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A Centenary of Consequence: 100 Years since Bishop Peel’s Death in Mombasa, Kenya

By Henry Partridge.

Today, Friday 15 April, is 100 years since the death of William Peel, the first Bishop of Mombasa, Kenya. He was the third bishop who had resided in Mombasa, but his predecessors were bishops of Eastern Equatorial Africa. Like them he died while in active service. James Hannington was tragically murdered while travelling by foot north of Lake Victoria to Uganda, while Henry Parker died from a fever caught while taking the caravan route south of the Lake to the same destination. William Peel had previously been a CMS missionary in India.

When we lived in Mombasa I was taken to see his grave in a cemetery, where a number of fallen soldiers were buried also.

My interest in Bishop Peel was through the Cathedral that opened its doors in 1905 during his episcopacy. It was here in 1988, that I was a made a Deacon in a church with an architecture fitting a city with a sizeable Muslim population.

Bishop Peel is remembered by church historians for his part in a conference held in 1913 near Nairobi for a proposed scheme of union between Protestant missions in East Africa. A former NZCMS missionary, Jocelyn Murray, described the uproar on page 171 of her book, Proclaim the Good News:
It was the United Communion Service led by Bishop Peel of Mombasa, held in the Scottish Mission church at the end of the gathering, when missionaries of different denominations were invited to take Communion. The Communion itself was a regular Anglican service and it is a sign of how far opinions have moved that we cannot easily appreciate the feelings of Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar, when he protested against the conference. He appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury (he himself was not a participant) and the fat was well and truly in the fire. Two CMS missionary bishops stood accused of "propagating heresy and of committing schism."

 The British Press had a field day and a final report did not come out until April 1916 at a time when the World War was raging. Sadly a “United Church of Kenya” did not result, though relations between missions continued to be good. Some 15 years after Bishop Peel’s death the East African Revival Movement brought unity, giving real fellowship across denominations, and continues to do so today. "Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity" (Psalm 133.1)

Bishop Peel is also remembered for his evangelistic zeal in fostering mission in German East Africa, now known as Tanzania and in Kenya itself as Mombasa Diocese covered both territories. We have had NZCMS personnel in places where Bishop Peel went for both Confirmation services and Ordinations. I was delighted to read how on one occasion, after ordaining a CMS missionary, he wrote in his Diary, “Mr Price has promised to keep up his Greek!” This was no small promise as missionary clergy had to also learn either Swahili or a local tribal language – or both!