day St Stephen's Cathedral Jogoo Road
Present-day St Stephen's Cathedral Jogoo Road

ACK St Stephen’s Cathedral Jogoo Road was the first Anglican African church to be built in Nairobi.

Having stood the test of time, the cathedral still holds a strong sentimental value to many as it is termed a monument.

It has a vast legacy that involves its choir, which made a significant mark in 1978.

The St Stephen’s Cathedral Choir was founded by the late Prof George Senoga-Zake in 1956.

On August 22, 1978, the then head of civil service Geoffrey Kareithi was faced with the task of ensuring a presidential-class funeral programme was in place following the death of the first President of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

He turned to the choir, which was under the legendary Darius Mbela, to compose dirges and comforting songs for the nation.

After the burial, the following Sunday, the late President Moi went to the cathedral to thank the choir for soothing the nation.

The choir also came in handy during the funeral of Presidents Daniel Moi in February 2020 and Mwai Kibaki in April 2022.

On August 20, 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta led his family members and Deputy President William Ruto in marking the 39th anniversary memorial service for his father and the country’s founding President at St Stephen’s Cathedral.

On January 26, 2020, the Most Rev and Rt Hon Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, visited St Stephen’s Cathedral.

He was accompanied by Most Rev Dr Jackson Ole Sapit, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya, and the Rt Rev Joel Waweru, the bishop of Nairobi diocese.

On April 16, 2023, Azimio coalition leader, Raila Odinga, led other opposition leaders to a church service at the cathedral before going to Kamukunji grounds to rally Kenyans for countrywide anti-government protests over the high cost of living.

Judge Emmanuel O'Kubasi and politicians such as Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Charles Rubia and Tom Mboya were members of the church at its inception.

Notable veteran journalist Leonard Mambo Mbotela has been a member of the church, where his grandfather served as a lay reader.

The trade union movement was nurtured at the church, through Tom Mboya.

To date, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) still holds its annual prayers, titled “Cotu Day of Prayer”, at the church every Sunday before Labour Day.

Now 120 years old, the cathedral will be celebrating its centenary celebrations on Sunday, July 30.

Today, the church is led by the Rt Rev Joel Waweru, who serves as the Bishop, and the Very Rev Canon Paul Mwangi, who serves as the cathedral’s Provost.

The Star had an exclusive interview with Canon Mwangi, and an elder of the church, Canon Lando Aremo.

St Stephen's Cathedral Jogoo Road's Provost The Very Rev Canon Paul Mwangi speaks during an interview with the Star
St Stephen's Cathedral Jogoo Road's Provost The Very Rev Canon Paul Mwangi speaks during an interview with the Star


Founded in 1903, St Stephen’s Cathedral was a mid-seized church that was made of timber walls and corrugated iron sheets to serve the white as well as the black congregation.

The church was situated on Jackson Road (current Parliament Road), where Kenya’s National Assembly stands today.

According to historical records, it’s foundation stone was laid by Bishop William George Peel in December 1903 and was consecrated on St Stephen’s Day in 1904.

Canon Mwangi said the church was extended three times due to the growing size of congregants.

“By 1916, the then vicar wrote a report to the Church Mission Society (CMS), saying that in one Sunday, they would serve 1,600 in their various services,” he said.

“This resulted in the construction of All Saints Cathedral in 1917.”

Canon Aremo said the whites' acrimony towards Africans also greatly contributed to the construction of the second Cathedral.

“The thought of Europeans being in the same church with Africans bothered them a lot, and that’s when they decided to move. St Stephen’s, however, kept growing,” Aremo said.

“At that time, St Stephen’s used to be referred to as the African Cathedral.”

In June 23, 1923, Mwangi said, a stone foundation was laid for the construction of a permanent Cathedral stone structure at the same place.

The foundation stone for the revamped modern church was laid by Ernest Carr, wife of a contractor who built many churches for the CMS.

Alternatively, the foundation stone of The Cathedral of the Highlands (current The All-Saints Cathedral) along Delamere Avenue (current Kenyatta Avenue), was laid on February 3, 1917, by Sir Henry Belfield, the then Governor of Kenya.

Its construction was completed in 1952. That same year, there emerged a need to come up with a Parliament, and the whites proposed the relocation of St Stephen’s Cathedral.

“The colonial government grew scared of the big congregation that was coming up in the city and said they would provide land and build a church using government funds,” Mwangi said.

The colonial government later relocated St Stephen’s Church to Donholm Road (current Jogoo Road) in Nairobi’s Eastlands to serve the African congregation.

A cathedral is referred to as the mother church of a diocese.

“In the Anglican Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church, a provost is appointed to be the CEO of the Cathedral,” Mwangi said.

In Kenya, there are more than 40 dioceses, and each has one Cathedral that hosts the seat of the Bishop.

St Stephen’s Cathedral Jogoo Road serves as the Nairobi Diocese and houses the seat of Bishop Joel Waweru.

There are, however, two Anglican Dioceses in Nairobi: All Saints Cathedral and St Stephen’s Cathedral.

The former was hived off the Nairobi Diocese, given to Archbishop, the most reverend Jackson Ole Sapit, who serves as the Archbishop in Kenya as well as the Bishop of the church,” Mwangi said.


In December 26, 1952, a stone foundation was laid along Donholm Road (now Jogoo Road) for the construction of St Stephen’s Church by the third Bishop of Mombasa, the Rt Rev Reginald Percy.

In September 27, 1953, the church was completed and consecrated by the same bishop.

Two acres were hived off from Donholm Estate, a dairy farm belonging to the famous architect, James Kerr, for the construction of St Stephen’s African Cathedral.

