Women Leaders Rising Up: A Case Study of the Anglican Church of Kenya 1844 - 1945

by Rev. Dr. Emily Onyango

Date added: 18/11/2016

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Women Leaders Rising Up: A Case Study of the Anglican Church of Kenya 1844-1985 


The Revd Dr Emily Onyango


This paper uses historical methods to highlight the role played by women in the Anglican Church of Kenya. The main argument is that women have been central to missions since the inception of the Anglican Church of Kenya. Women played a key leadership role in the establishment of the Church. Women have also participated in decision making at different levels of the Church. The Anglican Church has played a major role in the empowerment of women. First, this was through education. The Church Missionary Society had used education as a major tool of evangelism. The Churches played a key role in social and economic empowerment of women. The women also used their faith to bring change and transformation in society. They fought for social justice and fought some of the cultural practices which were oppressive to women. The women have used women organisations in the Church as a springboard for fighting patriarchy, evangelism and leadership in the Church.

 1. Introduction

Women have been central to mission work in the Anglican Church of Kenya. Both women missionaries and local women were central to mission work and also to leadership and development in both Church and society. The Anglican Church played a central role in the empowerment of women. First of all this was through the education of girls. The Church Missionary Society used education as its major tool of evangelism. Education became a major tool to access leadership positions and for socio-economic empowerment.

 Women also used their faith and education to fight both patriarchy and unjust cultural practices. First, the mission station offered shelter for women who were escaping unjust cultural practices like forced marriages, polygamy, female circumcision and widowhood rites. The mission also offered employment to such women thus making them independent. The African Christian women also used their faith to stand up against injustices in the society and work for their liberation. The establishment of the women’s organisation became the springboard for fighting patriarchy. The women could participate in both leadership and decision making through the women’s organisation. The women’s organisation also became a major platform for both evangelism and advocacy work. The women’s organization worked for the empowerment of women.

2. The Establishment of the Church

Women played a key role in the establishment of the Anglican Church of Kenya. In 1844, CMS missionaries John Ludwig Krapf and Rosine Krapf arrived at the coast of Mombasa. Rosine gave birth to a daughter shortly after the arrival, but unfortunately both Rosine and the daughter died. The death of Rosine became a major inspiration to Krapf’s work. Krapf stated that the death of Rosine confirmed the purpose to devote all his life to the mission cause. Dr. Krapf gives a moving account of Rosine’s death and stated that Rosine’s life had been regulated by the spirit of sacrifice for the glory of God. Rosine desired to be buried in the mainland, so that the sight of her tomb could constantly remind the passers- by of the object which had brought the servants of Christ to their country. According to Krapf, she wished to be preaching to them by the lonely spot which encloses her remains. Krapf wrote to CMS:

Tell the committee that there is on the East African coast a lonely grave of the mission cause connected with your society. This is a sign that you that you have commenced the struggle with this part of the world, never mind the victims who may fall, only carry it forward till East and West Africa will be united in the bonds of Christ.[1]

The work of CMS was mainly guided by Henry Venn’s mission policy. Venn was the CMS general secretary. According to Venn, the main aim of CMS was the development of native Churches with their ultimate settlement upon a self- supporting, self-governing and self -extending church. Mission work among women and girls was central to this policy.

In 1864, in line with CMS focus of using African agents, Bombay Africans were sent to work with Johannes Rebmann in Rabai. Bombay Africans were freed slaves, who had been taken to Saharanpur near Bombay for training, with the aim of sending them back to Africa to evangelize their own people. Jemima Jones, Grace Semler, Priscilla David and Polly Nyondo were sent to do pioneer work. Their husbands worked with the missionaries as the ladies focused on work among women and girls. Their first focus was to teach literacy to women and girls, which was a great avenue of women’s empowerment. The Bombay women imparted knowledge acquired from their vocational training in Saharanpur. The vocational training taught literacy, Bible, public speaking and also gave skills in housecraft, sewing cooking and agriculture which were important for the economic empowerment of women. The women were trained so that they could be leaders among women. In Rabai, they worked as leaders among women, which also included leading Bible study groups and weekly prayer meetings.

In 1874, CMS established Frere-town, to train leaders for Church and society. Frere-town focused on education for girls. The girls were divided in different classes and taught literacy in the morning and sewing and handicraft in the evening. In 1886, the first single woman missionary, Miss Harvey joined Frere-town. Miss Harvey joined a group of seven Bombay African women already working in Frere-town. She taught the girls sewing, domestic skills and scriptures. Miss Downess later on joined and was officially in charge of the girls, while Polly Nyondo was the matron of the girls’ dormitory.[2] The leadership and training continued with the establishment of the divinity school in 1903. According to records, the first woman to be admitted to divinity school was referred to as Bible woman, whose main work was leadership among women.

