The day is Sunday, October 27, 1974. Time check 10.30am, one-and-half hours into the service at St Francis Chapel, the Anglican church of Makerere University.
The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire, Janani Luwum, is presiding over two services in one - the installation of the new chaplain, the Rev Can Yoramu Bamunoba, and the ordination of the Rev Sam Hadido, a second-year BA and Education student, to the priesthood.
The installation of the chaplain is over. We have already sung the hymn ‘Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult of our life’s wild restless sea’, and prayed the litany. The organist, Apolo Musoke, starts the hymn ‘Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,’ usually sung just before important rituals in a service, particularly ordination. After the hymn, three senior clergy, one of them the just-installed chaplain, present me to the archbishop for ordination.
“Do you believe, so far as you know your own heart,” the archbishop asks, “that God has called you to the office and work of a priest in his Church?”
“I believe that God has called me,” I answer.
“Do you accept the holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?”
“I do so accept them.”
“Will you accept the discipline of this Church, and give due respect to those in authority?”
“By the help of God, I will.”
I kneel before him. At the laying-on of hands, he presents me with a Bible in which he has inscribed the words “But you yourself must keep calm and sane at all times; face hardship, work to spread the Gospel, and do all the duties of your calling”, picked from 2 Timothy 4:5 in the New English Bible Version, and signed: “Janani Kampala.”
A few weeks later in November 1974, our paths cross again at Crested Towers in Kampala, the seat of the Ministry of Education, where I have gone to see the permanent secretary over pay. At about 10 I arrive at the 11th floor and find a bishop among those waiting at the reception.
It is Archbishop Janani Luwum, the bishop of Kampala, my bishop, who ordained me priest only weeks earlier at St Francis Chapel in Makerere.
I walk straight to him and say hullo with a handshake. Afterward, I install myself in the row of the visitors to see the permanent secretary.
“How long have you been, Your Grace?” I ask.
“Since 9 O’clock,” he says. We all wait in silence.
At about 11, the door opens and the permanent secretary peeps out and says, “Good morning.” “Good morning,” we answer in chorus. On seeing the archbishop in the queue, he walks to us and we stand. “Oh bishop!” he exclaims, “have you been waiting here long? Please come in.”
To everyone’s surprise. Archbishop Luwum, composed and in a cool tone says, “Thank you. But this lady was here before me,” his body language somewhat ushering the woman forward. And in she goes, after which the archbishop follows when she emerges!
Should he have followed Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them”? Greatness in the sense of status was not Janani’s problem. In 1968, he, an ordinary priest, was chosen first Ugandan bishop of northern Uganda after John Russell.
After only five years, he became the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. On this particular occasion at Crested Towers, the permanent secretary ‘thrusts’ greatness upon him on account of his international status, and the archbishop declines the offer.
The following year, 1975, our paths cross yet again. The day, I cannot remember but probably Saturday. Time check: 11.50am. I walk out of Diamond Trust opposite Uganda Commercial Bank building (now Cham Towers) after a chat with a friend - Ms Sematimba - who runs a garments shop there. In 10 minutes, Uganda Commercial Bank (now Stanbic) will close business for the day. I want to withdraw some money for the weekend.
When I enter the banking hall, I find long winding queues, one for fees, others for other business. Among those in the fees queue, stands a man of medium height in a clerical collar, a purple shirt and a dark suit. As a cleric myself, I make my way to say hullo to someone obviously my senior in rank, just like a major, a colonel or a brigadier would instinctively move to a man in four-star uniform, stand still and salute.
Our eyes meet and 1 find it is Archbishop Luwum. After we shake hands and I start out to another queue, he says to me, “We have been here since 8 O’clock.”
This is a stunner! A whole Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire, arriving at the bank at 8 O’clock to pay his children’s fees and waiting in the queue until midday, and he has not been served! Moreover, he says it with a cool head! My heart goes out to him, riled at the service delivery. Do the tellers, let alone the managers in the bank, care that the queues, especially the one for fees, are hardly moving? How come one of the VIPs of the country can spend a whole four hours in the queue without being served?
