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SA Anglicans appoint first woman to lead theological college

Posted on: August 12, 2014 4:14 PM
Dr Kgabe received the call to the college not long after God had told her a change was pending
Photo Credit: The College of the Transfiguration
Related Categories: education, Southern Africa, women

By Bellah Zulu, ACNS

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, has appointed a new Rector for its only provincial residential college, the College of the Transfiguration.

Described by Natal Diocese Bishop Rubin Phillip as “a woman deeply rooted in the Anglican tradition with a living spirituality and faith practice" the Revd Dr Vicencia Kgabe will take over the reins of the college at the beginning of next year.

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The Rector of St Michael and All Angels Parish-Weltevreden Park since 2013, she has served in parishes around the Diocese of Johannesburg since she was ordained in 2002.

She was also diocesan vocations advisor and served in the Bishop’s Executive for four years as Archdeacon.

Dr Kgabe will take over from the outgoing Rector, the Revd Canon N Barney Pityana who has welcomed the appointment and expressed confidence that the candidate has “the competences, qualities, character and experience necessary for the position.”

The college - with values of faithfulness, justice and compassion - is located in the historic South African city of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It accommodates around 60 students from a variety of backgrounds.

The college is dedicated to the development of future Anglican clergy that can “operate effectively in the context of Africa, and beyond and offer educational and formational courses in a residential setting so as to develop ministerial, social and academic skills.”

The Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) Correspondent for Africa, Bellah Zulu interviewed Dr Kgabe to find out more about her background and how her many other roles within the church have prepared her for this new appointment.

BZ: Tell us a something about yourself. 

VK: I’m the firstborn child in a family of five, and the only daughter. I was born in Soweto and did my primary and high school education there. I later moved to Grahamstown for ministry formation and did a diploma in theology.

I completed both my undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at the University of Pretoria. I had been an altar server and a young people’s leader before I left for seminary. I have also been involved in the Anglican Student Society both as a student and as a Chaplain. Other contributions to youth work came out of my participation in South African Council of Churches Youth Desk.

I have always had passion about social issues and that is probably why I’m currently the Chairperson of the Board of HOPE Africa, the social responsibility department of ACSA. In addition, I am passionate about theological education and currently serve as a member of the Board for College of the Transfiguration.

Earlier in 2010 I had the privilege of being amongst the eleven young Anglican leaders, who represented the Communion at the Centenary Celebration of the Edinburgh Mission Conference and also contributed to a book that reflected our experiences at the conference.

BZ: How would you describe your journey in the church? When did you first feel called to work full-time for God?

VK: I was only sixteen years when I felt a sense of calling. Of course at that age, I did not have the vocabulary to explain exactly what I think the calling was, but knew that the feeling of being a priest was very strong. I was advised to concentrate on and complete my high school education. 

I somehow forgot about this idea (the calling) as, at that time, the Church had not yet accepted women to ordained ministries. It was only later that year that the resolution to ordain women was passed at the Provincial Synod held in Swaziland.

In 1999 I was sent to Grahamstown by the diocese after the Discernment Conference recommended that I go there for formation and to study theology. The journey has had its challenges and rewards and I have learned more about myself and the calling. .

BZ: Can you share with us your experiences as Rector at St Michael and All Angels – Weltevreden Park and some of the lessons learned there?

VK: I was appointed Rector of St. Michael’s in November 2012 by Bishop Brian Germond and was licensed by him before his retirement in January 2013. I have been in Weltevreden Park for one year and eight months now. I have cherished the role of being a rector in this Parish.

The social outreach ministry is so central to the parish life. But much more importantly it is an eco-parish and a member of Eco-Congregation, an international ecumenical programme helping churches make the link between environmental issues and Christian faith, and respond in practical action in the church, in the lives of individuals, and in the local and global community.

I also love the creativity of the parishioners and how we can move from a traditional Anglican worship service on Sunday morning and end with a contemporary service in the evening, accommodating everyone from a four-year-old to a 100-year-old parishioner. It is a parish that cherishes good teaching sessions and monthly “quiet mornings.”

During my time at this parish, I have learned that it is okay to say "I don’t know" and ask for help, and that when you have entrusted people with responsibilities, tasks or projects, you allow them to conclude them and not be a control freak. I have also learned that leading with confidence is very attractive. 

Ongoing formation and refreshing your knowledge helps to keep one relevant and above all, loving and pastorally caring for your parishioner is very rewarding. 

BZ: What does this appointment mean to you and to the Church as a whole?

VK: It means that the Church trusts me and sees in me more than I have trusted or seen in myself. I had thought that, this kind of position was the prerogative of older, that is, close to retirement male clergy. 

I’m humbled and excited that the Bishops of ACSA and Archbishop Thabo have been brave to go against the norm, affirm me as a person and as a priest, acknowledge my gifts and capabilities. This is saying to the church as a whole that human-made barriers are not permanent and can be dismantled, to usher in change.

Honestly I did not see it coming. I really laughed hard when Archbishop Thabo and the Dean of the Province Bishop Rubin called me to inform me of their proposal. Soon the laughter turned into tears because weeks before their phone call, I came out of a retreat with this deep sense of change and a clear picture of a landmark in Grahamstown.

I did not take that picture seriously until we started talking and that’s when it became clear to me that there’s a strong connection, and that God is part of the whole process. At the end of the phone call they asked me to pray. The three of us were really emotional.

I’m still trying to adjust to the news. A number of my parishioners are not taking the news in a good way, so I’m trying to be sensitive to those who are hurt by the impending change. I’m not sure how one celebrates this news, as I did not apply for the position and rather have being appointed and entrusted with such a responsibility, with a unanimous and resounding yes from all responsible structures.

BZ: What do you think has made it possible for you to be appointed leader of the college, it's certainly a job that comes with more responsibilities.

VK: I haven’t figured it out yet, what made them to appoint me out of 2,000+ clergy in the Province. Maybe it’s my involvement in numerous aspects of our Province. Maybe its' that I’m passionate about theological education and clergy formation and that I believe that our parishes deserve to be staffed with clergy who are theologically smart, can read their context, care for those in their pastoral charge out of Sunday worship service, and preach relevant sermons.

I’m really humbled to be appointed to this position, regardless of my gender or age. I look forward to what God has in store for me as I begin this new chapter. I’m encouraged by the words of Bishop Barbara Harris, who addressed us at the celebration of 20 years of women ordination in ACSA, when she reminded us that “the power behind us is greater than the task ahead of us”.