VISIBILITY OF THE CHURCH IN THE SHADOWS OF COVID-19- The case of the Anglican Church of Kenya

( this is part one of a two part series …)


Rev. Canon Francis Omondi




The coronavirus has exposed and exacerbated deep ecclesiastical problems in the identity and witness of the church. Measures to mitigate the pandemic has pushed our church, the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), further into the downward spiral of shadowiness. For safety reasons, we have had to abstain from physical, public gathering. Not therefore, able to hear God’s word read or preached, and receive the sacrament, in a way we are used to. It has been unsettling.

The Church’s identity is fundamental to her visibility and therefore witness. Church’s visibility is the most powerful message the world can receive. A message the world can trust because it shows God present in our world. This visibility encourages and motivates the world to look at her attributes as a reflection of the God she represents. Tied to the Church of England, the ACK shares the identity of a diverse “fellowship of one visible society whose members are bound together by the ties of a common faith, common sacraments, and a common ministry”, as Bishops in Lambeth 1920 envisioned[1]. This has crystalized into the Anglican way of following Jesus in the world in the “fulness of Christian life, truth and witness.” The ACK is an integral part of the Anglican Communion[2], which binds her to the order and doctrine of the Anglican Church. But her context is different, demanding therefore a unique response to best enhance our visibility. Until the emergence of this global pandemic we have had little motivation to rethink and adjust our visibility in context.

Our moment of crisis confronts us with the question of whether our present ways can sufficiently guide us. Some consider the pandemic transient. They estimate the duration it would last, but ponder what we would find on the other side. Such will do everything to maintain our common life within our norms, allowing for as little as possible disrupt in the longer term. It is however clear that this crisis is monumental, and will force radical shifts in our society. The Malawi academic, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza Malawi makes a disturbing prediction of the grim future we face in his recent article[3]. He cites Mr. Kozul- Wright the Director of the Division on Globalisation and Development Strategies at UNCTAD who noted, “There’s a degree of anxiety now that’s well beyond the health scares which are very serious and concerning . . .the kind of meltdown that could be even more damaging than the one that is likely to take place over the course of the year”.

And peering into tomorrow’s world, from the depth of crisis, can the ACK seize the moment and readjust to better her visibility?

This paper examines the complications this global pandemic causes to the ACK as a case, in the worldwide church context. The issues are inter-related and the emerging ideas can apply across board. I intend to use Thomas Kuhn’s  paradigm shift theory as a framework to process this challenge, and a as signpost to guide the ACK in the direction we must take.

The epistemologist and historian of science, Thomas Kuhn, called scientific revolution a paradigm shift, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970). Science, described Kuhn, is a process characterised by pre-paradigmatic, normal and revolutionary patterns emerging from the interactions of its component scientists, what we would call complex adoptability system. According to Kuhn, a scientific revolution occurs when scientists encounter anomalies the prevailing paradigm cannot resolve within its scientific framework.

The paradigm, in Kuhn’s view, is not the current theory alone, but the entire worldview in which it exists, and all the implications which come with it. Kuhn acknowledges anomalies from all paradigms, but maintains that scientist accommodate them as acceptable levels of error, or better ignored. Rather, Kuhn notes that when enough or significant anomalies accrue against a current paradigm, the scientific discipline is thrown into a crisis. It is during such a crisis that fresh ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tested. A new paradigm established from this and gains its own new adherents, sparking an intellectual “battle” between the followers of this new paradigm and the remnants of the old.


