This lovely account of the ordination of Elinah Wamukoye, the first female Anglican bishop in Africa, was posted over the weekend by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, in time to inspire the Church of England’s General Synod in its deliberations on women bishops tomorrow. The early Christian atmosphere of festive acclamation makes a marvellous setting for the very modern woman at its centre.
“And now our task has been completed! It is done! Welcome to Bishop Ellinah!We formed into three processions, and, like good Anglicans, we sung our beautiful hymns to a beautifully and prayerfully crafted liturgy. From the back of the procession, I could see nine mitres ahead of me, piercing the sky, as each procession went into the Mavuso Trade Centre, where between three and four thousand faithful gathered to witness Ellinah being ‘done’. The Dean of the Diocese of Christ the King, the Very Revd David Dinkebogile, received applause for his sermon, and so too did his interpreter. He stressed the fact though Ellinah is a woman, we were gathered to consecrate and ordain a Bishop in the Church of God: not a black woman, not an African, not a Swazi woman, but a Priest of the Church. She was to be pastor to all, to men and women, to black and white, to Swazis and all others in her Diocese.It felt like a bit of a scrum as the ten bishops surrounded Ellinah (with the Bishop-elect of the Diocese of the Free State also in attendance), and prayed together and laid their hands on her. She emerged from this tight circle wearing her episcopal insignia to applause and excitement. Among our guests we had representatives of the Africa desk of The Episcopal Church and of the USPG – now US – from the UK and Ireland; we had the Ugandan consul, and groups from Kenya, Mozambique, and Nigeria, as well as South Africa, Lesotho and Mozambique. It was a colourful display of beauty, smiles, laughter and tears. ‘Mr Bishop’ shed tears for his wife as she lay prostrated. Bishop Mabuza handed over his pastoral staff to the Dean of the Province, he handed it on to me, and I presented it to Ellinah. It was a symbolic display of both continuity and change, newness, within our ecclesial environment.Then in a confident, well projected voice, Bishop Ellinah said, ‘I, your Bishop, thank you for your welcome and prayers, and I assure you that I will lead my diocese in a godly manner.’Yes, it has happened! The thunder is rumbling as I write: we have witnessed a great occasion, and now it does indeed seem that the heavens are about to fall upon us – the falling of rain, which this country and its people so desperately need. The ‘cosmic powers’ are not upset, but rather, as we say in Sepedi, ‘pula, nala’ – ‘peace, rain, prosperity’. It is the thunderstorm and rain of blessing and the promise of good health that follows good crops.So now, we have taken this step, and we wish the Church of England ‘God speed’ as they deliberate this week. We feel all the more enriched by today, because by virtue of our baptism we are called to join in anything and everything that God is doing in his world – and we have felt his leading and responded to his call. So I end by repeating my congratulations to the Anglican Church of Southern Africa for taking this step, and to Bishop Ellinah herself. May we all continue to follow Christ in calling all those who are at the margins of our church and society so they may find themselves at the centre of God’s love and his welcoming embrace.”