‘Death tax’: Are Pentecostals shaking the Anglican Church?

Tuesday July 2 2019



Nicholas Sengoba

Nicholas Sengoba 

By Nicholas Sengoba

You can bury for yourself if you can, if there is no collection, nothing will happen because it is free giving, but if you give, you leave some at the church. Each diocese has its own way of doing things. If they (people) fear coming to bring their bodies to the church, it will bring less work to us and we will have a breathing space.”
That was Rev Canon Nelson Kaweesa, the Namirembe Diocesan secretary, reportedly elucidating on the decision the Church has taken to retain 25 per cent of the money collected in the cathedral during a funeral service.

As callous as it was packaged, marketed and delivered, the Church is understandably being realistic with the times. The times we are talking about are the rise of the modern Pentecostal movement or the Born-Again churches.

There is an argument that many of the ‘old fashioned churches’ are losing out to what people call ‘the Born-Again faith,’ to which many young people are flocking because of their ‘exciting’ mode of worship, liberal dressing and appealing prosperity gospel plus miracle healing.

Now the conservative Church of Uganda (and the Catholic Church) are making adjustments yet attempting to remain the unchanged in order to appeal to the youth and those that find them ‘boring.’
The main areas of enhancement are the comfort of the church buildings, plus the status of the priests and their message to reflect modernity, hope and prosperity. This has come with a price. My experience is instructive.

Many years ago, I sung in the choir at St Andrew’s Bukoto under the indefatigable, but now ailing Mzee Fredrick Patrick Ssebyayi, 89. May the Lord heal him and bless him. Those days, the church compared to today, was rather mundane.

Basically the Sunday School was a place we sang hymns and learnt to pray. These days most churches provide illustrated pictures of biblical teachings and characters for the children to colour and take home. It is a cost in paper and print.
The church hall was a bare clean floor with wooden pews and benches, the only colour was of multi-coloured stained windows. We used pit-latrines and basic urinals as opposed to the water consuming flush toilets that cater for bigger numbers today.
These days, you have expensive décor, fresh flowers every week, disco type lights and huge television screens at all vantage points. The choirs then had pianos, drums and basic instruments, which did not consume electricity. Only the cathedrals had the big pipe organs.

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In these days of praise and worship, there is an array of percussion instruments, electric guitars, saxophones and the works. We have computers and projectors to relay songs, karaoke-style to all and sundry. In the days gone by, this was not necessary as everyone had their copy of Hymns Ancient and Mordern or Enjyatula and other prayer books.

Today, the church prints a small newsletter every week with selected hymns and prayers plus announcements of church collections and activities that hitherto were posted on the church notice board.
The priest’s dressing then was cliché; a plain white cotton alb with a simple black stole over the shoulders. Today the priests wear colourful albs with chasubles, brightly printed stoles at times with golden chains that carry the crucifix.
They preach into a public address system as most churches have been expanded or broken down and new ones built - at times by companies connected to church members, hence the need to amplify the message.

In the days gone by, most of the ceremonies like when Archbishop Silvanus Wani visited our church, the Mothers Union members fell over each other to prepare the meals for the dignitaries from their own pockets.

I remember quite vividly yours truly, hungrily eyeing the silver tray enroute to the church where mum had with the dexterity of a heart surgeon, laid succulent pieces of well marinated roasted meat, garnished with fresh garden salad!

These days a paid ‘service provider’ must be sought and that provider will most probably be a member of the church administration, who will work for a considerable profit.
Priesthood in those days was for very humble, simple men. They walked, used the taxi or rode bicycles or drove rickety cars that broke down very often. These days many men and women of the cloth sit behind fuel guzzling four-wheel drives at times bought by the faithful to ‘dignify’ their religious leaders.

The children of our Lord Jesus Christ have the responsibility of funding to maintain all these projects in these trying economic times. There is pressure and fatigue since most churches are perpetually fundraising for one project or another.

It happens at a time when the Church of Uganda has lost a significant amount of funding from some of the wealthier members of the Anglican Communion in the West because of its popular stance on human sexuality.
It is also at a time when trust among people in regard to institutions and the way they handle public funds and assets (like land held in trust) is at an all-time low because of presumed lack of transparency and proper accountability.
So what people are sarcastically calling the ‘death tax’ is one of the inevitable ‘innovative’ ways in which the church has to counter the cost of spreading the gospel.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political
and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com.
Twitter:@nsengoba