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Rev. Rose Okeno Becomes Second Female Bishop in Kenyan History

A long-serving female priest, Rev. Rose Okeno, has been elected an Anglican bishop in a predominantly Anglican region of western Kenya.

This makes her the second woman to hold that rank in a country where the consecration of women as bishops is still controversial.

52-year-old Rev. Okeno will lead Butere, a rural diocese where a majority of the faithful are small-scale farmers and traders. She was favoured by more than three-quarters of the electoral college delegates, beating two male contenders. Her consecration as bishop is planned for September.

Okeno’s election is coming after Kenya’s first appointment of a female bishop in January. Thus, there is a new trend in Kenya and in Africa, where more women clerics are taking top leadership positions in the church.

“I see it as a calling from God. There could be some challenges, especially given how our society views women, but it’s the majority men who elected me. So this is a confirmation that I am their leader. I am confident,” ” Okeno, who has served the Anglican church for more than 20 years, told Religion News Service in a telephone interview.

She has now followed Rev. Emily Onyango, who was ordained as an assistant bishop of Bondo, a diocese on the edge of Lake Victoria earlier this year.

59-year-old Rev. Onyango is also a scholar and researcher. She became Kenya’s first female Anglican bishop and the first in the Anglican church in East and Central Africa.

“I may be the first female bishop in ACK (Anglican Church of Kenya) from the Diocese of Bondo, and may the doors for other female bishops be open. I will join indeed a house of brother bishops but pray they will remember to include me as a sister bishop,” Onyango said in her acceptance speech on Jan. 20.

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Rev. Ellinah Ntombi Wamukoya became Africa’s first Anglican female bishop when she was elected as bishop of Swaziland in 2012. Wamukoya died of COVID-19 in January this year.

In 2016, South Sudan Primate Daniel Deng Bul consecrated the Rev. Elizabeth Awut Ngor as an assistant bishop of the Diocese of Rumbek.

The Kenyan canon permits women bishops, making it to conflicts with a moratorium by the Global Anglican Future Conference, which does not allow women bishops.

However, the 2018 moratorium allows the consecration of only men to the episcopate until such a time when there is a consensus on the matter. Most African provinces are affiliated with GAFCON, but the dioceses in the provinces are independent.

This is a sign of change that is coming to the continent as more young women are becoming priests in the church. Some of the church’s clerics observe it’s only a matter of time before the number of female bishops increases.

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