Women also participated in the establishment of the Church in the interior. In 1903, CMS moved to the interior, when Bishop Peel of the Diocese of Mombasa, made two journeys to Nairobi to get a place for the establishment of missions. The missions used education as the main tool of evangelism. The main aim of education was to train teachers, who would also act as the evangelists and the leaders in the local churches. In fact teaching was the spring board to all other careers, including politics. By 1902, Mary Leakey assisted by Alice Higginbotham started girls’ education in Kabete, whose major agenda was to empower the girls. Women also ran to the mission station, which they thought was a freer society. Women missionaries were viewed as liberators, who liberated women from domestic oppression. Phyllis Wambui was converted to Christianity and joined the mission station and was appointed to assist Mary Leakey. Phyllis did not want to be forced to adhere to oppressive cultural practices.[3]

In 1903, McGregor a CMS missionary established a mission station in Weithaga. In line with of Bishop Parker’s policy (1886), he set up structures to enable African leaders to share power and institute African Church councils. In 1911, a local committee was formed in Weithaga, which allowed the elders to run the local Church. In 1919, Weithaga formed a pastorate and there were several women lay leaders in the parish namely Elizabeth Mbatia, Esther Njeri, Esther Wangari, Edith Nyambura, Rosemary Wanjiru, Grace Njoki, Keziah Nyambura and Nora Norman.[4]

In 1909, at a joint missions’ conference in Kenya it was decided that there should be focus on girls’ education to empower them.[5] By 1913, lack of education among the girls was already a major concern. Edith Hill shared with Bishop Willis of Uganda (which covered western Kenya) the need to start education for girls. Edith Hill volunteered do women’s work at Maseno and started by having Bible classes and a sewing class. Miss Hill had to visit the villages to recruit the girls for the boarding school. The idea of having a boarding school was to have a group of girls, who would be trained as middle class, and would eventually be able to marry the men who would be leaders in both Church and society. Edith recruited a total of ten girls who became the nucleus of Maseno School.

In 1916, CMS decided to focus on work among women and girls in Butere among the Luhya. Jane Elizabeth Chadwick was sent from Uganda to establish education of girls in Butere. On her arrival in Butere, the first classes were only held in the morning as the girls had to continue with farming and other house-hold work. The focus of the curriculum was reading, writing, catechism, Bible lessons and sewing. Sewing was the most popular subject as it led to economic empowerment of women. Lydia Kitandi and Mapesa were among the first women catechumens and students. They attracted many other girls to school and eventually were appointed as teaching assistants. They did a lot of evangelism work among their peers.

The Church also felt that there was need to focus on evangelism among Luo women and girls. Miss Fanny Moller, a CMS missionary from Australia came to Maseno in 1921, to work among the Luo. Owen, who was the Archdeacon of Kavirondo requested Moller to have a small class of women and girls in her Maseno home. Moller helped in preparing nine girls for confirmation. Moller was not very fluent in the language, so a lady, Louise, who was part of the class assisted her both in evangelism and teaching. Louise was the only convert in her village and assisted Moller in doing evangelism, starting from her own family. Due to her Christian faith, she resisted an arranged marriage organized by her family. Louise became the chief assistant to Miss Moller.[6]

Albert Pleydell and Miss Moller were later transferred to assist in the establishment of Ng’iya Mission station. The focus of this Mission station was work among women and girls. In Ng’iya even before the coming of missionaries, people had been converted both in Uganda and Mombasa and were already evangelists. Migrant evangelists like Ezekiel Apindi and Samuel Okoth set up Christian villages. The focus was not the establishment of a Church but a Christian village. Women were among the leaders in the Christian village or ‘dala’. Wives of migrant workers and Christian widows established themselves as teachers and workers in the Christian village. Women like Eba Aloo, Flora Awich and Sophia oloo were some of the converts and leaders in the Christian homes and villages. Some of the women who were widowed or those whose husbands were migrants labourers set up Christian homes contrary to Luo culture.[7] The villages were established in discontinuity from some of the Luo cultural practices, which were an hindrance to preaching the gospel. Apindi fought practices like early marriages.

In Ng’iya Mission station women took very prominent leadership positions. In 1923, Pleydell was posted in Ng’iya to establish the mission station, but had to cover a very wide area. Miss Fanny Moller, who had come to establish the girls ‘school, was also left to do the daily administrative work at the station.[8] Moller also took complete charge of the mission station when Pleydell was away on furlough. Moller raised funds and supervised the building of the Church and the school. She arranged all the Church classes, took Sunday services, counselled and even managed the mission.[9] In 1928, Esta Lala a widow, who was working alongside Miss Moller, was left in charge of the school when Moller was away on furlough. Esta had been employed as a teacher in the school and her official title was Bible woman. Her responsibilities included teaching handwork and Machine sewing. She was also in charge of the teachers in training plus the hostels. Esta was also in charge of the women’s programme in the mission. She taught the daily classes and the women’s church, four times a week. Esta was later employed as a full time women’s worker coordinating women’s work.[10]