In this paper, I address the following three questions the pandemic crisis presents to the visibility of the ACK:

  1. What challenges does the Pandemic crisis pose to the ACK way of following Christ?
  2. Is the ACK way of following Christ deep enough to ease the shocks the crisis poses to her visibility?
  3. What shifts in identity must ACK make to bolster her visibility?
blue brown and yellow abstract painting

Photo by Paolo on




The Prevailing  Anglican Paradigm

The ACK Constitution of 2002 describes the church’s order of faith at length in Article III- On Doctrine and Worship. There are 14 provisions under this article that defines ACK position on following Christ. It is explicit from Article III (5) that the ACK Order of Faith aligns to that of the Anglican Churches worldwide:

The Church further accepts the Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888 which outlined the Anglican essentials for a reunited Christian Church. The text of the Articles is:

  1. a)              The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as “containing all

things necessary to salvation”, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

  1. b)             The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
  2. c)              The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
  3. d)             The Historic-Episcopate: locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

This affirmation, together with other teachings, laws and liturgical practices approved in this province and others we are in fellowship with, can in Kuhnian terms, be regarded the ACK’s paradigm. For at the core of Kuhn’s thoughts is the notion of “paradigms,” which are scientific theories or worldview unique enough to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity, and open-ended enough to leave many problems for the practitioners in the group to resolve. The ACK’s liturgical worldview and practice, drawing from the Book of Common Prayer (1662), and Our Modern Services (OMS) translated in several languages[4].

Anglicans believe that church is the visible body of Christ on earth. She manifests this notion in the Christians gathering together, in such a gathering is Christ present, and speaks his word, read out,  and or expounded. Christ is present, in the sacraments that link Christians mysteriously to him, and in the clergy as they administer sacraments, absolution and blessings[5].

Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have gathered together to bless, break and share bread and to bless and share a cup of wine in obedience to the Lord’s command, given on the night before He died, to ‘do this in remembrance of me. The Eucharist is what catholic Christians understand to be the most doxological act they can do when they gather for “the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts” (1979 BCP:14 and also 2002 OMS:55). To hold such a service, there should be communicants other than the minister at every celebration of Holy Communion.  From the time of Thomas Cranmer, mainstream Anglicanism insisted that we celebrate the communion service as a community, with no fewer than two people. The Rubrics at the end of the BCP Communion office declare that ‘there shall be no celebration of the Lord’s Supper except there be a convenient number to communicate ’, which it defines to be ‘three at the least’ in a parish.

We anchor the importance of the Eucharist  in the church’s law. Along with Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, is a ‘Sacrament ordained of Christ’ (Article 25)[6] and ‘a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death’ (Article 28). For instance, the Canons of the Church of England teach the importance and centrality of the Eucharist. Canon B14 requires the celebration of the Holy Communion in at least one church in every benefice on all Sundays and principal Feast days, and on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Canon B15[7] teaches that it is the duty of all the confirmed, to receive the Holy Communion regularly, and especially at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

Over time, many factors contributed to a general decline in the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday, well into the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Morning Prayer became the common service of worship on the Lord’s Day. ACK, a plant of Church Missionary Society (CMS) which was more evangelical low church did not place Eucharist as high in practice as the gathering of the Christians in worship. There are Anglicans who gather for corporate prayer without the Eucharist. According to Richard Hooker[8], Christians assembled for corporate prayer, take part in communion with Christ himself, “joined… to that visible, mystical body which is his Church.” Hooker understands the corporate prayer of Christians as having a spiritual significance far greater than the sum of the individual prayers of the individual members of the body. He had very much in mind the assembly of faithful Christians gathered for the Daily Office. Even, though, the Holy Eucharist is gaining acceptance, over Morning prayer, communion-wide as the principal act of worship on Sunday.

What Kuhn argues of Science, on being “rigorous and rigid” preparation that helps ensure the received beliefs are fixed in the student’s mind, can be said of this paradigm influencing our understanding of when the church gathers to worship, share the word and sacrament. For Scientists, Kuhn asserts, take monumental pains to defend the assumption that scientists know what the world is like. And that “normal science” will often suppress novelties which undermine its foundations. Research is therefore not about discovering the unknown, but a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education.

