In countries where congregations once frowned on female pastors, clergywomen in Africa are asserting their position in a profession previously dominated by men.
That includes the election of a female bishop and talk of electing another woman to the episcopacy in Africa in 2020.
“Before 2004, women were not allowed to join the pastoral ministry in our conference. They were not accepted by congregations,” said the Rev. Puleng Maboee of Mozambique Episcopal Area.
Today, Bishop Joaquina F. Nhanala, the first female bishop in Africa, leads that episcopal area.
Women clergy met July 10-14 at the 2018 African United Methodist Clergywomen Leadership Development Conference at Africa University. The Central Conference Theological Education Fund provided funds for the conference, which was organized by the Association of African Clergywomen leadership, Bishop Nhanala and the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Maboee said she was the first woman to join the pastoral ministry in 2004 after women were informed during a conference that year that The United Methodist Church welcomed women with the calling to become pastors.
Maboee, 54, said it took a long time for her to be ordained a deacon in the church. “I was a local pastor for six years before I was ordained. Initially it was challenging to work with male colleagues but in the end they were like my brothers and we worked well together,” she said.
Today, Maboee is the superintendent of Central District in the South Africa Conference, a position she has held for five years. There are 15 female pastors in her conference and a total of 120 in the episcopal area.
She believes Africa is ready for more female bishops. “There is still the challenge of some people thinking clergywomen cannot be good leaders and they may be discriminated against. More female bishops would get rid of such perceptions,” she said.
The North Katanga Episcopal Area has also witnessed considerable strides by clergywomen. There are currently 35 clergywomen, and five female district superintendents in the episcopal area. In addition, the Rev. Jacqueline Ngoy Mwayuma is administrative assistant to North Katanga Area Bishop Mande Muyombo.
The Rev. Virginie Umba Ndolo Kebele is the dean of theology at Kamina Methodist University, a position she has held for the past two years.
“I am so proud of our achievements,” Kebele said.
In North Katanga, clergywomen have made an effort to advance their studies. Two members hold doctorates, while four have earned master’s degrees.
In the East Africa Episcopal Area, there are 137 clergywomen, including two district superintendents. The first female pastor in that conference, the Rev. Stephanie Kanani, was ordained in 2005.
The Rev. Valentine Cimpaye of Burundi said women in the East Africa Episcopal Area intend to improve their education. “We feel our episcopal area is ready for a female bishop,” she said.
Congo Central Conference has 60 female pastors, including two district superintendents. “We are not fielding a candidate for the episcopal elections,” said the Rev. Lucienne Luhata Afumba.
In Zimbabwe, most clergywomen’s roots can be traced back to the women’s organization, Rukwadzano Rwe Wadzimai, said Greater Nhiwatiwa, wife of Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa.
“I believe most of the clergywomen joined the ministry because of their mothers who were in RRW. Some of the clergywomen have given testimony on how the UMC women or their mothers played a role in their lives,” said Greater Nhiwatiwa.
“One can say that the women’s organization was the crucible of the clergywomen leadership in the church. As United Methodist Women, we feel very proud that the organization is a source for the clergy ministry,” she said.
There are currently 141 clergywomen in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area, with five female district superintendents out of 13. The Rev. Vienna Mutezo is the Zimbabwe West Conference deputy administrative assistant to the bishop, and also Connectional Ministries director.
The Rev. Portia Kanoyangwa, superintendent of Chitungwiza Marondera District, attributed the rise of clergywomen to Bishop Nhiwatiwa’s confidence in their abilities.
“Although the numbers are not yet equal in cabinet, as clergywomen we appreciate that our bishop has given us space to prove ourselves in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area,” she said.
“Even big churches with membership over 1,500 such as St. Stephen UMC in my district, have been entrusted to clergywomen,” Kanoyangwa said.
“We are now ready for a female bishop in our area because clergywomen have gained acceptance,” she said.
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