By Peter Nyanzi
His courage and passion have enabled him to unite and revitalize the Anglican Church
Even without his personal brand new Land Cruiser with ‘JC is Lord’ as its registration number plates, Arch Bishop Henry Luke Orombi easily stands out from his peers. When he stands up, he literally towers over all the 35 bishops in the House of Bishops. When he speaks, his thunderous voice easily muffles all other voices in the crowd. Even at 62, Orombi is said to be action-oriented and a man who will not miss an opportunity to dominate proceedings and sidestep formalities.
For instance, at a press conference to announce his successor on June 22, Orombi quickly stood up and almost made the announcement only to be stopped in his tracks by the mistress of ceremonies because it was officially the duty of the Dean of the Province, Nicodemus Okille, to do so.
Shortly after the group photograph, he personally told off a horde of excited journalists that they won’t have interviews until the prelates had their lunch – more than 45 minutes later. And off they went to the dining room – with Orombi holding Ntagali along lest he speaks to anyone – to the utter chagrin of the scribes who wanted to rush to the newsrooms to file their story of the day.
Indeed, many insiders quietly describe Orombi as an overbearing, tenacious and incredibly bold leader. But they quickly add that the Church of his time a man of such qualities if order and unity were to be restored.
It is for his courage to face any challenge that Orombi will be most remembered. Two years ago, for instance, he shocked the Church fraternity when he faced up to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, whom he accused of “leading the Anglican Community into darkness.”
Indeed many of the bishops under his care describe him as the “best Archbishop the Anglican Church has ever had,” given what has been achieved under his stewardship. They say he has been a charismatic and faithful servant of God leave alone having a development-oriented spirit, and one who will be terribly missed.
Okille had nothing but praises for Orombi. “He has served with distinction for nine years; consecrated 25 new bishops and launched four new Dioceses. It is under his leadership that construction has begun on Church House, and his successor will dedicate it next year, God willing,” he said.
Born on October 11, 1949, Orombi did his theological studies at the Bishop Tucker Theological College at Mukono (currently UCU) before pursuing further studies at St. John’s College Nottingham in the UK before serving in various capacities in the West Nile region.
In 2003, Orombi inherited a sharply divided Anglican community but under his nine-year leadership, the church has completely stabilized with most enmities in the communion reconciled. Because of his practical, bold and charismatic attitude, several projects that have been dormant for decades have got a new lease of life. But despite being too flamboyant and too charismatic for the liking of the mostly conservative Anglican community, Orombi has been credited for helping to slow the exodus of young people from the church to Pentecostal churches.
Throughout his tenure, Orombi has probably fought his most vicious battle against the western church, which he accuses of plunging the “Church in crisis” – a reference to the permissiveness over homosexuality. Just a few years after his consecration, he showed his uncompromising spirit when he launched a global campaign to fight for “Biblical truth” in a battle that took him to the very doors of the hitherto almost untouchable Church of England and the financially powerful Episcopal Church (the Anglican Church in USA and Canada).
In a pastoral letter in 2007, Orombi stated that, “the long season of British hegemony is over” – at least as far as the Province of the Church of Uganda was concerned. He argued that in the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism was built on three pillars: the martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate.
In a 2010 letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Orombi was unequivocal in laying the blame for the sustained crisis in the church squarely on the doors of the Episcopal Church, which he accused of being “gross violators of Biblical truth.” “Many of us are in a state of resignation as we see how the Communion is moving away farther and farther into darkness,” he wrote. As a show of his resolve, he was one of the bishops who boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops in protest against the refusal of his leaders to take a “Biblical” stand in the homosexuality debate.Locally, Orombi also made history when he de-flocked Bishop Christopher Senyonjo because of his support for homosexuality. To Orombi, the authority of Scripture was paramount, which he described as the “defining mark of Anglican identity.” But apart from that, Orombi is said to be a persuasive peace maker – probably in line with his Alur name – translated as “let us meet.”
It is not clear what prompted Orombi’s premature resignation, but insiders point to the realization that he would not win the battles with the Global North and some revolutionary bishops in other parts of the world over homosexuality. To make matters even worse, Dr John Sentamu, who is expected to replace Rowan Williams, is a fellow Ugandan, but who openly voiced his support for Rowan’s views on the issue. Orombi has also found himself increasingly frustrated by the stalemate in politics and the suffering of his flock and overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness to do anything change it. Increasingly, he says the demands of being archbishop have been straining his spiritual resources and keeping him away from missions and evangelism, which have been his passion since his youth. “I want to devote the rest of my life, while I am still able, to fulfilling this calling full-time,” he says.
Orombi adds that he is retiring “a happy man” because his “son” Stanley Ntagali, was the first Bishop he consecrated. “A very healthy successor is taking over from his father,” he said, amidst cheers. However, only months before he hands over on December 16, it is already clear that Orombi’s personality is a direct opposite of his “son’s,” which insiders say is also a positive change for the Anglican Communion.