3. Liberation of Women and Fight for Social Justice.

Christianity was also viewed in light of fighting for social justice. According to Archdeacon Walter Owen and Olive Owen, their major calling was to emancipate African women from oppressive marriages and cultural practices. The African Christian women also used their faith to liberate themselves from oppressive cultural practices.  In 1915, Tabitha Karingo, one of the first converts to Christianity lost her husband Mururia during her prime age and refused to be inherited by Mururia’s brother. Tabitha left her homestead and settled in Mutira mission station to seek refuge from missionaries who were also opposed to the cultural practice and also strengthen their faith.[11]  

Elizabeth Loye used her Christian faith and education to liberate herself and other women in her community. Loye was one of the first women converts to Christianity in Nyanza. She burnt ‘Chieno’[12] , which was the symbol of her inferior status. Elizabeth also refused to undergo the widowhood rites. She went against culture and enhanced her skills as a cultivator, taking over the position of her husband as head of the family. She also became a leader in the society, and transformed the place and position of women.

One of the greatest advocates of women’s empowerment was Cicely Hooper. Cicely Hooper arrived in Kenya in 1916 and was appalled by the position of women in African Society. She published her views in a pamphlet entitled ‘Property in the highlands of East Africa’. Cicely set the picture of the African woman as a piece of property. She denounced female circumcision as disgusting and pleaded with the Europeans to atone for their exploitation of Africans by working for the welfare of African women. Mrs. Hooper was of the view that women’s work should be focused on creating a system of boarding schools and dormitories culminating into an inter-mission college designed to produce teachers, nurses and other trained women. Temporary immersion in such an institution, she felt would give them something to take their village lives that was not there before. In 1918, this proposal was made to the Alliance meeting in Kikuyu. Miss Hooper took the lead in defending this idea.[13]

 Women also used their Christian faith to liberate themselves from oppressive cultural Cultural practices. Many of them ran to the mission station where they got protection, while on the other hand the missionaries took the cases with the colonial administrators who administered justice to the girls. An example is Rachel one of the communicants who escaped to the mission station from forced marriage. The family had already received bride-wealth. Rachel escaped to the mission station, however the mother and brother followed her claiming that the case was already solved. When they took her from the mission station they started beating her and were even carrying a knife, with which they threatened to kill her. Miss moller who was in charge of the mission station at that time had to come to her rescue.[14]

Regina had been betrothed and the father given bride-wealth without her consent. Although Regina did not like the man and the man was not keen on marrying her, the father forced Regina into that marriage because he did not want to return the bride-wealth. Regina went to the mission station and appealed to Archdeacon Owen. Owen took the girl home and took the case to the court. The father was instructed to return the bride-wealth.[15] Most of the girls also ran to seek refuge in the mission station because there was no avenue of redress and also due to molestation by the parents. In most of this instances Owen took up these cases and intervened on behalf of the girls.[16]

4. Women’s Movement/Organisation as Avenue for Empowerment

In 1908, CMS lady missionaries in Africa felt that in order to be effective in women’s work they needed durable structures in order to go to the bottom of women’s work. They decided to focus on institutions both for girls’ education and vocational training. Their main priority was to train women teachers, evangelists and oversee women’s work. In 1918, at the Kikuyu conference of Protestant missionaries, Archdeacon Owen had proposed that there should be a separate women’s council to deal with their issues.[17] The emergence of women’s organisation became an aggressive line for challenging male domination in the Church. They proposed to use the principles of mothers union in England. Mother’s Union was a world-wide Anglican organization, concerned with all aspects of family life.

a)      Buch Mikayi

However, within the Anglican Church of Kenya there were contexual versions of the Mothers union. For example ‘Buch Mikayi’ or the senior wive’s forum[18] became the spring board of women’s empowerment and leadership in the Church.’Buch Mikayi’ was an initiative of Luo Christian women to recover the role played by ‘Mikayi’ in Leadership and decision making in Luo traditional society. The women believed that they had a central role to play in decision making. The concern for recovery of the critical role emerged because Luo women had little space to make decisions in newly established Church structures. This was demonstrated in the decision not to have women representatives in the African Church Councils. Women participated and made issues affecting them like polygamy and widowhood rites.

Mrs. Pleydell joined her husband in Ng’iya in 1923 and in conjunction with Moller formed an umbrella organisation for women. This brought together the already existing women’s groups within the Churches to form the women’s council. ‘Buch Mikayi’ had always been organized at the local Church level with the evangelist’s wife being the leader. Moller and Pleydell brought the Church initiatives together to form the district meeting. Each district would have monthly meetings. Women from all the districts would then gather for a quarterly meeting at Ng’iya. This meeting was attended by two representatives from each district. The main focus of the council was to teach and evangelize among women and girls. Moller was the first chairman of the women’s Council, while Miss Pleydell was the secretary.[19] CMS lady missionaries had decided that the principles of Mothers Union in England had to be adopted within the local context.

