Presbyterian Church of East Africa celebrates four decades of women’s ordination

PCEA’s moderator says he’s ‘a product of the ministry of women’

by the Rev. Lauren Scharstein for Mission Crossroads | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Susan Nina speaks during last month’s Presbyterian Church of East Africa celebration of 40 years of women’s ordination. (Contributed photo)

On Sunday, Sept. 4, at the historic Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) Church of the Torch, the PCEA celebrated 40 years of women’s ordination within the denomination.

During the celebration, the PCEA moderator, the Rt. Rev. Thegu Mutahi, declared that the celebration is not only a celebration for women, but also a celebration for the whole church because the whole church has benefited from the ministry and leadership of ordained women. He told the gathered congregation, “I am a product of the ministry of women,” as he recounted a story of the parish minister from his home congregation, the Rev. Ruth Muthoni Ngaari, who advocated for him when he was beginning the journey toward ordination. Without her boldness and mentorship, he would not be in the position he is today. 

It was Sept. 5, 1982, when Jane Nyambura Njoroge was ordained as a Minister of Word, Sacrament and Order at PCEA Bahati Martyrs’ Church. The 40 years’ celebration is a testament to the courage and faithfulness of those pioneer women who endured criticism and sneers to follow God’s call in their lives. More than 40 years ago, the Holy Spirit was moving through the PCEA as discussions began in the PCEA’s General Assembly committees about whether women could be ordained as clergy. There were vocal advocates and vocal opponents, but ultimately the Holy Spirit led the church toward the decision to include women as clergy.  

The 40 years’ celebration was launched at PCEA Bahati Martyrs’ Church, where Nyambura was ordained. A week of celebratory activities followed. According to the Rev. Susan Nina, one of the coordinators of the celebration, “the launch was so beautiful,” and it was made even more special by the “participation from all the women ministers from across the regions of PCEA. For Nina, the highlight of the celebration was visiting the five families of deceased women clergy who continue to be acknowledged for their faithfulness as pioneers in ordained ministry and whose legacy live on in the ministry of their daughters in the faith. 

The celebration also included a two-day academic symposium at the Presbyterian University of East Africa, where women and men presented papers related to the legacy and contributions of women in ministry. A vigorous discussion followed the presentations regarding the obstacles that continue to hinder the ordination of women in Africa. Participants identified various barriers such as gender stereotypes, traditional cultures and patriarchal church structures as challenges that need to be deconstructed and overcome for the church to reach a place of true equality and kinship.

The Right Rev. Thegu Mutahi, at left, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, prays during last month’s celebration of four decades of women’s ordination. (Contributed photo)

As the final celebration neared, Mutahi pointed the church toward the future and acknowledged the importance of women’s ordination for the young people today.

Our daughters know that this is their church, because they can look up to the women who have gone before them and those who are currently serving as ministers and they realize there is a place for them in this church,” Mutahi said. The PCEA continues to celebrate the gift of women’s ordination and service in the church of Jesus Christ.  

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