In about a week’s time, the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) will elect a new Archbishop.
Six candidates are in the race to succeed Archbishop Eliud Wabukala to become the sixth Archbishop of Kenya and Bishop of All Saints Cathedral Diocese when the vote is cast on May 20.
Those seeking to head the church are the Right Reverends Moses Nthuka (Bishop, Mbere Diocese), James Ochiel (Bishop, Southern Nyanza Diocese), and Joel Waweru (Bishop, Nairobi Diocese). Others are the Right Reverends Lawrence Dena (Bishop, Malindi Diocese), Jackson ole Sapit (Bishop, Kericho Diocese) and Julius Wanyoike (Bishop, Thika Diocese).
None of the candidates is a woman raising questions about the place of women in top leadership within the church, and amid an ongoing debate of their ordination as bishops. Women within ACK’s 38 dioceses are serving as arch deacons, deacons and priests.
But no woman has been ordained as bishop, a position that would put one in good stead to qualify to vie for the position of head of the church. There are however, women in the rank of Archdeacon, like Archdeacon Jane Njiru (Embu diocese), which is one step away from becoming a bishop. Njiru was the first woman in ACK to be ordained as Archdeacon in 2002.
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The church’s Provincial Secretary and Personal assistant to the Archbishop, Reverend Canon Rosemary Mbogo is one of two women who have recently come close to becoming bishop following her nomination to vie for the position in the Embu diocese in 2014.
The other is Reverend Lydia Mwaniki of the Kirinyaga diocese. An author with several titles to her name, Dr Mbogo is the current chair of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and is the first woman to hold the position in the council’s history.
The question of ordaining women has been a controversial subject within the Anglican church, with some provinces within the Communion ordaining women to the three traditional Orders of bishop, priest and deacon.
Other Provinces, like Kenya, ordain women as priests and deacons but not as bishops, while others only ordain women as deacons. About seven provinces worldwide do not ordain women to any order of ministry. Provinces of the Anglican church that have consecrated women as bishops include Australia, Canada, England, South Africa and the United States. Besides Kenya, Brazil, Japan, Philipines, South Sudan and Uganda are among those that are yet to consecrate women as bishops, while Nigeria, Central Africa, and Papua New Guinea do not ordain women to any Order of ministry.
While church leaders interviewed appear to be unanimous in their position that ACK is not averse to the ordination of women as bishops, the country may have to wait a little longer before a decision is reached on the matter.
“The debate will come as time arises, but women are doing a lot within the church, exemplified by the fact that the Mother’s Union is the biggest department within the church,” says Archbishop Wabukala. The outgoing primate has openly voiced his support for the ordination of women as bishops. In 2014 he wrote to the bishops of the church asking them to approve amendments to the language of the church’s constitution that appears to cast doubt about the eligibility of women priests for election to the episcopate.
Opponents of women’s ordination as bishops have previously hinged their arguments on the Church’s constitution which refers to a bishop as male but recognises holders of the office of priest as being either male or female. It has been argued, however, that the constitution does not explicitly bar women from being elected bishop even though the wording used does not consider women.
Wabukala’s predecessor, Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi says the past decade has seen an increase in the number of women taking on leadership roles within the Anglican church. “There has been growth in positions held by women in the church with many of them going for positions that were traditionally occupied by men,” says Nzimbi, who headed ACK between 2002 and 2009.
He says during his tenure as ACK head, women were ordained as deacons and priests while others were titled as Canons— an honorary title given to clergy for faithful and valuable service to the church.
Reverend Lucia Okuthe of the Maseno South diocese, then headed by Bishop Henry Okullu, was among the first women to be ordained as priest in 1983. This followed an agreement, in principle by ACK in 1980, to have women ordained, with each diocese given room to be autonomous on the issue. Formal legislation that allowed ordination of women as priests was later approved in 1990.
“God can use both men and women in spreading the Gospel. We even have examples of women in the Bible like Queen Esther and Deborah who were leaders. If we have allowed them (women) to serve as deacons and priests then there should be no reason why we should not allow them to serve as bishops,” says Nzimbi.
An article by Canon Francis Omondi in a local daily on the making of women bishops in the ACK points to the future of women leadership within the church. Say excerpts of the article; ”Kenyan Anglicans are visibly ready for women bishops. Already the Diocese of Eldoret in its Synod sitting in December 2013 had approved overwhelmingly to elect women bishops.”