The church’s construction was fully funded in compensation for the parcel of land at Parliament buildings.

Once it was complete, the colonial government demolished the church on Jackson Road using dynamite in 1953.

Mwangi said this was both a blessing and a challenge as the church lost a number of its congregants.

“If you compare St Stephen’s and All Saints today, the latter are way much ahead because they were left in the city to serve the whites and attracted those who wanted to worship in the city,” he said.

Africans who served the church in the early days included Simeon Kalume, who was a catechist, and Rev Canon Elijah Gachanja, an evangelist who later became the first African Vicar of the cathedral in 1957. He served till 1962, when Rev Edwin Adinya took over from 1963-67.

Rev Boaz Oduma served from 1968-73, Rev Peter Indalo from 1974-75, Rev Luke Makolo from 1976-78, Rev Peter Mwakio from 1979-83, Rev Canon Gilbert Amino from 1984-92, Rev James Kinyanjui from 1993-94, Canon Joseph Ngooro from 1995-96, Canon John Ndung’u from 1997-2002 and Rev Canon Stephen Wamugi from 2003-04.

The cathedral found an eager and willing congregation from civil servants, Industrial Area workers and East African railway workers living in Bahati, Eastleigh, Jerusalem, Kaloleni, Kimathi, Landi Mawe, Makadara, Makongeni, Maringo, Mbotela, Muthurwa, Ngara and Shauri Moyo.

The nearby Church Army College provided a homegrown African clergy.


All this time, Canon Aremo said, St Stephen’s was actually just a church.

In 1992, a special provincial synod committee was formed so they could give way to the formation of another diocese.

“The provincial synod, sitting in July 2000, passed a resolution to divide the Diocese of Nairobi into two sees: a small see around All Saints’ Cathedral, for the Archbishop, and the residual Diocese of Nairobi, created to serve the rest of the city,” Aremo said.

St Stephen’s was recommended as the cathedral church of the diocese of Nairobi, and Archbishop Dr David Gitari inaugurated the new diocese and elevated the church to a cathedral on September 1, 2002.”

Aremo joined the synod committee in 1995.

He said that there was, however, some politics when time came to appoint a Provost for the cathedral.

“The late Canon John Ndung’u passed the interview very well when we vetted him, but they brought in someone else. At that time I was the people’s warden and many people came complaining to me,” he said.

“The church was closed in 2003 and you know when the Bishop’s chair is carried outside the gate, his job is as good as done. Canon Ndung’u was at that time taken to South C but came back in 2004.”

Aremo said when Ndung’u came back, the clergy at that time could barely survive, and the latter even had to sacrifice so the clergy could get something.

“At that time, we were a ‘Matongolo’ church as the kind of offering we got were coins and were a challenge even to count, but we managed,” he said.

Since then, Aremo said, the church has grown and a major contributor is the choir.

President Daniel Moi and several religious leaders witnessed the consecration of Rev Canon Peter Njoka at ACK St Stephen’s Cathedral after he was elected the first Bishop of Nairobi diocese.

“Uhuru Highway was the dividing line between All Saints Cathedral and Nairobi Diocese,” Bishop emeritus Peter Njoka said. 

Canon John Ndung’u Muriithi became the first Provost of the Cathedral. In 2013, Canon Joshua Omungo was appointed Provost, replacing Canon Ndung’u. In 2018, the Very Rev Canon Paul Mwangi replaced Canon Omungo.

A section, the altar, of the present St Stephen's Cathedral Jogoo Road
A section, the altar, of the present St Stephen's Cathedral Jogoo Road

Located at the Junction of Jogoo Road and Likoni Road, St Stephen’s was built to an English Gothic architecture.

The bell tower stands tall and in its heyday, it could be seen from miles away.

The church’s external walls are built of smooth-dressed stone with rough-dressed stone to the upper skirting area, reinforced by stone buttresses at regular intervals.

Its internal walls are vaulted in smooth-dressed stone, while the high ceiling is supported by ribbed timber members and finished in polished timber panels.

The ceiling features dormer windows, which provide plenty of natural lighting.

The roof is covered with Mangalore tiles, the floor is finished in granite blocks and the windows are glazed in steel casements embedded in pointed arch frames.

Doors are made of heavy timber panels lashed with steel braces and hung in pointed arch frames.

The church’s polished wooden pews provide a sitting capacity for more than 1,000.

The church has a pipe organ, which was sourced from South Africa. There is also a Bansall and Sons upright piano dating back to 1920 that has since been decommissioned.

It is now part of the choir relic after the church bought a small piano. The church has been fundraising for the purchase of a new church organ at a cost of Sh7 million.

Its upgraded structures were commissioned by the former Provost, Canon Joshua Omungo, and current Canon Mwangi with the support of congregation members, such as James Otieno.

The structures include washrooms, youth and children’s centres, perimeter walls as well as cabro works.

The Very Rev Canon Paul Mwangi
The Very Rev Canon Paul Mwangi


Canon Mwangi said marking the centenary celebrations are very important for the church.

“The church has been a centre of transformation for the people of Eastlands and its members, who come from different parts of the country,” he said.

This is a chance for us to reflect on the history of the church and its heritage. It also helps us to ask ourselves how we can remain relevant in the current generation who are no longer enticed by what enticed the older generation.”

He added that it helps focus on how they can grow the children as well as youth ministry, allowing them to develop a strategy that will carry the next generation.

“We want that by the next time they are celebrating a centenary, we will have prepared them so that they remain firm in the faith,” Mwangi said.

Post the celebrations, Mwangi said, some of the plans that are underway include having the church be present in the digital space, be inclusive as well as change the way they handle the children's ministry.

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