 In 1934, Mrs. Olive Owen joined Ng’iya mission station and continued with the work of Buch Mikayi. Olive believed that to a large extent Luo women themselves had to work out a solution to the issues that affected them. Owen wrote in his annual letter:

My wife’s monthly meetings with women, which are held at centres all over Kavirondo and in the townships have developed extensively. Between three and four thousand women attend these monthly gatherings. All kinds of subjects are discussed, a recent subject being the position of widows, especially the inheritance of widows. One of its objects is to get the public opinion among the women, especially with regard to features in African tribal life, which are an hindrance to a Christian life. A large measure of the salvation must come from women themselves.[20]

The major emphasis of Olive Owen was on teaching and counselling senior girls at the boarding school. The senior girls were co-opted into Buch Mikayi as helpers. They were requested to assist in the writing of minutes. The main purpose of co-opting the girls was to mentor them into leadership.[21] Olive Owen also emphasised the protection of girls from polygamous marriages and other related vices. They were to counsel and help young girls and women to make decisions about their lives. Buch Mikayi would help women to make decisions and guard against negative cultural practices that were felt to subdue women, like polygyny and widow inheritance. Buch Mikayi inspired and mentored young girls, giving them self-esteem. They discouraged them from early marriages and gave them sex-education in order to guard against pregnancy out of wedlock. They also encouraged the education of girls and talked to girls already in school to encourage other girls and later to pay for the education of their sisters.[22]

Buch Mikayi also acted as a pressure group to encourage disciplined families. They exerted pressure on people to respect the marriage institution.[23] The forum created space for women to deal with issues affecting them and suggested actions. These issues were brought to quarterly meetings that would then decide on disciplinary action. Women would make appeals if they felt that the decisions were unfair. The women’s council would then finally pass on the issues to the African Church council.[24] Through this kind of channel women participated in leadership of the Church. Their decisions and actions had far reaching consequences for Church and society. Buch Mikayi also focused on development issues. They contributed funds for charity both locally and internationally. During the Second World War, they contributed funds to women, bombed in England and Malta, through the East African Women’s League.[25] Buch Mikayi therefore became the base of networking with other organisations.

Esta Lala was a full time worker coordinating the women’s work at Ng’iya. Esta chaired the meetings of the Ng’iya District Council. Each Saturday she led women in groups of two’s or threes in doing evangelistic work around the villages. Esta Lala also worked at Ng’iya Girls boarding school from the time of its inception. Women’s work was an integral part of the school. Esta was widowed and experienced a lot of problems with her husband’s relatives. They wanted her to form certain cultural practices that she was not prepared to perform.

According to Luo culture, when a man died the woman had to remove ‘Chieno’, the traditional cloth and mourn naked. After the burial, the woman had to observe several days of mourning. She was not supposed to take a shower, sweep her house, or interact with anybody. After about one week, a string referred to as Okola would be tied to her waist symbolizing that she was unclean and was not supposed to interact with anybody. She was also not supposed to participate in any social and economic activities. This isolation would continue for one year, and the ban would only be lifted after the woman was remarried or inherited by the husband’s relative. Widow inheritance was therefore tied to participation in economic issues and the inheritance of property. Esta Lala defied these practices around widow inheritance and went to stay at the girls’ school.[26]

b) Mothers Union

Mothers Union was founded by Mary Sumner in Britain in 1846. The main focus of Mothers’ Union was to promote stable marriages, family life and protection of children. Mothers’ union in Kenya became a significant avenue through which women take positions of leaderships both at local and national levels in the Church. This was the avenue through which the Christian woman could make their voice to be heard. The first branch of mothers union was established in Kenya in 1918, in Central Kenya, Diocese of Forthall by Mrs. Mary Stewart Lawford. Mary was the wife of the British District Commissioner. Initially, membership of the mothers union was restricted to the white Anglican women. Mothers Union facilitated group social activities and weekly or bi-weekly meetings with focus on prayer, Christian fellowship and Bible study.

