Okusinza mu Luganda #1: A unifying and inclusive Ugandan congregation

by Shanon Shah

Interior of St John's Waterloo (Drawing: David Bassadone)

The Waterloo Festival is honoured this year to feature the experiences of Okusinza mu Luganda (Worship in Luganda), the Ugandan congregation linked historically with St John’s Waterloo.

Okusinza mu Luganda commemorates its 30th anniversary next year and, before the Covid-19 global lockdown, had already planned several celebrations and worship services spanning 2020 and 2021. Whilst these plans are still being adjusted in the light of recent developments, we are thrilled to be able to include Okusinza in our digital festival this year. In the meantime, Okusinza has also adapted its services on the first Sunday of each month online.

Over the coming weeks, we will be featuring interviews with some key members of the Okusinza congregation carried out by Waterloo Festival Programme Committee member Shanon Shah. These interviews were already in the pipeline before the lockdown and we hope that they continue to enrich the already strong relationship between Okusinza, St John’s and the Waterloo Festival.

The timing of these interviews – published here throughout June 2020, traditionally when the Waterloo Festival is launched – is symbolic of these links. Every year, Okusinza holds a rousing late-spring service on the first Sunday this month in St John’s church to commemorate Martyr’s Day, which falls on 3 June and is a public holiday in Uganda. Martyr’s Day commemorates the 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity in the historical kingdom of Buganda, now part of Uganda, who were executed between 1885 and 1887. Their martyrdom was instrumental in forging a modern Ugandan Christian identity in the 20th century for the country’s Catholics and Anglicans.

Roof of the Shrine at Namugongo

Basilica Church of the Uganda Martyrs, Namugongo

Martyr’s Day celebrations are colossal, drawing in large crowds of pilgrims and worshippers from within and outside the country to Namugongo. The affair will be scaled down considerably this year, in keeping with the pandemic-related movement restrictions. At St John’s Waterloo, Martyr’s Day has traditionally been one of the highlights of Okusinza’s calendar, bringing together a feast of prayer, music, food, drink, dress, fellowship and sunshine.

Photo: Stephen Kafeero

We kick off this series with an email interview with Reverend Godfrey Kaziro, Okusinza’s pastor who is also part of the clergy team at St John’s Waterloo.

SS: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview, Godfrey. Where were you born?

GK: I was born in Kampala, Uganda, Eastern Africa and that’s where I spent my childhood.

Bodaboda riders held by traffic at a city junction in downtown Kampala, Uganda (2019)

SS: What are the memories that stand out from your childhood?

GK: My childhood memories which I cherish today include the set-up of the political map of Uganda, with all hereditary rulers having their political autonomy according to their geographical boundaries. But all this was changed after Uganda’s independence, in 1962, and sadly Uganda will never be the same again.

SS: What stories did you hear when you were growing up that continue to inspire you?

GK: The stories I was most inspired by were told to me by my aunt and parents about the history of colonialism and pan-Africanism – how they shaped the political system in East Africa, which includes Uganda.