Rev. Tomson Abaho – Challenges and rewards at St. James’ Cathedral in Ankole Diocese
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/04/rev-tomson-abahos-challenges-and-rewards-at-st-jamess-cathedral-in-ankole-diocese/
Note:This story is part of a series designed to communicate the life of priests in Uganda. One such priest is the Rev. Tomson Abaho Kankuba, who has been working since 2017 as curate (assistant to the dean) at St. James Cathedral Ruharo in the western Uganda Ankole Diocese. In 2014, he graduated from Uganda Christian University (UCU) with a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained, accepting a post at All Saints Cathedral in Mbarara Municipality. Rev. Tomson is a beneficiary of a UCU Partners scholarship to Bishop Tucker School of Theology and Divinity. This interview is edited for clarification.
By Brendah Ndagire
How did you get drawn into Church ministry?
I grew up in the church and in a Christian home. My father is a retired priest. My brother and I got drawn to Church ministry because of the experiences we observed our father go through as a priest in this diocese. As a child I observed that his life as a priest was quite tough because of the environment we lived in. For example, he used to ride bicycles long distances for about 40 up to 50 kilometers (25 to 31 miles) to do pastoral visits or go to Church. This was hard a time. Today, the services have been brought closer to people. Priests these days travel shorter distances to go to church and preach the gospel to the people.
What did you do before you became a priest?
I was a primary teacher, teaching English and music. I have a bachelor’s degree in education.
Share with us about your experience working at St. James’ Cathedral in Ruharo.
I have liked being part of St. James’ Cathedral. Each one of us is gifted differently. I love teaching, counseling, preaching, and children’s ministry. And I have been given the opportunity to do what I am passionate about as a priest.
What is it like to move around ministering to people in the community?
The pastoral work here in the urban setting is interesting. Because most people are employed,to visit them, you have to make an appointment or visit them over the weekends. For old or sick people, you have to organize to meet them at their homes, to pray with them and offer them sacraments, take Holy Communion, and share and comfort them. You have to be very flexible in time for ministering.
What do you see as the most rewarding aspect of your role?
People accepting Christ. It gives me joy when I preach, counsel, and when I teach and someone fully realizes that Christ truly saves. It gives me comfort and peace in my heart. The joy it gives me when someone accepts Christ feels like that of a football player scoring a goal.
Outside of the Church’s salary, do you have another source of income?For priests who serve within the urban setting, we do not have enough time to do anything outside of our Church work. Time is generally limited. By 7:30 in the morning, I am expected to be here at my office and leave around 6 p.m. from Monday to Sunday. It is impossible to think about having another source of income through business or farming. The other challenge is limited access to land where a priest can farm within an urban setting. We cannot do large-scale commercial farming.
What is a scripture that defines your work?
1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourself before the mighty hand of God.” In all I do, I love to humble myself. In we all we do, we need to be humbled whether in simple or big experiences. When you humble yourself, God lifts you higher.
What is a scripture that defines you as a person?
Psalm 139 describes how God knows me in and out. It shows that there is no single thing about me that God does not know. He knows me. And that is important for me to recognize because He knows me, He plans our work, and I am follower of Christ because He knows me. As Jeremiah says, “He formed us in our mother’s wombs, and knows every single hair on our heads.” I find that powerful.
What is the most difficult part of being a priest?
In ministry, you can’t completely know the people you are leading. It is challenging to lead people you do not truly know. For example, it is difficult to observe Christians fighting, some cheating, causing conflicts, and Church leaders who are not exemplary to their flocks. Secondly, the general lack of financial resources to run day-to-day Church activities. But amidst of all this, we are still standing and God is faithful.
How did UCU prepare you for your priestly job?
The education I attained from UCU is very important because the people we are serving and leading are highly educated. Sometimes, the “pews are higher than the pulpits.” This means that you stand from the pulpit and recognize the congregation is challenging you. The education I acquired from UCU has equipped me so well to fit in a community where we can reason together, we can share experiences and when I am interpreting the Bible, it feels good to know I am doing it with people who are also Biblically knowledgeable. The urban setting has so many people who are very educated, some are teachers, while others, students in universities. The education priests get at UCU help them to match the knowledge of the congregants.
How was that experience for you?
Before UCU, I had the experience of serving in my local church as lay leader/chaplain and had training in chaplaincy. When I joined, it was starting afresh to learn more about theology, theory and practice. And the great aspect of being a student was learning how to engage with people in the field. The practice of theology is different from the theoretical aspect of it.
The local Church in Uganda usually faces many challenges. What do you think are challenges facing the local Church in Ankole Diocese?
Leadership in government and politics has generally influenced the leadership in our Church in some way. The Church and the government are inseparable. Most people do not recognize that but the government cannot exist without the Church, and the reverse also can be said. And we have to work together to transform our communities. But we have seen that politician come to Church and use their money to influence the Church. That breeds corruption because many people are money oriented. It also shuts down dialogue because Church leaders are not expected to speak on political or government related issues.
The second challenge is these mushrooming Churches. There are so many “prophets, and prophetesses” forming Churches in Mbarara. And people are following them without finding out where they are trained, how they are grounded in theology. Many of our congregants divert to these Churches because they promise them riches.
What opportunities do you see that the local Church can seize to transform its community?
Training priests. When we train them, they will know what to do. Human resource is a good tool we can use to transform the Church, community, and nation at large. Education also is a powerful and transformative tool. Priests need to be educated and grounded in good theology so that they can teach, preach, and interpret the Bible. From there, people will be able to convert and know what to believe, and our society will change, and we will have a strong Church in Ankole diocese.
More information about Bishop Tucker School of Theology and Divinity at Uganda Christian University can be obtained at: http://ucu.ac.ug/bishop-tucker-school-of-theology. To support UCU and her sister Universities’ clergies, contact Mark Bartels, executive director, UCU Partners, at email@example.com or donate directly at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/donate/