the leading members stood up and thanked Bishop Given for his encouragement and defence of the place of women in the church. A casual observer might find that a rather strange comment as the leadership (ordained and lay) of the Diocese of Kondoa is very obviously male and all the clergy are male. And indeed, Kondoa being a rural and strongly Muslim area, that is the pattern in wider society as well. But it always pays to look beneath the surface.
For the past few years the Kondoa Bible School has run a women’s empowerment programme. The students are mainly fairly young women, including some who are from the Muslim community. The empowerment on offer may seem fairly limited to some, as it centres around literacy, numeracy and skills such as sewing. But these skills, as well as the general experience of studying together, give confidence and open up possibilities (e.g. for economic
activity) which have not been there before. The Bible School itself also has women among its students, mainly studying for Certificate level qualifications. It also has two women on the staff. One of these is Janeth, a young woman who has just returned from theological study in Kenya where she had excellent results. She now has the possibility of further study at a higher level at some point.
Meanwhile in the parishes, my impression is that more and more of the Catechists (lay ministers) are women. These Catechists often do the work of church-planting and evangelism, and are then leaders of individual congregations within a larger parish. In one parish we visited, where growth is clearly happening, there are 6 Catechists – 2 men and 4 women.
All of this may seem unremarkable to us, where we have now become used to lay and ordained ministry being open both to women and men. But in a place like
Kondoa, these trends are truly remarkable. Bishop Given sees the advancement of opportunities to women as a gospel necessity; quite what the effect of this will be in such a clearly Muslim society is yet to be seen. Meanwhile in our other Tanzanian partner diocese of Mpwapwa, where the church has been established for very much longer, the first woman has just been ordained. I rather suspect that Kondoa will not be far behind – though it does already have one ordained woman in the form of Lilian, the Bishop’s wife.
The development of women in leadership in Kondoa is part of a wider programme of leadership development in that Diocese. 5 years ago, Bishop Given inherited a situation where hardly any of his clergy had had any formal training. While the numbers are small, the change is significant. A handful of clergy have now studied to Diploma level on serious courses in both Tanzania and Kenya, and degrees are on the way. The Bishop plans for all clergy to have at least passed through the Kondoa Bible School by 2022 – though a few can’t see the point. The Bishop has growing evidence that the clergy who have been through some formal training are the ones who have vision and lead growing churches. Rochester support for some of this development has been important; it is something I hope we will continue to support, as it is vital for the future and will help the church in Kondoa to be self-sustaining in the longer-term.