Kenyan priest ordained bishop in New Zealand

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Up to 650 worshippers gathered at Christ Church Cathedral Nelson on Saturday 31 August to celebrate the ordination of Kenyan-born Steve Maina Mwangi as the 11th Bishop of Nelson.

Archbishop Philip Richardson embraced the global family Steve gathered into Nelson Cathedral today, and viewed it as a sign and a foretaste of what is to come,

“What I saw here today were faithful people embedded in their cultures yet gathered together as one. There was nothing superficial about it. It was a microcosm of what this nation could be.”

Worshippers came from Kenya, USA, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Australia and the UK to back the Kenyan missionary and church builder that Nelson Anglicans have chosen to be their shepherd.

Amongst the visitors was His Excellency Isaiya Kabira, Kenyan High Commissioner for Australia and New Zealand, who flew in from Canberra to attend the service. 

Mr Kabira saluted Bishop Steve’s track record of service to the gospel, and his family’s grounding in the faith, recalling his grandfather Rev Felix Nyoro and father Rev Joseph Mwangi, who both served as Anglican priests in Kenya before him.

“The Kenyan people are proud of your achievements” he said,

 …and they thank the people of New Zealand for embracing you as bishop.”

“May God grant you the strength and the fortitude to live up to this great calling.”

Bishop Steve Maina (48) comes to his new role with a strong history of church leadership in Aotearoa New Zealand as Director of the New Zealand Church Missionary Society over the last ten years.

Bishop Steve carries that missional strength with him as he takes on the mantle of a diocese that has become close to his heart since he arrived in Aotearoa.

“I want to join in with what God is doing in this region.”

“I want to see the lost saved, people discipled and leaders raised. I want to see Nelson punching above its weight to serve God further afield.” he said.

“I have a dream that’s bigger than the top of the South Island, I want to see Bible-based leaders making an impact on our nation and globally.”

Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth believes Bishop Steve’s global view of mission will bring a new dimension to the House of Bishops,

“He already knows the province well, but he brings the global perspective too. It will be healthy for him, and healthy for us to have that view. It will cause our horizons to grow wider.”

Bishop of Te Waipounamu Richard Wallace agreed, he can see that Steve will be able to build a more open-armed welcome to people from outside Aotearoa,

“I think the time is right for someone like Steve. He’ll be a breath of fresh air for this area. I look forward to working with him to care for the people of the South Island and we will welcome him soon from the many iwi who hold mana whenua across his diocese.”

Kenyan friends, family and partners in the gospel turned out in large numbers to back Steve. They brightened the palette of the day with boldly-coloured Kenyan festive wear, energetic music, dance and songs in Swahili.

The Kenyan voices raised in worship dovetailed with praise songs in English and Te Reo Māori from the Nelson worship band, as well as hymns and music from the Cathedral choir and organ. 

Young people had a leading role in the worship with readings shared by Steve’s two daughters Rinna and Tanielle Maina, and their cousin Zawada Mwendwa, while Nelson youth Jesse Sherlock helped lead prayers of intercession.

NZCMS youth mobiliser Kirstin Cant was not surprised to see young people up front on Steve’s special day.

“His passion is to grow the next generation in mission. He’s good at bridging all ages in discipleship and mission – and he creates opportunities for young people to engage where they are right now.”

Before Steve came to Aotearoa in 2009, he had been ordained priest in the Anglican Church of Kenya (2004) and served five years as General Secretary of the Church Army in Africa. By then he had already gained a BA in sociology and religious studies, and a Master’s in Divinity from Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology.

But Steve’s call to innovative mission didn’t begin as an Anglican priest. In the 1990s Bishop Oscar Muriu from the Nairobi Chapel Church identified him as a young man with great potential to serve the gospel. Oscar then mentored and equipped Steve Maina to plant ‘Lifespring Church’ in 1999 – which by 2003 was thriving with 500 members.

As Oscar Muriu preached at his protégé’s ordination on Saturday, he offered three challenges for Steve’s leadership out of the day’s reading from Paul’s pastoral letter, 2 Timothy 1: 6-14.

First he exhorted Bishop Steve to have courage,

“Bishop Steve, the Spirit of God in you does not make you timid….!” he said.

“You will face pressure to conform to the wishes of men….to conform to the spirit of this age… So be bold!”

Secondly, he went on: ‘Do not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ.’

“You and I know that like the king of the jungle that roams the African savannah, the lion, you do not need to defend a lion; you only need to let it out of the cage . . . it is quite able to defend itself!”

“Your task as the bishop is not to domesticate God and make him a non-offensive, fuzzy and safe. Your task is to proclaim his truth with courage. Let him defend himself.”

Oscar then repeated Paul’s third demand: “Join with me in suffering for the gospel.”

“Learn to get up each morning Bishop Steve; take up your cross; and die!

… Die to ambition, die to the self-seeking life, die to privilege, die to power and die to selfish ambition. . . . for only then can you live for Christ.”

Bishop Oscar reminded Bishop Steve that no matter what priests and parishioners, institutions and governments, or the media think, there’s only one person Steve needs to please.  

“You have an audience of one – God in heaven.”

Mayor of Nelson Rachel Reese said Saturday’s sermon was the best she had ever heard, and she warmly welcomed Bishop Steve to the city after the service, alongside Mayor of Tasman Richard Kempthorne and Nelson MP Nick Smith.

Once ordained and installed, Bishop Steve was led out of the Cathedral by a crowd of Kenyan well-wishers, celebrating and proclaiming his ordination to the city. Now and then, high-pitched tongue-trills, known as “ululation” rose up from some of the Kenyan women as they signalled their jubilation to the world.

Once Bishop Steve had met the mayor at the Cathedral steps they walked together into the city, led by Nelson City Brass Band into streets closed to traffic ready to host the bishop’s procession through the city – which filled the main street from end to end.

Bishop Steve has now moved to Nelson with his wife, the Rev Watiri Maina who is an Anglican deacon, a counsellor and lecturer at Laidlaw College in Christchurch where the family has been based for the last ten years. Steve and Watiri’s daughter Rinna (19) will remain in Christchurch where she is studying at Canterbury University, while their other daughter Tanielle (16) has moved with her parents to Nelson.

Bishop-elect Steve has been the National Director of the New Zealand Church Missionary Society for the past ten years. Prior to that appointment he served as a priest in the Anglican Church of Kenya, as had his father and grandfather. 

His ordination will take place at Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson. Due to the limited seating capacity of the Cathedral, ticket entry will be required for the service. All Saints, Nelson will be hosting a live screening beginning at 9.30am which you are welcome to attend. A livestream option will also be available for those who wish to watch this special occasion online. A link to this will be provided.