Kenya synod affirms support for women bishops

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All Saints Nairobi.jpg
All Saints Nairobi

The 24th meeting of Anglican Church of Kenya’s General Synod has adopted the first reading of amendments to its constitution governing the election of bishops and creation of new dioceses.

Meeting from 25-26 September 2019 at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi, clergy and lay delegates from the 40 Kenyan dioceses along with members of the House of Bishops adopted proposals to reform the episcopal election process and to clarify language allowing and encouraging women priests to stand for election to the episcopate. The resolutions will  now been sent to the dioceses for review. They will return to the next meeting of Synod in 2021 for action.

The text of the official resolutions have not yet been released by the provincial secretary, but participants in the meeting report the synod discussed how to prevent litigation over contested elections. In recent years a number of episcopal elections have been marred by charges of favoritism, with the outgoing bishop seeking to influence the voters to select his man. One proposal under consideration is to have the election of a new bishop not take place until at least 90 days after the previous bishop has left office. 

A second proposal would raise the minimum age of episcopal election from 35 to 45 — permitting a maximum term of 20 years in office as bishops must retire on reaching the age of 65. The delegates believed it was not healthy for a diocese to freeze its leaders in place for up to 30 years, given the rapid growth of the church and the changing religious environment in Kenya.

Delegates to synod are also understood to have reaffirmed their support for women bishops, AI was told. The language of the current constitution states that any priest in good standing in the province aged 35 and older is eligible to stand for election. The consensus of synod was that the language of the constitution should explicity state that male or female clergy may stand for election — not relying upon grammar to imply that male pronouns in the language of the constitution include the female.

While the constitution and canons permit the election of female bishops in Kenya, the current Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Rev. Jackson Ole Sapit, has endorsed the GAFCON moratorium on electing new female bishops in the GAFCON provinces. South Sudan has a female assisting bishop, but the GAFCON archbishops have pledged to oppose the election of new women bishop at this time.

Other resolutions put forward discussed the criteria for forming new dioceses from existing dioceses, making clear the requirement that they be financiall viable and not merely constructed in response to tribal pressures.

Resolutions addressing deforestation, climate change and other local economic and social issues were adopted by the meeting, while the senior bishop in the province, the Rt. Rev.  Charles Mwendwa, Bishop of Meru, was elected provincial dean.