In 1950’s, Mothers Union was greatly influenced by Gladys Beecher. Gladys was born in 1901 and was the daughter of Harry and Mary Leakey, who came to Kenya as CMS Missionaries in 1902, and were stationed in Kabete. Gladys spoke fluent kikuyu as a child and was also greatly influenced by Kikuyu culture. Her mother was in charge of the girls’ boarding school in Kabete. Gladys married the Anglican Bishop of Mombasa, Dr. Leonard Beecher, and was one of the first women to be appointed National Vice-President of the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA).[27] She collaborated with the husband to write a Gikuyu-English dictionary. In 1955, Gladys founded the first multi-racial branch of Mothers’ Union in Kenya, in conjunction with Lillian Karuiki. Lillian was the wife of the first African Anglican Bishop in Kenya, Obadiah Karuiki. Mothers’ Union enrolled the first African members on 4th March 1956, under the leadership of Lillian. This was after a protest staged by six African women, including Jemima Gecaga, Ruth Habwe, Mary Mugo and Muthoni Likimani. They protested against the domination of white women, over African women. Mothers union was therefore opened up to African membership, in the context of change in the society and the awareness that colonial rule was coming to an end.

The focus of Mothers’ Union was was to give guidance to Anglican Church women groups, engaged in mutual support, prayer and farming. Mothers union took advantage of the wide spread and semi-formal women’s group and offered guidance and support to these groups. The focus was to help them to improve their communal work, co-operation and leadership skills. Branches were soon established in all Anglican Dioceses, and they provided professional training for women in new skills such as book keeping and small scale business management. They also gave the women improved skills in agriculture and vocational training for school drop outs. By 1960, they had structured vocational training programs aimed at increasing self-reliance among women. A wide network of literacy and Bible classes were taught by educated members of mothers union, and also had a job seeking service to assist unemployed members Mothers Union worked on three levels, namely, provision of educational and welfare services, Personal improvement and political level. Mothers’Union conscientized women on issues affecting them and discussed possible solutions to the practical problems. They had a wide range of programs addressing issues of social justie. The first official function of the new Mothers Union came in 1959, when a group of African Anglican women, paid a courtesy visit to Jomo Kenyatta in prison, where he was being held by the colonial government. The visit was made in the midst of public demand for the release of Kenyatta. Church members and clerics, including white clergy who were sympathetic with the fight for liberation praised women for their involvement in the socio-political arena. However, they were criticized by most white church members and administrators for interfering in politics.[28]

In the 1960s, Mothers’ Union focused on issues of community development, with the main focus on vocational training for those who had not completed their schooling. They offered literacy classes for adults, who had not been to school and acted as an employment agency for girls in the city. By 1970, their main focus was to expand programs for girls at the local level. They provided women with opportunities for savings and loans, thereby addressing one of the ways through which women were trapped in poverty. This was through lack of access to commercial financial services. Mothers’ Union also focused on teaching on nutrition to help prevent poor health. Women were taking formal employment in large numbers, therefore Mothers’ Union started organizing nursery school, in most cases in the church premises to help working mothers to care for their children, while earning a wage.[29] In 1980s, Mothers Union, like other religious spaces created a space for integration and created solidarity among women in the Dioceses, thus creating a space where women could meet and freely express their views. Mothers’ Union also fulfilled the role of raising women’s consciousness to issues within the society. Mothers’ Union meetings provided a unique space for women caught up in the struggle for survival, and was also a resistance movement. It became the basic unit for cottage industries integrating traditional handcrafts into the commercial market. In Mothers’Union meetings, women regardless of their education would gain information about political processes and learn their democratic rights and responsibilities.[30] In the 1990s, Mothers Union was the main instrument used to bridge social divisions between the members, especially class and ethnicity. Between 1993-2000’s Mothers’ Union in all the Anglican Dioceses, mainly focused in dealing with the HIV/Aids pandemic, especially caring for the orphans, since HIV was a major threat to the families. Mothers union, within the changing circumstances focus on working for a just and free society.  They focus on working for social justice, especially as far as women and children are concerned.

5. Women Ordination.

The Anglican Church of Kenya, just like the other Anglican Churches in the world had to discuss the idea of women being ordained as priests and serving in the ordained ministry. The first woman to be ordained in the Anglican Communion was in 1944. Florence Li Timoi had been priested by Bishop Hall, because it was war time and no man could be found to minister and give sacraments. This was mainly in response to the pastoral concern for Christians. Florence was a very charismatic and gifted person and was already carrying out all responsibilities of a Priest. The Lambeth Conference condemned Bishop Hall’s action, however they concluded that although the ordination was irregular, they had no options as the Christians had accepted Florence.[31]

However, the first major debate on women’s ordination was in the Lambeth conference of 1968. The Lambeth Conference made the following resolution:

Those member Churches who do not at present ordain women as deacons should now consider making the necessary legal and liturgical changes to enable them to do so, instead of admitting them to a separate order of Deaconesses [32]

After the Anglican consultative Council in Limuru, Hongkong was given the green light to ordain women, if its Diocesan Synod agreed. The Anglican Consultative Report entitled “The Time is Now’ resolved that any Bishop with the approval of the province should be given an approval of ordaining women. The women should be called and tested like any other man.

