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[Updated] First female Anglican bishop for Africa elected in a 'spirit-filled' atmosphere

Posted on: July 19, 2012 1:00 PM
Related Categories: Southern Africa

By ACNS staff

[See the comments from Bishop of Brechin in Scotland and the official statement from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa below]

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) yesterday made history by appointing the first female Anglican bishop on the continent.

The Revd Ellinah Ntombi Wamukoya, 61, became the bishop-elect of Swaziland and the first woman bishop in any of the 12 Anglican Provinces in Africa. It is thought she is only the second bishop elected in a mainline church on the continent.

Her election comes as The Anglican Church of Southern Africa -- which also includes Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Lesotho -- commemorates 20 years since the ordination of women to the priesthood as priests and bishops. The 1992 synod was, coincidentally, held in Swaziland.

 Revd Wamukoya subsequently received the required 2/3 majority in both houses of laity and clergy in the 12th ballot. The Assembly was described by one observer as a “particularly spirit-filled atmosphere” and there is said to be much excitement in the diocese over her election. Founded in 1968 the Diocese of Swaziland comprises of three archdeaconries: Eastern Swaziland, Southern Swaziland and Western Swaziland. Her predecessor was the Rt Rev Meshack Mabuza, who became bishop of Swaziland in 2002.

Revd Wamukoya is currently Chaplain at the University of Swaziland and St. Michael's High School in Manzini, Swaziland. She also serves as CEO of the City Council in Manzini.

The election has to be confirmed by the members of the Synod of Bishops. When that happens, Revd Wamukoya will  become the 24th non-retired female bishop of the Anglican Communion. The Member Churches that have appointed or elected women bishops to date are: Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; Australia; Canada; The Episcopal Church, Cuba and now Southern Africa.

The Diocese of Swaziland has links with the diocess of Iowa in the USA and Brechin in Scotland. The Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Revd Nigel Peyton said today, "I am delighted to hear of Ellinah's election and wish her every blessing in her new ministry. I have always hoped to work with a woman bishop before I retire - I am thrilled

He added, "I look forward to furthering the mutual friendship and support which has been enjoyed between our Companion Dioceses for some years." 

As there are several other dioceses of ACSA electing bishops before the end of the year, it is likely there will be one big consecration service for them all, early next year.

Celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in Southern Africa will be held in September 2012 on the margins of the Provincial Standing Committee meeting, with The Episcopal Church's Bishop Barbara Harris as a special guest.


Statement from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa regarding the election of Revd Ellinah Wamukoya as Bishop of Swaziland

‘The election of Revd Ellinah Wamukoya as Bishop of Swaziland, the first woman to be a Bishop in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, is a great joy’ said Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. ‘When it was announced that she had received the necessary votes, there was great rejoicing both that a person of undeniable skills and personal qualities had been chosen, and that it was Ellinah herself, who obviously commands considerable respect and affection across the Diocese of Swaziland.’

Revd Wamukoya was one of five nominated candidates. She obtained the necessary two-thirds majority among both clergy and laity in the twelfth ballot, as the electoral assembly met late into the evening of 18 July. ‘It is rather fitting that the Diocese of Swaziland should elect our first woman to be a Bishop, since it was here, 20 years ago, that, amidst both tears and joy, our Provincial Synod agreed that both the priesthood and episcopate should be open to both men and women’ the Archbishop noted. ‘We have waited a long time for this moment!’

With a Master’s degree in Town and Regional Planning, Revd Wamukoya, aged 61, was until recently the Town Clerk of Manzini Municipal Council, overseeing an organisation with some 380 employees, having previously served as the City Planner. She returned to Swaziland in 1990, having worked as a Planning Officer for the Government of Kenya from 1978 to 1990. She met her Kenyan husband, Okwaro Henry Wamukoya when, after completing a BA in Geography and African Languages at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, she furthered her studies in the Netherlands. The couple have three married adult children, and a fourth younger child.

Having long been active in the Anglican church, she was ordained in 2005, and has served as assistant priest, then priest-in-charge, at UNISWA (the University of Swaziland). Bringing her planning and people skills to bear, in the difficult financial situation of a country where so many live in considerable poverty, she helped her congregation develop a strategic plan, which has led to their numbers growing beyond staff and students to include also members of the surrounding community. In this, she has been a firm believer in developing lay ministry across the life of the church. ‘She is someone who will set a direction, both operational and spiritual, and develop a vision for the future’ said a friend, of her potential to provide leadership as a Bishop. ‘She is a restorer of hope, faith and love in the hearts of God’s followers, who has helped believers to connect to Christ, the church and their communities.’

Her election must now be confirmed by the Synod of Bishops. With further episcopal elections within the Anglican Church of Southern Africa due before the end of the year, it is expected that all the new bishops will be consecrated at a service early in 2013.

Revd Wamukoya is set to succeed the Rt Revd Meshak Mabuza, who retired at the end of 2011, as the fifth Bishop of Swaziland, the Diocese having been created in 1968. Both Diocese and country have faced difficult times recently, with the Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa frequently calling for political reform, and for open dialogue between government and civil society to decide the nation’s future. ‘We ask for the prayers of all for Revd Ellinah and her family, as she prepares to take on this new and particularly challenging calling, to lead the Diocese of Swaziland into a new chapter’ said Dr Makgoba, ‘yet we are confident that wherever God calls, he also equips and provides.’

‘I am humbled by the trust and confidence placed on me by the people of Swaziland, a person like me of humble beginnings’ said Revd Wamukoya after the election. ‘My prayer is to be able to listen and be guided by the Holy Spirit in everything I do. My vision is to see that the people of God are restored and transformed, in order for them to be a church in mission, for, as it is said, “a church that does not reach out, passes out”.’