The Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, is amongst a number of church leaders paying tribute to the former Moderator of the World Council of Churches Central Committee, Dr Agnes Abuom, who died on Wednesday (see our original article here). Dr Abuom was a lay woman in the Anglican Church of Kenya and was made an honorary Canon in the province last year.
“We, the Anglican Fraternity in Kenya, have learnt with deep sorrow the passing away of our dear Sister in Christ Lay Canon Dr Agnes Abuom on Wednesday (31 May 2023) at the Coptic Hospital, Nairobi,” Archbishop Jackson said. “We are forever grateful to God for having given us such a devout Christian, and a person of great international repute.
“As the former Provincial Development Coordinator, Dr Abuom played a pivotal role in advancing matters of national peace and advocacy. She was the second National Director of Anglican Development Services, then the Human Development Department of the Anglican Church of Kenya. As the Director, she provided strategic leadership to the development and advocacy work of ACK.
“During that period, ACK emerged as a pillar of social justice that stood out as a beacon of hope. Our bishops were provided with evidence-based facts for national advocacy. As development worker, and together with us, she initiated a restructuring that saw the development of the 10 regional offices and the reinvigoration of our networking, which took the Church development work to the grassroots. As an organisational development practitioner and expert, she was instrumental in guiding the Anglican Development Services on governance issues.
“Her life has impacted so many ecumenists world wide and she leaves behind a rich legacy of humble, tested, thoughtful and committed leader. She never shied away from expressing what she believed was the right approach to building strong national, regional and global institutions. For this, and many other outstanding contributions, she will be for ever remembered. Her installation as the Lay Canon of the All-Saints Cathedral Diocese, was essentially one way of demonstrating our love and recognition for her tireless service to humanity.
“We believe she is in the Lord, taking her turn with the faithful to whom the Lord extends His gracious invitation: ‘Come and share your master’s happiness’ (Matthew 25:23).
The Very Revd Canon Dr Sammy Wainaina, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advisor for Anglican Communion Affairs, based at Lambeth Palace, was until recently the Provost of All Saints’ Cathedral in Nairobi, Kenya.
“I have known Agnes for many years as a Lay Minister, who influenced the ecumenical movement in the world,” Dr Sammy said. “Her simplicity, faith and firmness, exemplified to us the person and the character of Jesus Christ. It is on this basis that she was recognised last year by the Archbishop of the Anglican church of Kenya as a Lay Canon of All Saints Cathedral Nairobi.
“The ecumenical movement is poorer without Agnes, but we thank God for her great legacy that will continue to influence ecumenism and women’s ministry all over the world. Like Paul the Apostle, she has fought the good fight, kept the faith and finished the race. May her soul rest in eternal peace.”
The former Acting General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, The Revd Professor Dr Ioan Sauca, of the Romanian Orthodox Church, said: “I am so proud of our work together. Despite the suffering and death caused by the virus, Agnes clearly saw the pandemic as a defining pastoral challenge for the churches to accompany those in pain, to console those in grief, to demand healthcare for the afflicted, and to innovate in sharing the gifts of a truly global ecumenical spirituality.
“I am devastated; she was for me not only a moderator but a holy woman; she lived her faith in everything she did. We have to be grateful to God for the great gift He gave to us in the person of Agnes. She will be greatly missed.”
Metropolitan Professor Dr Nifon of Targoviste, also of the Romanian Orthodox Church, also paid tribute, saying: “she was an excellent companion full of kindness and wisdom. We worked together in the leadership of the WCC central committee and the WCC 11th Assembly in harmony and splendid cooperation. We are sure now that her spirit is always present with us. We all should offer now thanksgiving prayers for her life and work and preserve her memory.”
Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, the General Secretary of the ACT Alliance, said: “Agnes’ commitment to the ecumenical world was truly without peer, and her loss will be felt around the world. Agnes’ support of ecumenism was well appreciated by the ACT Alliance, and her support of the ecumenical diakonia of churches was an important part of her ministry.”
Dr Theodora Issa of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, said: “This sudden departure of Agnes came as a shock, and I am truly lost for words as I read the news on the WCC website. Agnes was always passionate and compassionate with great patience especially during heated debates, whereas she always searched and spotted the common points and built on them to reach the ultimate consensus.”
Prof Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, the Assistant Secretary General of the WCC and a member of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, said that Dr Abuom “served the ecumenical movement with passion, dedication, humility, and prayer. During difficult times in the WCC, she used to mobilise her close prayer partners to stand in prayer with her. She has run her race and passed on the baton of ecumenical leadership. Her legacy will live for a very long time. May she rest in eternal peace.”
The Christian Council of Sweden expressed deep sadness. “As the first female and first African moderator of the World Council of Churches, she made a tremendous impact on revitalizing the global ecumenical movement. We have lost a remarkable role model and leader in the ecumenical community.”
The General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Revd Dr Anne Burghardt also mourned the death of Abuom. “Dr Abuom made history as the first woman and first African in the role of WCC moderator. She was a humble, committed and visionary leader, who offered an excellent example of servant leadership to Christians around the world.”
His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Armenian Church Holy See Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon, said: “we pray and remember Agnes Abuom, and share our reflections and experiences on her ecumenical journey. She continued her long and hard journey, giving all her commitment to her Christian faith, the ecumenical movement and Africa.”
Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, said he was saddened to learn of the passing of Abuom. “I got to know Agnes well as an interfaith observer to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace; she was an amazing woman. I will remember her intelligence, her wisdom, her unshakable moral compass, her quiet strength, and her electric smile,” he said. “May her memory be a blessing.”
The National Council of Churches in Korea expressed its deepest condolences, saying: “In particular, as the first woman and the first African to serve as moderator of the WCC central committee, she led the international ecumenical community on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace and demonstrated deep spiritual leadership amid the crises of Covid-19 and church division. This greatly contributed to the fulfilment of Christ’s prophetic mission and accompaniment of the church community in each region with a relationship of heartfelt cooperation, and will be recorded as a great achievement and legacy of the ecumenical movement.”