THE North-western Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania will soon bid farewell to the first Tanzanian and African woman to study theology in the continent, after her retirement at 69, creating room for other females to succeed her, and end ‘male chauvinism’ in the Church.
Before being ordained as a Pastor in 2006, Rev. Alice Kabugumila obtained her Masters Degree in Theology from The Lutheran Seminary of Philadelphia in the United States, between 1984 and 1986.
She subsequently endured 20 solid years of patience until 2006, when the North-western Diocese endorsed her ordination.
She had previously pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Divinity in 1978.
It was little wonder that her ascendancy was greeted with tremendous excitement, considering that she was a pioneer female cleric of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT).
The breakthrough was recorded amid intensive global movements to address obstacles that curtailed women’s active participation in various critical spheres of life, including economic, social, cultural and political platforms in the late 80s.
Recently, a series of women’s movements shot to the fore, including the famous one in Beijing in 1995, where a strong declaration was pronounced, focused on achieving greater equality and opportunities for women in all spheres of life.
The declaration made at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, by the then General Secretary, Tanzania’s Dr Gertrude Mongella, essentially literally sparked off a huge ‘fire’ among the womenfolk, which could not be easily extinguished.
Its because, having been undermined for a long time due to male chauvinistic tendencies, there would be no turning back to the previous era of being undermined as virtual second class human beings.
The declaration was an emphatic determination to be acknowledged as human beings on an equal footing with males, the gender aspect being an incidental aspect derived from God the creator, who never pronounced that a particular gender was superior to the other !
Coincidentally, it was almost during the same period, when the issue of ordination of female pastors was also gaining momentum, following a declaration by the Theological Education Department of the World Council of Churches (WCC) between 1988 and 1998.
In the wake of the heat, a renowned Ghanaian theologian, Dr Mercy Amba Oduyoye, tabled a motion that required WCC members to urgently end patriarchal practices and pave the way for women’s participation in the church governance systems.
In a Swahili book whose liberal English translation is “The 25 years Jubilee since Women’s Ordination for Priesthood 1990-2015” Rev Alice Kabugumila was described as a daring woman, who wouldn’t accept to be bypassed by the wave of change for gender inclusiveness.
She fought tooth and nail to end the male prerogative and marked the dawn of a new era, embracing women’s participation in the church service.
Even though the ELCT headquarters endorsed the decision for the ordination of female pastor(s) in 1990, yet the North-Western Diocese was somewhat reluctant, until 16 years later.
The argument was that the move had to be preceded by through research and thorough consultations to ensure that it did not compromise any of the church’s basics and ethics.
In 2000, the Diocese commissioned teams to undertake further research into the matter, but unfortunately it predominantly comprised males.
Naturally, the findings they came up with weren’t surprising; including the argument that time wasn’t ripe yet for female shepherds to perform the formal rites and administer church sacraments.
As a result, the findings of the teams prompted the Diocese to reject ordination of female pastors by a total of 185 against 86 votes that were cast on the issue.
“The male chauvinism mindset was so deep-rooted in our society that even women were not willing to vote for the proposal supporting inclusion of fellow women in the church service,” said Rev Kabugumila, who owes all her achievements to prayers and patience, despite all the hassles she came across along the way towards her ordination.
In 2002, the Diocese held another meeting to further debate and decide on the matter. Even though about 54 percent of the members accepted the proposal, yet the votes did not constitute a substantial percentage required for its full endorsement.
However, the momentum for ordination of female clergy kept growing and incredibly in 2004 the agitation was so irresistible that out of 125 members who cast ballots, 120 members (98 percent) were in favour of the proposal.
This sent a clear message that the Diocese could not have to wait any more for men and women to share equal opportunities and responsibilities in the church service.
Rev. Kabugumila and the other female pastors, including Dr Faith Lugazia, were finally ordained as female clerics at a colourful ceremony on 8th January 2006.
Had it not been for the 2005 General Election that were being held in the country around that period, the long awaited ordination was primarily scheduled to take place as much earlier as December 2005.
Although Reverend Alice Kabugumila (69) retires only 12 years after serving as a pastor, her ordination in 2006 absolutely raised the curtains for a new era in the church service, which has now seen more women coming in as shepherds of God’s flock.
Some are holders of key religious positions previously held by men. From a single Tanzanian and African female theologian in the late seventies, the diocese has close to ten female clergy to-date and over 200 elsewhere in the country working in various leadership capacities.
Before and after her ordination, Rev. Alice Kabugumia, a wife and mother of five children (all males) demonstrated her abilities through heading a number of local and international departments and missions linked to religious institutions.
The first Tanzanian and African female pastor, who is now eyeing for her PhD in near future, has also presented a number of papers at local and international forums, especially those concerning the role of women in social, economic and political development.
Some of these papers include the one entitled ‘The role of Women in Missionary Activities’ that she delivered at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, citing the Biblical incidents on how women were at the forefront in the establishment of the church in the Far East and Europe.
‘Women and Environment’ delivered at Makumira University is among her popular papers, underlining the importance of both men and women’s active engagement in environmental conservation.
The paper also highlights the Biblical instance regarding Eve and Adam whom the Almighty God tasked to take care of the Garden of Eden.