In Kenya, in 1978, after the Lambeth conference, the standing committee of the Provincial Synod passed a resolution allowing Women’s Ordination in Principle. Talking to the Standing Committee of the Provincial Synod, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church declared:

The position of the Anglican Church in Kenya is that we accepted in principle to ordain women, but we cannot push women into it. When they are ready, they will be processed through through proper channels of training and each Bishop will be free whether to ordain them or not. It now remains for Kenyan women to come out.[33]

It is within this context that Bishop John Henry Okullu Ordained Lucia Okuthe.                                                      

Lucia Auma was born on 25 December 1919, in Manyatta, Kisumu District. She was therefore nicknamed Sikuku (Christmas). Lucia was born to Ephraim Ochieng and Lina Awuor of Gem, and received her basic education in Pumwani in Nairobi. Between1934-38, she joined Ng’iya boarding school where she was trained as a teacher. She proceeded to work in Ng’iya , as a teacher in charge of the kindergarten class. She also taught in the Sunday school and helped in the annual camps. Lucia was described by Miss Moller in her annual letters as a trusted teacher, a sweet girl, who was loved by all the little ones. Lucia later went to train as a nurse at Kisumu medical school. Lucia, therefore through mission education, acquired for herself two most influential roles in Luo pre-colonial society, that of a teacher and medical worker.

In 1941, Lucia married Charles Okuthe of Ugenya. She worked as a midwife at Kakamega hospital and Vihiga health centre, as well as teaching at Vihiga teachers college. Grace Onyango and Julia Ojiambo, the first women members of parliament in Kenya were among her students. Grace Onyango later taught at Ng’iya girls’ school. Lucia worked as a matron and a cateress at Siriba Teachers College in Maseno. Lucia recieved the motivation for continuous education at Ng’iya. Although the missionaries were not directly encouraging higher training for girls, they saw their teachers especially Moller and Extance as role models, and felt that education was the only way for progress.  Lucia underwent theological training at St. Philips Bible College in Maseno between 1973-1976. She was a class-mate of the late Bishop Muge and Ven. Okeno Moyi, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Maseno West. According to Okeno Lucia was already viewed as a pastor by people at the college and several people around Maseno. Lucia was a very gifted person and several people went to her for counselling. She was prayerful and a gifted teacher of the word of God.

Lucia was made a deaconess in 1976, and assigned to do chaplaincy work at Siriba College and Maseno hospital and also did pastoral work in the Churches. Meanwhile, there was still great controversy over the ordination of women in Kenya. In 1978, after the Lambeth Conference, the Standing Committee of the Provincial Synod passed a resolution allowing women’s ordination in principle. Talking to Target Newspaper the Archbishop Mannases Kuria of the Anglican Church declared that the Anglican Church in Kenya had accepted in principle to ordain women, but women could not be pushed into it. When women are ready they would be processed through proper channels of training and each Bishop would decide whether to ordain them or not, it now remained for women to come out.

After consultation within the Diocese of Maseno South, Lucia commonly referred to as Jaduong[34] by her parishioners was ordained deacon in July 1980. This led to a lot of controversy in the Anglican Church of Kenya. The Archbishop maintained that the ordination of Lucia was not in order. He maintained that all women who wanted to undergo training had to pass through the Kenya Anglican Council of Training Ordained Ministers(KACTOM).[35] After training the Archbishop’s opinion had to be sought before ordination. The Archbishop maintained that the ordination of Lucia was not procedurally correct because even the Church of England had not yet ordained women. The Archbishop maintained that although the bishops had power to ordain without consulting the Archbishop, it was not so for the ordination of a woman. In April 1982, the Diocese of Maseno-South unanimously agreed to proceed with the ordination of Lucia to the priesthood. However in November 1982 the Provincial Synod reversed their earlier decision on the ordination of women. They maintained that  although the ordination of women was accepted in principle by the Province, many Christians do not fully understand the implications. It was therefore recommended that all Diocesan Synods communicate their votes ‘for’ and ‘Against’ (Provincial Unit of Research, 1994:170)

In January 1983 Lucia was ordained the first woman priest in the Anglican Church of Kenya. This generated a lot of controversy. Most of the opponents of women’s ordination argued that, although there was no scriptural or theological problem, it was not yet time to ordain women. The main opponents argued that there were more pertinent issues in the Church, especially on issues of relationship between Church and state. Lucia however maintained that women’s empowerment was the main issue in the Church. She said that there was no need for the Church to tell the state about issues of justice, human dignity and rights, while the Church does not observe the same. In his sermon during the ordination of Lucia, Bishop Okullu maintained that it would be a betrayal of his theological conviction to deny Mrs. Okuthe the right to serve in her capacity as a minister in the church. Several churches in the Anglican communion had ordained women to be clergy. The Bishop maintained that he did not want to be a stumbling block to Lucia’s call, if God had called her and she had also met all the requirements as per the synod. Bishop Okullu maintained that he was sure that if Jesus came today, he would appoint women to serve him.

