By the Revd John Kafwanka, Director for Mission at the Anglican Communion Office
In Nigeria’s Zonkwa Diocese, the name given to the Bishop’s wife is Mama Diocese. This more than just an affectionate title. It reveals the current incumbent’s passion for, and commitment to the women and girls in her care.
Rhoda Kwashi sees her role as that of complementing the ministry of her husband Bishop Jacob Kwashi, but with particular focus on equipping women of the diocese. In Zonkwa, as in many dioceses in Nigeria, both, bishops' and clergy wives have an official role to play in leading women programmes; many of which are under the auspices of the Mothers' Union.
Travelling around two archdeaconries with Mrs Kwashi, it is clear her commitment to the diocese’s women is more than simply duty, rather she believes that every woman has a role to play in the community.
"If pastors wives are not equipped they can't be role models to the many women they are responsible for in the parishes their husbands lead," she said. "Women are the majority in the Church but are less equipped, and therefore it makes sense that women are adequately equipped in order to run the affairs of the Church effectively and to impact on the communities where the Church is found."
A shared responsibility
Both she and the Diocese believe in the shared ministry of clergy and their spouses. On the day priests are ordained, their wives are given certificates to confirm their role in parishes where their husbands serve. In Zonkwa, ordination retreats for clergy also involve the pastors' wives. The Diocese has introduced Spiritual reflection, led by the Bishop and Mama Diocese, which brings together the clergy and their spouses for prayer and support on common concerns.
What’s more, as part of the vision to encourage women participation in all affairs of the Church, it is mandatory to have women representated at the Diocesan Synod from every Deanery in Zonkwa Diocese.
Mama can’t be everywhere
Zonkwa is a rural diocese where the majority of the people rely on subsistence farming, and where most women are 'home-makers'. Some of these were married at a very early age. Mentoring such young women and girls is something that is done by the wives of the diocese’s other priests as Mama Diocese can’t be everywhere!
Mrs Kwashi stresses that "The presence and role of the pastors' wives is important but unless they are equipped, they cannot fulfil the role that is expected of them." This is why, at the start of each year, Mrs Kwashi ensures that a Bible Study resource is produced and available for women and girl guilds throughout the diocese in the Hausa language—the common language to all the people in area.
Along with the Bible Study, the programme for empowerment of women and pastors' wives includes physical, financial, and spiritual wellbeing. Currently the Diocesan Women’s Ministry team under Mrs Kwashi’s leadership trains women in sewing and knitting. When the diocese contracted the Women’s Ministry to produce all Anglican Church school uniforms there, the income allowed other women to have access to the skills training programme in knitting and sewing.
The Women’s Ministry team is also overseeing the construction of a multipurpose building which will not only house the activities of women ministry, but also generate income for the women empowerment programmes and projects through renting part of the building. The Mothers’ Union and Women Guild also own a tuck-shop to cater for students' needs at a combined Anglican Church Secondary and Primary school within the Cathedral grounds. This also raises much-needed funds.
"We try and reach every area," said Mrs Kwashi, “Women, men, and young people!
"A seminar for youth on 'challenges of youth in the twenty-first century' was held this year and more than 40 young people attended.
"We also organised a seminar for men, just before Father's Day in 2012, and more than one hundred men attended from about 22 deaneries." At this conference a speaker challenged the men on the theme: 'Discovering your purpose as a man'.
Although Men's Fellowships have become more effective following the seminar, Mrs Kwashi observed that women, particularly the Mothers’ Union, have risen to the challenge of taking responsibility for the boys in the Church. They did this following a challenge in September this year by the Provincial Standing Committee to do so, because it was believed there was little chance that men would do much to lead and support the boy child.
It appears that Mama Diocese and her sisters in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) are making a real difference in a rural diocese where women might otherwise not have the opportunity to flourish.
"We are creating impact, slow and slow - we are excited and encouraged about the vision for women in the Diocese," said Mrs Kwashi with a grin.