The rejection of women as Bishop in the Church of England has been viewed by Church and soceity as a ridiculous decision. The situation is fast becoming one that is potraying the Church as backward and not in torch with progress. I do agree that the decision is shameful as I think women should be allowed to become Bishops. But Church of England is only one expression of the Catholic Church (Church Universal) as there are other traditions of the Church that have women Bishops. To start with some of the Free Churches have women in positions similar to Bishops. An example is the Baptist Union of Great Britain which has women as regional ministers (equivalent of Bishops) although there has not been many of them but have at least allowed women to hold these posts. Another Free Church tradition which certainly has women Bishops are the Pentecostal Churches. Here in London is Archbishop Fidelia Onyuku-Opukiri, who is the founder of Born Again Christ Healing Church, another is Bishop Donnet Thomas, founder of the Power of the Living Word International Ministries . In Africa there are many women Bishops such as Bishop Bola Odeleke, founder of Power Pentecostal Church in Nigeria and Archbishop Dorcas Olaniyi also in Nigeria. Why is it important to flag this up? It is important because Church of England does not represent the whole Church, it is just one expression of the Church. It is also important because most of the time African Churches are percieved as backward but in this matter they are way ahead. Here is a brief profile of Archbishop Dorcas Olaniyi as an example of women Bishops in Africa
Archbishop Dr Siyanbola Olaniyi is one of the advocates of women getting involved in Church leadership in Nigeria. The patriarchal nature of the Traditional Religion and culture in Nigeria restricts women in leadership or authoritative positions. The Mission Churches (Anglican, Baptist Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic Church) also put limitations on women in regards to leadership. However Pentecostal Churches, both the African Iindependent Churches (AICs) and the Neo-Pentecostal Churches (NPCs), are encouraging women in leadership. ‘Mama Agbala’ (Mother of the Courtyard), as she is fondly called by people, received a divine mandate to empower women to take up leadership positions in the Church and the wider society. To fulfil this vision she established a Bible College that teaches gender equality from the outset. [i]
Mama Agbala was raised under the care of Baptist missionaries and she attended a Baptist secondary school in Jos, Nigeria. In 1950 at the age of seventeen she received a prophetic vision that changed her life and came to define her prophetic ministry.[ii] She began to function as a prophetess within Chirst Apostolic Church (CAC) and she later attended Igbaja Bible School founded by Sudan Interior Missions (SIM), which later became Evangelical Churches of West Africa (ECWA). Mama Agbala is also well educated earning qualifications in Domestic Science and Midwifery. She later became a nurse and a teacher.
Mama started freelance evangelistic activities in 1977 and in 1979 she received a vision which led to the founding of Agbala Daniel Church (Daniel’s Courtyard Church), a Pentecostal Church in Ibadan. The Church was registered with the Nigerian government in 1986. Mama received the vision to build a cathedral of the Church in 1995 and this has now become the headquarters of the Agbala Daniel Church worldwide. The Church has branches in different parts of Nigeria, Britain and the United States of America. Mama Agbala has travelled extensively all over the world preaching the Gospel. Her TV programme became famous in the 1980s because of a particular song she used to sing, ‘Otito Koro’ meaning ‘the truth is bitter’. She is an excellent example of a female Bishop presiding over several Churches and ministers which includes men. Perhaps the Church of England can learn from Pentecostal Churches and in this case African Pentecostal Churches.
[i] Bola Olukemi Bateye, Forging Identities: Women as participants and leaders in the Church among the Yoruba, in Studies in World Christianity, Volume 13, Number 1, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2007, pp.6-8.
[ii] An Interview with Archbishop Dr Siyonbola Olaniyi from January-March 2008 at her residence in Ibadan, Nigeria