Churches in southern Africa celebrate women as priests and bishops – but call for more gender equality

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USPG Theological Adviser Evie Vernon reports from a conference held in South Africa to celebrate the growing acknowledgement of women in church leadership roles…

The writer of the Ephesians proclaims that: ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor gentile, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female.’ The Anglican Churches in Southern Africa recognised this when they ordained three women, Nancy Charlton, Bride Dickson and Sue Groves, to the priesthood in 1992.

To commemorate this historic moment, I joined more than 120 women from across the province gathered in Johannesburg in September, under the banner ‘Commemorate, Celebrate and Commit to Change’. Through worship, bible study, sharing stories, group work, weeping and laughter, we looked at the church’s pilgrimage thus far.

The gathering looked back at the steps that led them to the point where the church finally recognised women’s call to ordained ministry.

My sisters wept over the pain of rejection and recalled how many times they had been silenced.

They recalled how they had been told that calling for women’s ordination was a distraction from the struggles for liberation or a hindrance to the ecumenical dialogue.

But they remembered with joy those, like USPG, who stood with them and declared that liberation was for everyone.

In evaluating the present situation in their region, the gathering rejoiced at the consecration of two women as bishops, Ellinah Ntombi Wamukoya and Margaret Virtue, and the appointment of a woman, Vincentia Kgabe, as the rector of the Provincial Theological College of the Transfiguration.

But they were also mindful that women were still marginalised across the province and were under- represented on important boards and committees, especially at leadership level.

Looking to the future, the gathering called for previous resolutions to represent women on decision-making bodies at all levels to be enforced.

They committed to campaigning for more women to be elected as bishops. They called for theological education to be made a priority within the province and for young women to be nurtured within this process. And they called for the immediate use of liturgy that used inclusive and life-affirming language.

As a gathering of women and men in Johannesburg, we committed ourselves to going forward in God’s Spirit to further the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth by affirming the gifts and calling of all who are called to God’s service, whatever their gender.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of Us.

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