The Eucharist has therefore played a normative role and is a corporate, not a private act. It posits as intended to offer, according to the exhortations on the BCP service of Holy Communion, the people spiritual nourishment, “to feed on the banquet of that most heavenly food”, and to build up the body of Christ in love and fellowship. Christ ordained the sacrament to move and stir all men to fellowship, love and concord, argues Thomas Cranmer’s Treatise on the Lord’s Supper 1550, and to “strengthen and confirm our faith in him.” (Article 25)

The sacrament above all else signify Christ’s presence among us. They not only embody the reality to which they refer, but Christ’s presence given to us and received by faith.  Note that faith receives this presence and occurs when God’s people come together. In Anglican understanding, sacraments are signs that both point to and embody the things they refer to. They are both “sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace” (Article 25). They both direct our attention to the ascended body of Christ, yet they also make the ‘benefits of his passion’ available to us here and now.

 How Churches responded to COVID-19 Restrictions

The COVID 19 crisis presented us with an immense challenge in this paradigm. The civil authorities stopped the physical gathering of Christians in churches, and ecclesial authorities endorsed this. In response, the churches adjusted to the order but in a variety of ways to maintain visibility and witness.

Many churches switched to online service through internet platforms. Some turned to mass-media of radio and TV services. In doing this they continued the preaching of word of God and shared prayers. Others still who lived outside the internet and mass media orbit adjusted into the household and family worship sessions. They were home alone, but were sustained in the theological assurance of Christ’s presence in our times of need. So, in such crisis moments, people who wanted to draw closer to God, found connections through mass media and online platforms. They heard the word preached but had a challenge in celebrating the Eucharist. The sacraments are material, personal encounters. They do not exist in any other form, making it difficult to administer sacraments, such as the Eucharist, electronically. How can the Bread and wine in HD monitor, in a live-streamed Mass, make the Eucharist? In invoking the words of the institution, “the Celebrant is to hold it or lay a hand upon” the bread and the wine, there is no grey area, hence not permissible to consecrate the Eucharist at a distance.

Many parish churches, therefore, suspended the celebration of Holy Communion until they can meet together in person again. With this, ceased the practice of public Baptism for the duration of the restrictions placed upon church.

Spiritual Sacrament was an option that other churches took. We administer spiritual communion when a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but cannot eat and drink the Bread and Wine. The Celebrant is to assure this person the receipt of all the benefits of Communion, even though the person did not receive the Sacrament with the mouth (BCP:457). This enables the spiritual reception, by gazing at a celebration of the Eucharist, that is at the heart of the sacrament, even if physical partaking is not possible.

For others, the option of gazing was not workable. So, they advertised the communion service in the parish and among the congregation when they would celebrate Holy Communion in the priest’s home. This would take place with or without the presence of another member of that household. They furnished members with program and readings for the service and invited them to pray and read scriptures so that the service takes place within some kind of extended communal act of worship in that parish, even if dispersed, and does not become a private act of devotion. They had prepared some prayers for them to enable to take part in such a celebration.

In other communities, priests administered “drive-by communion”, where individuals drove through piking the communion emblems and drove away after a service. This presented a public health concern and further distort the essential link between a communal celebration and the culmination of that celebration in the reception of the Eucharistic Bread and Wine.

Priests also made personal delivery of communion to members in homes. In these cases, the priest celebrated the Mass on Sunday and consecrated all the bread to be taken to the parishioners. Then the priest (and a few Eucharistic ministers) went to people’s homes (having cleansed their hands and kept the envelopes in brand new zip lock blocks to avoid contamination). Depending on the size of your congregation, they applied the method for distributing the sacrament safely to people on Sundays in their homes.






There are anomalies for all paradigms, Kuhn maintained, which are brushed away as acceptable levels of error, or ignored and not dealt with. These responses exposed the immense anomalies accommodated within the Anglican paradigm. Although they solve the besetting problem, they provide solutions within the accepted norm, with some inconsistencies.