The Bishop maintained that the time had come for women to take greater responsibility in the Church. He cited that Lucia had devotedly served the Church for many years. Despite the raging controversy among the hierarchy of the Church, Lucia did her work with confidence. She maintained that when Christ called an individual it was important to obey the call. Lucia argued that the Church preached equality between people, so it was important for the Church to practice their teaching. Lucia was alarmed at the citing of the authority of African culture to bar women from ordination. She pointed out that the women held leadership positions in pre-colonial Luo society. Lucia felt that culture had been used selectively to oppress women in Africa.  Lucia maintained that it was important to retain aspects of culture which enhanced human dignity. On the other hand, Christians must be in the fore-front in criticising aspects of culture which dehumanised women. Lucia maintained that the Gospel was however above any culture. She maintained that the Church leadership had a tendency to spend more time in board meetings at the expense of fulfilling the mission of Christ. Lucia must have had a lot of influence from the emphasis on the use of vernacular at Ng’iya, and translation of scripture. This had resulted in a creative interaction between the Bible and Luo culture.

Most of the parishioners welcomed the ordination of Lucia. One of the journalists from Lucia’s parish pointed out that the ordination was an historical event of which they were proud. It met with unanimous applause, particularly from the parishioners in Muhoroni. The Christians felt that the ordination was a challenge to womenfolk who still did not realise that the long debated equality was not just an ideal but a reality. It  presented an opportunity for women to show their talents. The journalists asserted that during the period the Rev. Lucia had served in the Songhor parish as a deacon, her congregation were always thrilled with her services. They were often left inquisitive by some of the remarks she had made.[36]

Lucia who was widowed early in marriage was one of the first women to buy a farm and establish her home in a cosmopolitan place at Muhoroni Settlement scheme, which was viewed as going against Luo culture. Lucia acted as a voice for Luo widows within the Anglican Church. Many widows looked up to her for advice and inspiration. This must have been the strong influence of Ng’iya, which focused on women’s issues, among them issues surrounding widowhood. Lucia was a farmer and felt that she needed to approach her ministry differently. She maintained that most of the male clergy were served and given gifts by women, when they are performing their pastoral work. However, for her, the priority was to meet the basic needs of the poor where possible. She maintained that the poor should not be struggling to give her what they cannot afford. Lucia therefore kept a vegetable garden from which people who visited her could get provision.

Lucia had established an orchard farm from which members of the community got provisions. The members of the community referred to her as ‘Okebe’, a wealthy leader whose home was a refuge place for many. Matthew Onyango, one the Diocesan drivers confirmed that Lucia’s home was a hive of activity. There were different groups, especially young people and women who came to consult her over different issues. Rev. Lucia’s ministry was quite challenging because most of the time the parish could not pay her dues. However, she was confident as she was a farmer and could meet her own basic needs. One of the activities she enjoyed most at Ng’iya was gardening, from where she learnt new farming methods. Lucia mainly felt called to a prayer ministry. She had a special focus on the widows and the sick. She also mentored young girls.

Lucia died in 1989 and in her her funeral Bishop Okullu maintained that he had lost a prayer partner. Lucia would go to his office and pray with him over different aspects of the ministry of the Diocese. By the time of Lucia’s death she had officially retired but was still visiting the sick in hospitals. Lucia could be classified as thuon among the Luo, because of her courage, she opened the door for women’s ordination in the church. Her action generated a lot of controversy and debates on issues such as the role of women in the church, the nature of ministry, issues of power and authority in church, and the relationship between Christianity and culture, and the place of traditional culture in a changing society. Lucia believed that her Christian faith and education gave her the capacity to weather the storm.

6. Conclusion

This paper has established that women and girls were central to mission work in the Anglican Church of Kenya. The women have played a central role in inspiring mission work. Women have also played a key role both as lay and ordained leaders in the Church. The women played a very central role in the establishment of the Church. The women have participated in decision making in the Church. The women have used the Church structures to fight against injustices and oppression and liberate themselves. The Church has focused on empowering women through education and also social and economically.



