By Jesse Masai, Correspondent
The Ven. Rose Okeno was yesterday elected as the second female bishop for the Anglican Church of Kenya. She will preside over the Diocese of Butere in Western Kenya, following last year’s resignation of Bishop Timothy Wambunya.
The Rt. Rev. Professor David H. Kodia of Bondo Diocese, who heads the Anglican Church of Kenya’s Electoral College which selected Okeno for the role,, noted that she is now firmly part of the church’s unfolding history of women in leadership.
“Let’s pray for Rose and her family…I want to confirm that (she) was truly humbled by the confidence exhibited in her,” he said on Facebook.
Archdeacon Okeno, a 52-year-old widow, has been in ministry for over two decades. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in theology from the Kenya Methodist University. According to her profile on LinkedIn, the mother of two boys and two girls enjoys netball and drama.
Okeno has an abiding interest in both the Anglican Communion and the Green Anglicans Movement, and is also excited about providing diocesan spiritual and pastoral oversight, and advocating for women’s ministry across the Church.
“(I am) well aware that many cultures still hold that women and widows should not serve at such levels. Among other things, I am here to right that notion because it is not Biblically correct,” Okeno said, speaking from Butere after her election.
“As women ministry leader in the diocese, I am also responsible for family life training, for which I am so passionate. (It includes) preparing sermons and preaching, guiding and counselling, with specialization in marital counselling (and) economic empowerment through capacity building.”
Following the 1978 Lambeth Conference, which allowed member churches of the Anglican Communion to ordain women, the Anglican Church of Kenya amended its canons to permit women to join the episcopate in 1980. However, neither of first women to stand as candidates, the Rev. Dr. Lydia Mwaniki in 2012 and the Rev. Canon Dr. Rosemary Mbogo in 2014, were successful.
In October 2014, the church’s House of Bishops declared a five-year moratorium on the possibility of appointing and consecrating women as bishops in the East African nation. The GAFCON Movement, in which Kenya plays an important role, had also asked all its member churches to refrain from ordaining women to the episcopate after its Task Force on Women in the Episcopate, which was chaired by Kenyan priest Samson Mwaluda, concluded in 2017 that the issue of women bishops “poses a threat to the unity we prize.”
However, the Rev. Canon Dr. Emily A. Onyango was chosen as the Kenyan Church’s first female bishop on January 12. She serves as the first assistant bishop of Bondo, a post created by the diocese.
At her consecration on March 27, Bishop Onyango prophetically observed that it would now be easier for African women to move into positions of leadership.
“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,” Onyango said, referring to the clergyman who ordained her in 1984, after ordaining Kenya’s first woman to the priesthood, the Rev. Lucia Okuthe, in 1983.
The Kenyan primate, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, reminded the church’s synod in January, after procedural objections to Onyango’s consecration had been raised, but before the consecration had actually taken place that both he personally and the Kenyan church’s House of Bishops had agreed to honor the GAFCON moratorium. After the synod proceeded to reaffirm a 2019 amendment to the church’s constitution that affirmed women’s ministry in the episcopate, however, Ole Sapit took no further action to block Onyango’s consecration.
Raila Odinga, Kenya’s former prime minister, and current head of the political opposition voiced his own warm affirmation of Okeno’s election. He said he was “deeply proud of ACK, my Church for leading the way in elevating women to leadership positions.”
Africa’s first female Anglican bishop, the late Rt. Rev. Ellinah Wamukoya, who died last year, was also from Kenya. She was elected as the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Swaziland on July 18, 2012.
Jesse Masai is a freelance journalist based in Limuru, Kenya.