Meet Rev. Andrew K. Lairenge, Chalmers-Wesley’s new minister

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Photo: Andrew K. Lairenge

Rev. Andrew Kinoti Lairenge made the move from Alberta to Quebec City with his son, Sam, who is almost five, and his wife Sarah.

For Rev. Andrew Kinoti Lairenge, walking into Chalmers-Wesley United Church was like coming face to face with history.

Lairenge grew up in rural Kenya and studied at Drew University in New Jersey and McGill University in Montreal before becoming a full-time minister. For the past five years, he presided over a United Church congregation in Vermilion, Alta., a town of 4,000 people east of Edmonton. He calls the events that led to his appointment as full-time minister at Chalmers-Wesley United Church an “accident of life.”

He explained that when he left Montreal for Alberta, he took along his unfinished doctoral thesis, but “things took a different turn” and his focus on ministry and family life (he and his wife, Sarah, have a four-year-old son) meant his thesis stayed unfinished. He was already considering moving back east, “probably to Ontario,” when he attended a church conference where the vacancy at Chalmers-Wesley came up in conversation.

“I was asked if I would consider going to Quebec City and I said no, at first, because my wife and I don’t speak French. Then I saw a Facebook post from someone else saying, ‘My friend, a military chaplain, is commuting hours back and forth to this church; is there anyone who would be interested in taking over for him?’ That was like the second sign.”

The military chaplain was Rev. Éloi Gunn, who commuted from his home near CFB Borden, in Ontario, most Sundays from 2017 to 2020 to serve as supervising minister at Chalmers-Wesley.

“I wrote to Éloi Gunn on Facebook and he asked if we could talk the following day,” Lairenge continued. “That’s how I ended up here – of course, there was paperwork, but that was it.”

In March, COVID-19 threatened to throw a wrench in the Lairenge family’s plans. “I signed the offer in February, and then in March the pandemic came and closed everything, and once things began reopening, people said there weren’t any apartments available. I wasn’t sure it would really happen until we were on the plane [at the end of June].”

Lairenge grew up in a small community in the Meru region of central Kenya. His father, who had worked with Methodist missionaries in the area, was one of the first people in the region to adopt Christianity, and he and his siblings were raised in the Methodist church. “After high school I did a bit of soul-searching and I was convinced that [becoming a minister] was what God wanted me to do,” he said matter-of-factly.

He began his ministerial career at a Methodist church in Kenya. He said preaching in Kenya was not enormously different from preaching in Canada, except for one thing: the number of people in the pews.

“The first church I ministered to in Kenya, I had two services – one in my first language, Meru, and then one in Swahili [Kenya’s official language] or English, and at each service there were about 200 people. By the end of the day, I would minister to about 400 adults and 200-250 children. It’s a young church, a growing church. The congregations here are older and smaller; in Kenya, people who are 65 would be considered church elders, and in Canada, those are the younger people.”

He’s acutely conscious of the long history of Chalmers-Wesley. “I’m still learning, but I’m very aware of the fact that this is one of the oldest congregations in the country, with more than 220 years of history. I’m also their first permanent minister of African descent. I feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.

“I want to carry on the tradition that everyone is so proud of,” he said. “I’m coming at a time when there are not many young people in the church and churches are closing everywhere. I hope and pray that I won’t be the last minister.”

To keep that from happening, Lairenge wants to maintain “a happy church,” first via online worship services and then, eventually, in person. “I want [congregants] to celebrate their presence in the church, and attract more people, because people are drawn to other happy people.”

 

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Rev. Andrew K. Lairenge stands on the front steps of Chalmers-Wesley United Church in Old Quebec. Hopefully the doors will soon be open for public worship services. Meanwhile, congregants meet online.  (Photo by James Cruickshank)