“They said, ‘Where have you ever seen a woman being a priest?’ They couldn’t understand why, of all things, I’d want to do this,” recalled Kgabe. “They said, ‘Maybe you want to be a nun.’ I was clear that was not what I wanted to be.”
Along the path to becoming a priest, Kgabe learned the difference between what she calls a “Sunday priest” versus a “Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday” priest. “It might sound cliche, but the priest in me had to learn to love God’s people, because people would do and say things to you, to themselves, to others, but we’re called to love them, even when they don’t want to love us or love themselves.”
From Monday to Saturday, a priest sees people in their own space, Kgabe reflected. “Someone coming in, dressed up on Sunday, that is one encounter, but one had to really make sure everyone felt seen, heard, and loved,” she said. “That was a challenge. That made and shaped the ministry I had.”
Becoming a bishop
Now she is Right Rev. Dr Vicentia Kgabe, bishop of the Diocese of Lesotho, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, consecrated, and installed on 5 December 2021. She recalled her own disbelief when she first heard the news she was elected.
“They elected me on a Sunday in September 2021,” she said. “I didn’t tell anyone that my name was in the running, because I did not want it to be disappointing. Not even my close friends knew—nobody knew.”
But there was a message on her phone from the Office of the Archbishop. And not just one—multiple messages. I thought, “something is wrong in the church.”
When she finally learned she’d been elected, she said she’d pray about it. “They said, ‘you can’t pray about it, we need an answer now.’ After that, I got calls immediately from other bishops congratulating me.”
As the communication went into a whirlwind, she let the phone ring, not answering because she was processing the moment.
“The first person I called was my mother,” she said. “I think she thought I was joking because of something in my voice.”
She had been elected to serve as bishop of Lesotho—a place where her parents went into exile during apartheid. “For me, I didn’t realize how emotional it was until Mom started talking about it,” she said.
Almost immediately, she felt the weight of great responsibility. “The people wanted someone to come in and fix the diocese, to bring peace into the diocese, to bring hope to the diocese,” she said. “I did not understand how I would bring all of these things. I remember telling the archbishop, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ ”
Not only did she question herself at times—but the questioning from others continued as well. “Some people asked why I would want to be bishop of Lesotho rather than a principal at a theological college? Some people said, ‘Oh gosh, this is the end of you.’ One of the first things I did was to go around Lesotho on a listening process, meeting the people and listening—because people have a lot to say.”
Kgabe is sure she has made people uncomfortable along the way. “I’m a woman in leadership in a country that has never had women in leadership like that,” she said. “It’s very challenging. I’m aware of that and I don’t want to pretend it’s not an elephant in the room.”
What would Kgabe say to her 16-year-old self today? “I was a 16-year-old who could have changed her mind,” she said. “I would say, ‘You made the right choice. You were brave. You stood for something when you didn’t even know what it was, what it looked like. You were just naive and trusted the process, and you did well by not having preconceived ideas and notions, by not seeing this as prestige.