  1. Atieno-Odhiambo & David Cohen, Siaya: The Historical Anthropology of an African Landscape London: James Currey, 1989
  2. Collas Dawson Edwin, Missionary Heroines in Many Lands London: CMS, 1924
    1. Cole Keith, The Cross Over Mount Kenya: A Short History of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Mount Kenya 1900-1970 London: CMS, 1970
    2. Gathogo Julius, Mutira Mission: An African Church Come of Age Kijabe: Zapf Chancery, 2011
    3. Higgs Eleanor Tiplady “Mothers Union in Kenya 1955-2015” SOAS, London, 2015
    4. Reed Collins, Pastors, Partners and Paternalists: African Church Leaders and Western Missionaries in the Anglican Church 1850-1900 New York: Brill, 1997
    5. Richard Elizabeth, Fifty Years of Christianity in Nyanza Maseno: CMS 1956
    6. Sabar Galia Church, State and Society in Kenya: From Mediation to Opposition 1963-1993 London: Frank Cass, 2002
    7. Strayer Robert, The Making of Missions communities in Africa London: Heinmann, 1978

Primary Documents

  1. Annual Letters from CMS Archives Birmingham
  2. Lambeth Documents

[1] Dawson Edwin Collas, Missionary Heroines in Many Lands: The Stories of the Intrepid Bravery and Patient Endurance of Missionaries in their Encounter with Uncivilized Man, Wild Beasts and Forces of Nature in all Parts of the World (London: CMS, 1924), 179

[2] Reed Collin, Pastors, Partners and Paternalists: African Church Leaders and Western Missionaries in the Anglican Church of Kenya 1850- 1900  (New York: Brill,1997), 148

[3] Cora Anne Presley, Kikuyu Women, The Mau Mau Rebellion and Social Change in Kenya (London: James Currey,1992), 82

[4] Keith Cole, The Cross Over Mount Kenya: A Short History of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Mount Kenya 1900-1970 (London: CMS,1970), 38

[5] Richards Elizabeth, Fifty Years of Christianity in Nyanza (Maseno, Jubilee, 1956), 5

[6] Miss Moller, Annual Letter CMS Archives  G3/AL/01923 Moller

[7] Atieno-Odhiambo & Cohen D,Siaya: The Historical Anthropology of African Landscape(London: James Currey, 1989), 114-115                 

[8] Pleydell, Annual Letter  CMS Archives G3/AL01927-28 Pleydell

[9] Moller, Annual Letter 1927-1928 CMS Archives CMS G3/AL 01927-28 Moller

[10] Moller, Annual Letter, 1933 CMS Archives CMS G3/AL/ 01933 Moller

[11] Julius  Gathogo, Mutira Mission: An African Church Come of Age (Kijabe: Zapf Chancery, 2011), 144                                                              

[12] Chieno was the traditional cloth, which symbolized inferiority. When a man died the wife had to remove Chieno and mourn naked. She was not supposed to take a shower, sweep her house or interact with anybody. After about one week, a string referred to as okola would be tied to her waist symbolising that she was unclean and was not supposed to participate in social and economic activities. This isolation would continue for one year, and the ban would only be lifted after the woman was remarried by the husband’s relative. Widow inheritance was therefore tied to participation in social issues and her status in society. It was also tied to participation in economic issues and inheritance of property

[13] Strayer Robert, The Making of Mission Communities in East Africa (London, Heinmann, 1978), 18

[14] Moller, Annual Letter, CMS Archives G3/AL/01928 Moller

[15] Owen, Annual Letter, CMS Archives G3/AL/01921 Owen.

[16] Owen, Annual Letter, CMS Archives G3/AL/01939 Owen

[17][17] Miss Hooper to Moller 11 August 1918, KNA: Mss. Afr

[19] Miss Moller, Annual Letter 1924 CMS: G3/AL/01924 Moller

[20] Owen, ‘Annual Letter’, 1939 G3/Ow/AL/1939

[21] Peresis Omollo, interview with the author March 2003.

[22] Mildred Ololo, Interview with author, Maranda, April 2004.

[23] Mical Ogot Interview with Francis Otieno, Ng’iya June, 2004.

[24] Owen, ‘Annual Letter’, CMS: 1939 G3/AL/01939 Owen.

[25] Owen, ‘Annual Letter’,1943 CMS: G3/AL/01943.

[26] Moller, Annual Letter, 1924 CMS: G3/AL/01924 Moller

[27] Eleanor Tipaldy Higgs, “Mothers Union in Kenya 1955-2015” (London: SOAS, 2015), 3

[28] Galia Sabar, Church State and Society in Kenya: From Mediation to Opposition 1963-93 (London: Frank Cass, 2002), 56-57

[29] Sabar, Church State and Society in Kenya, 58

[30] Higgs, “Mothers Union in Kenya 1955-2015”, 201

[31] Harrison Ted, ‘Much Beloved Daughter: The Chinese Christian Who became the First Anglican Woman Priest’ ( London, Longman  ,1985)

[32] Lambeth documents, 1968

[33] Target Newspaper, September 2, 1978

[34] Jaduong, term used by Luo for elders especially men, but comes from root word duong or senior

[35] KACTOM had been set up especially to interview Anglican students who were undergoing training at  St. Pauls, which was a United Theological college. All the students being trained at the Diocesan theological colleges never went through KACTOM.

[36] Partrick Omondi, Daily Nation January, 27 1983.

Rev. Dr. Emily Onyango

Rev. Dr. Emily Onyango



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