‘A Purple Blouse’ in Kenya’s House of Bishops

By Jesse Masai

The Rev. Canon Dr. Emily A. Onyango was consecrated on March 27 as the first female bishop for the Anglican Church of Kenya.

The Rev. Emily Onyango

Despite some earlier objections, the Anglican Diocese of Bondo unanimously endorsed the appointment at a January 12 synod. She is the first assistant bishop of Bondo.

She is expected to assist the Rt. Rev. David H. Kodia, Bishop of Bondo, in training of clergy, in addition to programming for women’s ministry and gender issues, including initiatives focused on ending gender-based violence and encouraging child empowerment.

“The issue was never about procedure, but my becoming bishop,” Bishop Onyango told her male counterparts at the ceremony. “We now have a purple blouse in the house of Bishops. I am happy that as I teach (church) history, I am making history. I am one of you.”

Onyango said the trappings of power do not matter to her, that her greatest mission in the diocese is preaching the gospel.

She observed: “We are living in unusual times, marked by pandemic after pandemic. We must approach ministry holistically. Since ministry is dynamic, we need to leverage technology to address teenage pregnancy, mental health and pastoral care as we mobilize resources internally and externally.”

Six lay synod members in the Diocese of Bondo had filed a petition on January 19 with the Kenyan Church’s primate, the Most Rev. Jackson Ole Sapit, objecting to Onyango’s consecration.

They had alleged that the appointment process “was unprocedural and in complete disregard” of canon and civil law, and that Bishop Kodia used “blackmail, threats, and intimidation” to secure Onyango’s approval.

The petitioners also claimed that the diocese cannot afford to pay the new bishop, as contributions to the diocese by parishes are in arrears by 13 million Kenyan shillings (about $120,000), and some parish vicars have received no salaries in over a year.

They criticized the decision to immediately “second” Bishop Onyango back to her teaching post at St. Paul’s University, noting “if they can appoint someone then second her back where she came from then they do not need her services.”

The Rt. Rev. David Kodia

The petitioners, who say that diocesan clergy agree with them but “would not dare talk,” had urged Archbishop Ole Sapit to intervene and to withhold his consent to Onyango’s appointment.

Ole Sapit paid a pastoral visit to Bondo from January 21 to 24, 2021, including a diocesan New Year Thanksgiving service at St. Michael and All Angels Cathedral. The cathedral was the venue for the March 27 consecration, at which Ole Sapit was represented by the Bishop of Bungoma, the Rt. Rev. George W. Mechumo.

Provincial Chancellor Mr. Tom Onyango revealed that as late as the day before, he and Ole Sapit had been keeping tabs on the Kenyan judiciary for any last-minute court injunctions against the process. Onyango is a common name in Kenya.

“It is not a bad thing to disagree. It may not be an easier thing for our latest bishop to be a pioneer. She has her failings. We pray for you to succeed, Emily,” he said to cheers from the congregation.

Recounting the mockery she faced within the province on the basis of gender, age and marital status upon her ordination as a priest in 1984, Onyango hailed Bishop Kodia for being “brave enough to make this appointment.”

“Now it will be easier for women. We have several women in ministry today, but few know where it all started. I am, also, really thankful to the late Bishop Henry Okullu for opening this door for us,” she said, referring to the bishop who ordained her.

Kodia extended an olive branch to Onyango’s opponents, saying now is the time to move on.

“My heart is spacious enough to accommodate everyone, but we cannot force you to join us,” he said.

Jesse Masai is a freelance journalist based in Limuru, Kenya.


Online Archives