Taste of Altar wine led pastor to alcohol addiction

Willy Ndegwa

Willy Ndegwa, 47, says frustration by church leadership led him to start drinking. He started by taking the wine that was in his office drawer, for which he was a custodian and then graduated to beer. He says he realised it had become a problem when he started craving for ‘more high’

By Anne Mbotela @anne_mbotela

As an ordained man of God, in the Presbyterian Church, Willy Ndegwa was supposed to be infallible. He was supposed to give hope to the hopeless and overcome any temptations on his way. However, the man of God says he fell by the wayside after “too many frustrations” by the church that was supposed to be his pillar.

Consequently, instead of praying or even fasting as he would suggest in case of temptations to his flock, he hit the bottle. Ndegwa, says it started with a taste of the altar wine and before he knew it, he would take a whole bottle to drown his sorrows of being moved from one parish to another. From the church wine, he started taking beer, though not daily.

He says he was elated whenever he did. His frustrations, he says, were compounded by the fact that his childhood dream to become a man of God was being shattered.

“Since I was 12, I felt a call to serve God and spiritually nourish God’s people,” he says. He remembers how much he admired the parish reverend, watching him baptise small children and conduct communion services.

In 1993, through parish elders, Ndegwa applied for a diploma in theology for three years at Presbyterian University of Kikuyu. He graduated with Second Class Honours, Upper Division and as per church traditions, was deployed in 1997.

He got the collar the same year and was posted to serve in Nakuru Presbytery and ordained three months later. Ordination meant Reverend Ndegwa was permitted by Church and State to conduct services, solemnise weddings as well as wear a minister’s regalia which he says with a light touch should be changed from black to a colour that does not absorb much heat and should weigh less than its current three or four kgs.

At age 28, a fully ordained minister, he was posted to Gatundu in Mang’u where he served from 1998 to 2001. He grew up a troubled teen, with ulcers and tried to commit suicide thrice. “I had no peace at home. I had a violent alcoholic father. He is 80 and still drinks,” says Ndegwa.

Hence, he hated alcohol and kept away from it all his life until he was ordained. “When I was posted to Othaya in 2002 to 2003, it became difficult to move with my three children, as I did not want their schooling distracted,” he says. In 2004, he was posted yet again to Nairobi PCEA, Kahawa. As with other institutions, the church is not spared corruption, hatred and infighting.

He claims former Moderator Rev David Githii held personal grudges. “He, without proper procedure, posted me to Githunguri, a decision that should have been done by appointment committees. The elders did not agree with this action, but it was ratified. Interestingly, it was during Githii’s time that many ministers got defrocked,” he says.

He says things became bad when he left Nairobi to go to Githunguri in 2006. “I felt cheated, frustrated, betrayed and demoted. For the second time, I felt let down and frustrated, not by my physical dad but a church father, which served as a greater blow, being my spiritual mentor, who needed to guide not gore me,” he says.

He felt some deep injustice had been done to him and that’s when he started to take, ‘one for the road’, needing to overcome frustration. As an ordained pastor he started by taking the wine that was in his office drawer, for which he was a custodian. For years, Ndegwa managed to hide his drinking.

In 2008, he was posted to Olenguruone in Elburgon, by which time he felt like a spiritual nomad. Three months later, he was moved to Londiani, which he says was exhausting. Then, he thought of resigning, but he continued to ‘shepherd’ and partake a maximum of two beers, enough to make him feel happy and drown his sorrows.

From Londiani, he was posted to Naivasha in 2009, then back to Komothai and immediately knew word had got out, he was drinking. “I knew that to be recalled to my mother-church was a disciplinary measure and unfortunately for me, when I was about to receive permission for the church to re-absorb me into service, a lie that I owned a pub was fabricated against me and in 2010, I was defrocked and surrendered my ministerial gown and white collar upon which it was made public to the congregation for three consecutive Sundays,” he vividly recalls.

Although he takes part of the blame saying: “I would have found a better way to deal with my frustrations,” he is wounded by fact the church did not delve deeper into his situation and give him a second chance. He feels they should have come to his rescue rather than shun him.

Defrocked and jobless, the former reverend lost most of his friends except a couple whose wedding he had solemnised in 2010. He narrated his ordeal to him and they offered to enrol him at a rehabilitation centre for three months. Here, the congregants and owner also waived the Sh195, 000 required fee.

Afterwards, he was offered a driver’s job by the owner. He has since got off the bottle Now, he works as a human resource manager in The Counselling Home, Thika. He says addiction could be genetic and brings about compulsive, uncontrollable behaviour which society needs to understand and appreciate.

He says anyone can become hooked to alcohol and drugs. Ndegwa says addicts need help rather than condemnation. About his mission to serve in the church, he says he has forgiven the church for the way they treated him and hopes he will one day be reinstated.

By Anne Mbotela @anne_mbotela


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