In 1987, our paths cross yet again, this time in a different form. I am in London, specifically the University of London at the Institute of Education for an MA. My classmates and I, together with other foreign students, have gone to Westminster Abbey for a tour. There a select number of people of British and world repute: poets, scientists, and others - the Isaac Newtons, the John Dunnes, the John Miltons - are all buried there in the crypt. But as we are shown round, we come across the sculpture of an African, put in a special corner.
“This is St Janani Luwum, the modern-day saint of Uganda,” the curator says.
This triggers me to reflect that in Uganda where I have come from, though the day the archbishop was killed has been recognised, he is not regarded like the Uganda martyrs who were killed in 1877 under Kabaka Danieri Mwanga. However, out there in the Church of England, Janani is reckoned among the great.
So what is greatness? Is it what Malvolio says of greatness?
I shall only allude to what Jesus said to those incredibly strange men who abandoned for good their jobs and livelihoods, their homes and families, their friends, relatives and in-taws and went to live with him at his behest. One day, he said to them that great people were childlike, believing things at face value, including those which were disturbingly upside down - like the poor being a lucky lot, the pure in heart guaranteed to see God and bask in his presence tete-a-tete, the hungry assured of satisfaction, those who suffer injustices like slander, name-calling and mudslinging or unfair exclusion, being already vindicated, and so on and so forth.
As I look back over the years on the several incidents in which Luwum’s path crossed mine and those of many other people, I see a man in whom the life of a saint was distilled, a paragon of virtue.
Now a saint, in my view, exhibits the following: the priority of God in all life and being loyal to him regardless; a prevalence of virtues such as truthfulness, courage, persistence, patience and humility; the precedence of other people and empathy for them in the face of pain and suffering and failure; the sense of justice and forgiveness, and the desire and struggle to live by that lifestyle and see it prevail.
When Janani was chosen Anglican bishop of northern Uganda, the first thing he said to the nation was to ask for prayers because of the arduous road ahead of him. He knew that the culture in Acholi and Lango on marriage ran counter to Christian tradition. Among the Acholi and Langi, by 16, 17, 18, that is around S3, S4, S5, S6, a young man brings a girl for ‘trial marriage’, that is, for testing for a wife for several years under the watchful eye of the extended family.
If she is not ‘wife material’, the young man goes ahead to find a real wife! To Janani, a mulokole (born-again) of the East African Revival, this was counter to the Christian way, yet it was part of the arduous journey he was to travel as bishop of northern Uganda. And many Christians in that diocese were living that life already. He saw the bishopric, not as a prestige but as a call for humility, courage and persistence to make the Christians there adapt to Christ’s way on marriage and the family.
Furthermore, through the lenses of Jamie Middleton, a fitness model today, I look back at what to me counts for greatness in Luwum. “I think anybody who’s great,” Jamie Middleton says: “is somebody who just doesn’t give up. In the face of adversity they don’t give up. It also comes down to character. Somebody has a lot of humility. They wanna be successful, but at the same time success has a greater meaning... It’s this well balanced, well-rounded life.”
Then Alex Day, the YouTube star, describes what counts for greatness: “I always thought the whole meaning of life was to be remembered, to make your mark on the world, to make something that outlives you. In hindsight it’s a very selfish attitude because a lot of people don’t get to do that. But now I think it’s more about, just being kind.”
And from Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income: “Greatness, to me, is the equivalent of inspiration, and the more someone can inspire, the greater they are. ‘The true measure of your worth includes all the benefits others have gained from your success’ [says] Colin Hightower. I feel like greatness is really proportional to how much you inspire by what you do and how you do it.”
The writer is a veteran
journalist and part-time worker at Uganda Christian University
Archbishop Luwum was the first sitting archbishop in the entire Anglican communion to be martyred in office, since archbishops of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer and William Laud were martyred in office in 1556 AD and 1645 AD, respectively.