The most sacred feature of Christian gathering in the presence of Christ is the holy Eucharist, administered by the priest, and in the consecrated space. The Eucharists claims the actual presence of Christ and the reality of blessing in consuming the actual elements by a real congregation. One therefore draws sustained spiritual blessings because of frequent participation in such a service.

We though know that there are a variety of ways we can be in the presence of Christ and receive the blessings of real communion with him. There are Anglicans who rarely partake of communion for a variety of reasons, yet they are no fewer members of Christ’s Body because of it. We are living limbs and members of the Body of Christ wherever and however we gather. In making greater use of the Daily Office (prayer cycle) there may be an opportunity to recover aspects of our tradition that point to: the sacramentality of the scriptures, the efficacy of prayer itself, the holiness of the household as the “domestic church,” and the reassurance that the baptized are already and forever marked as Christ’s own.

Eucharists are physical elements consumed for partakers to derive spiritual virtue. Because the sacrament is “given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner”. (Article 28) So when a person cannot physically receive, their faith and love can still receive a strengthening by seeing. Even if not tasting or feeling the gifts of bread and wine that signify the body and blood of Christ, they can derive blessings from being present. It has always been our tradition that during communion no one is asked out. For those who are not taking of the communion could also gain significant benefit from those taking part.

Where physical gathering was not possible thus truncating one’s presence, an alternative is provided where the parishioners with a liturgy to do at home adapted from “Communion under Special Circumstances” (from the 1979 BCP:396-399), plus a bulletin and the lectionary readings. This is as Justin Martyr describes in his First Apology 65: “And when the presider has given thanks and all the people have assented, those called by us ‘deacons’ give to each one of those present to share the bread and wine and water over which thanks have been given thanks have been given, and they take [them] to those not present”.

Some churches, led by their priests, maintained the celebration of the Eucharist to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. It is a sacrifice, offered to God out of a gift from God. An offering made to acknowledge God as the source of all blessings. Making the sacrifice the most fundamental expression of doxology to the God of the universe. In the Eucharist, therefore, we offer to God everything he has given to us in the emblems, ourselves as living and spiritual sacrifices, and in our verbal praise and thanksgiving, we offer God everything he gave us.  In return he gives us our greatest need Jesus himself. And we are to offer ourselves back to God in our living and in our dying to be the Body of Christ that we have received, and to show forth in our lives what we have received on our lips.

Do we make a genuine sacrifice in the Eucharistic action? Should we not be asking the Father to make our sacrifice one with the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ which, as Chrysostom reminds us, is inexhaustible? Jesus still pleads on our behalf as our great high priest and mediator on his heavenly throne in the majesty on high. Should this not be enough and pleasing to the Father?

Kuhn insists a current paradigm when significant anomalies have accrued against it would throw the scientific discipline into a state of crisis. Such a crisis would demand retooling. Again, Kuhn explains, “So long as the tools a paradigm supplies continue to prove capable of solving the problems it defines, science moves fastest and penetrates most deeply through confident employment of those tools. The reason is apparent. As in manufacture, so in science – retooling is an extravagance to be reserved for the occasion that demands it.” (1970:76)

A crisis that locks the sanctuary, separates the clergy from the flock, would dim our visibility and stifle our liturgical life. We need not ask in such moments which is or is not permissible of the sacraments, as observed Rowan Williams[9] that leads to a dead end. Rather, the question for us sacramental people he said, was not whether a practice was “right or wrong,” but “How much are we prepared for this or that liturgical action to mean?”

Since sacraments are actions that give new meaning to things the current questions about the way we worship in this time of radical physical distancing invites the question of our preparedness for a sacramental encounter to have an alternative meaning. We should rather ask “what are we prepared for it to signify”?

How shall we gather again after the period of suspension, during which we experienced the virtual church?

The attempts to keep in fellowship opened up alternative ways of gathering, the virtual meeting. Many Christians, who tuned in to online or mass media, now have multiple stations for gathering and connecting. It will be difficult to restore the pre-coronavirus mode. We have arrived at a liberalised worship space, and this Christians anonymity will increase than decrease. For the individual Christians will have greater control of what they receive. They will shutout any that do not meet their desire.

