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Africa's Pioneering UMC Clergywomen Honored

Ngoni Dapira
February 12, 2012

This group of clergywomen were among more than 300 gathered for the four-day African Clergywomen’s Consultation held at Africa University in Zimbabwe. Photo by Chenayi Kumuterera, Zimbabwe Annual Conference.

More than 300 African clergywomen honored pioneering clergywomen and heard speakers who urged them to unite and lift each other up during the four-day African Clergywomen’s Consultation held at Africa University in Zimbabwe.

The group honored 18 United Methodist women as first and pioneering clergywomen in their respective episcopal areas during the Feb. 1-4 gathering with the theme: “Get Up and Take Action: From Isolation to Collaboration.”

The clergywomen recognized were:

  • Zimbabwe: Rev. Dr. Tumani Nyajeka and Rev. Shirley DeWolf
  • Central Congo: Rev. Kombe Alua
  • Cote d’Ivoire: Rev. Hermance Akpess Aka and Rev. Suzanne Sedji
  • East Africa: (Burundi) Rev. Rose Mbikemunda and (Uganda) Rev. Dr. Patience Kisakye
  • Liberia: the late Rev. Dr. Evelyn Kandakai
  • Mozambique: Rev. Amina Isaias and Rev. Leia Mapsanganhe
  • Nigeria: Rev. Liatu Kane
  • North Katanga: Rev. Mutombo IIunga Kimba
  • Sierra Leone: Rev. Mary Johnson Massaquoi and the late Rev. Mary Fofanah
  • South Africa: Rev. Anna Maloisane and Rev. Lan Qwabe
  • South Congo: Rev. Dr. J Kabamba Kiboko.
  • West Angola: Rev. Mario Fernandes Webba.

The first female African bishop in the UMC and convener of the meeting, Bishop Joaquina Nhanala from Mozambique was also honored, and she cried tears of joy as she received her decoration and award of $500.


Clergywomen gathered for the four-day African Clergywomen’s Consultation in Zimbabwe listen to French and Portuguese translators. Photo by Chenayi Kumuterera.

Bishop Nhanala was consecrated as bishop of the Mozambique Episcopal Area in 2008 and believes that God has a special plan for women.

“After an interregnum of more than 10 years, as we meet together once more as African clergywomen, we have strong reason to say today Ebenezer, thus far God has brought us,” she told the clergywomen.

“God was faithful to our mothers of old record in the Bible. God was faithful to our sisters from our episcopal areas gone before us. God was faithful to our retired sisters with us today, and we believe it is the same God that continues to be faithful to us this day,” Nhanala said.

Nhanala proposed strategies for clergywomen in Africa, including an association that advocates for clergywomen, with regional associations in the episcopal areas; formal education for clergywomen; advocacy for clergywomen by superintendents and bishops; and better communication between the clergywomen’s groups.

Rev. Dr. HiRho Park, GBHEM’s director of Clergy Lifelong Learning, re-affirmed GBHEM’s commitment to be open to suggestions from African clergywomen about how to support efforts to strengthen the African Clergywomen’s Association, and to creating a climate of acceptance and empowerment for women in higher education and professional church-related ministries; and sharing resources for leadership development through technology.

Park agreed with Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa’s characterization of African women as the “power house” of The United Methodist Church.

“Yes. Women are the church, and we always have been; but women's advancement in leadership in the church is a slow process,” Park said. “In reality, women have not been experiencing what the church is claiming, that is equity for all people. . . . The church could not do much to support African clergywomen during this time, but certainly God has been working.”

Bishop Joaquina Nhanla, leader of the Mozambique Episcopal Area, told 300 clergywomen meeting at Africa University that God continues to be faithful to them today. 
Video courtesy of the Africa University Development Office.

“In 1990 one of the recommendations was for African female clergy district superintendents and bishops to attend future consultations. Isn’t this God’s grace that we are here in Zimbabwe again in this historic consultation with our first woman bishop in Africa present with us and with women district superintendents?”

Park described the gathering as an “affirmation of God for women's leadership in Africa.”

The regional convention was independently organized by the African clergywomen and funded by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women and the General Board of Discipleship sponsored meals for the event, and the General Board of Global Ministries sponsored the translations. There were 44 individuals who contributed for scholarships through GBHEM’s fundraising campaign for the event.

Bishop Linda Lee, the episcopal leader of the Wisconsin Area in the United States, took her closing sermon from Mark 5: 25-34, which tells the story of the woman who suffered from hemorrhage for 12 years but was healed because of her faith. Lee got a standing ovation when she urged African clergywomen to have the faith of this Jewish woman as they continue to fight against chauvinism in church ministry.

“Clergywomen of Africa, it is time to get together and act our faith just like the Jewish woman who had for many years suffered from hemorrhage. No matter how many times she was knocked down, she remained faithful that one day she would be well.

“When the time to act came she acted and that is what we must do. . . . Like the Jewish woman in the Bible, the trick is to hide ourselves when we exercise our faith, but make sure that we grasp the moment when it comes, of which the moment is now, which is why our theme is to ‘Get up and take action from isolation to collaboration,’” Lee said.

Rev. Dr. Beauty Maenzanise, the president of the UMC African Clergywomen’s Consultation and dean in the Faculty of Theology at Africa University, urged African clergywomen to unite to uplift each other.

In1956, General Conference voted to give women full clergy rights in the United States, she said. “This was in the U.S., but God was also making a way for us as African clergywomen. In 1986, our sisters in the U.S. felt that it was high time African women needed to get up and take action, moving from isolation to collaboration,” Maenzanise said.

She reminded the group that Bishop Leontine Kelly, the first African-American female bishop and Rev. Kathy Nickerson, a GBHEM staffer, took advantage of the World Methodist Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, to help their African clergy sisters form the African Clergywomen’s Association and promised to support it financially.

“However, after all is said and done, African clergywomen, the time has come for us to get up and take action. The time has come for us not to pull each other down, but to move from isolation to collaboration,” Maenzanise said.

Nhiwatiwa, leader of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area of the UMC, congratulated the group for the historic achievement in exercising their clergy rights and said United Methodists will always live up to the 1956 action ensuring full clergy rights for women.

Professor Fanuel Tagwira, vice chancellor of Africa University, recognizes the importance of uplifting women with by observing a 50:50 female-to-male student ratio in AU’s recruitment.

“Since our inception as an institution. . . . We have ensured that we observe and uphold gender equity and gender equality,” Tagwira said. “This landmark event upholds gender equality and is an exemplary exploit by the African UMC towards gender mainstreaming and empowerment of clergywomen.”

Other invited dignitaries from the United States were Rev. Dr. Quida Lee, the president of the Black American UMC Clergywomen Consultation; Rev. Dr. Cheryl Anderson, professor of Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary; Garlinda Burton, general secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women; Erin Hawkins, general secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race; Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopson, GBHEM’s assistant general secretary for the Black College Fund and Ethnic Concerns; and Sarah Wilke, assistant general secretary of the General Board of Discipleship and publisher of the Upper Room.

The African Clergywomen Consultation also was the first of a series of events lined up before the official Africa University twentieth anniversary celebrations next year in March.

Ngoni Dapira is the Administrative Assistant in the Information and Public Affairs Office, Africa University, Mutare, Zimbabwe. Chenayi Kumuterera, communicator for the Zimbabwe Annual Conference, contributed to this story.