Churches with a tradition of keeping a list of members, forming the basis for their local church and denominations, will experience trouble in monitoring their members from wandering across the field. We frowned upon moving from one church to another and regarded it as a kind of “sin”. The virtual church now gives Christians anonymity and freedom to conceal the movements. People will belong to multiple congregations, and most probably become loyal to none.

Will our pastors and priests signify Christ’s presence among us anymore?  Or will Christians stay with their newfound ways of experiencing God, as was, during the sanctions?

We have had a clergy dependent way of following Christ. Pastors and priests have played a key role in lives of Christians beyond religions matters. Their role therefore had remained vital, even in the absence of sacraments, as during the coronavirus crisis. This is because the church gathers around its priest, who besides administering the sacraments, would pronounce the blessings, grant absolution of sins, would through preaching and teaching the word edify the flock. There is a sense in which the flock is realizing the access they have to God through Christ. The irony playing out during this Easter Season is the temple’s torn curtain. Through prayers and listening to God’s words alone, some are developing an increased intimacy with Christ present in their homes. While some through the experience in the Daily Office, morning and evening prayers have found meaning in the word’s ministry and prayer.

Suppose they lift the sanctions, would Christian opt for a continued non-physical sacrament experience?

Out of the coronavirus crisis emerged acts of personal delivery of communion to members in homes, drive in communion, and rekindled spiritual communion. Others fasted the holy communion since the lockdown. The deviation was necessary to protect neighbour and self from harm. It is possible that facing a prolonged threat, though allowed physical contact, many will prefer no-physical contact interactions? Taking communion to members’ homes may turn to be the norm and that would kill the purpose of gathered people. Some will be so accustomed to spiritual communion which they found exhilarating, that they will let the sacraments live up to their purpose, spiritual pointers.

Kuhn is explicit about this prospect for empirical observation of paradigms and revolutions in scientometric data: “if I am right that each scientific revolution alters the historical perspective of the community that experiences it, then that change of perspective should affect the structure of post-revolutionary textbooks and research publications.” (1970: xi,) There are observable movements away from the norms. ACK Christians realise that the sacraments and institutions that support their practice are symbolic enactments of processes of mind, heart and deed that could be expressed in other ways. They can encounter are Christ by Prayer, his word through internet and mass media, non-physical partaking of sacraments and faithfully be in sacred fellowship with the Catholic Apostolic Church of Christ.

Will these noticed changes in perspective spark a change in how we practice faith? Probably, it would take a more potent pandemic than coronavirus, or a more dramatic event in the church, or perhaps a jarring experience in the society to force us to move.


The final part will be continued next week …answering the question of what shifts ACK must make…


[1] Encyclical Letter; Resolution 9.1 and 9.3 Lambeth Conference 1920.

[2] The Anglican Communion is one of the world’s largest Christian communities. It has tens of millions of members in more than 165 countries around the globe. Anglicanism is one of the traditions or expressions of Christian faith. Others include Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and Baptist.

The Communion is organised into a series of provinces and extra-provincial areas.  The provinces are subdivided into dioceses, and the dioceses into parishes.


[4] Article III (7) of the ACK Constitution 2002.

[5] See the explanation in Our Modern Services 2012: 49-50

[6] Articles of Religion: (Thirty-nine Articles of Faith) BCP p. 622

[7] Church of England Canons, Web-edition.

[8]  See also, William JT. Kirby makes an elaborate analysis of Richard Hooker’s doctrine , Lawes III 3:1.3, 4 in Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the University of Oxford
Trinity Term, 1987.

[9] Rowan Williams  ‘Is there a Christian Sexual Ethic?’, in Open to Judgement: Sermons and Addresses (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1994), p. 164 Google Scholar.



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