A Methodist theologian from Ghana and former World Council of Churches (WCC) deputy general secretary known for promoting and elevating African women's theological work on gender, ecumenism and social justice was honoured at a recent conference on African women church leaders in Limuru, Kenya.
Her groundbreaking theological work included the recognition that for African women church leaders in the last half century, addressing the issue of HIV and AIDS was crucial.
Founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, Dr Mercy Amba Oduyoye, 80, has influenced African women in church leadership for more than a half century. She served as the WCC deputy general secretary from1987 to 1994 and is now director of the Institute of Women in Religion and Culture at the Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana.
The conference, which celebrated women’s ministry in African churches, was hosted by the St. Paul’s University chapter of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. It is being held in Limuru from 19 to 21 June in collaboration the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The conference focused on the role of African women as pastors, ministers of various kinds and bishops of congregations and churches. These leadership roles enabled them to put HIV and AIDS up front on the agenda of their Christian ministry, with the goal of providing healing within communities affected by the disease.
“African women have been active in Christian ministry for more than a quarter of a century,” Oduyoye said.
“We remember where we have come from, thinking of the roads we have walked, the prayers we have prayed, discerning the hand of God in these journeys, being confident of God's faithfulness and seeking guidance for the roads ahead,” she said.
Oduyoye, who has authored a number of books focusing on women, says the issue of HIV is an important one for women theologians. She said, “When no one openly spoke about HIV, African women theologians came out and challenged the stigma attached to the disease. They said this disease is like any other, and invoked compassion among the church leaders.”
She explained to the gathering how the All Africa Conference of Churches, inspired by the theological language of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, has addressed the issue of HIV and AIDS.
When African theologians and ordained women are celebrating their work, Oduyoye said, they still know that HIV and AIDS is a persistent challenge.
“Yet, now that we know a little more about the situation, we are a bit more prepared, so God is working among us in relation to dealing with HIV and AIDS,” she added.
The WCC 10th Assembly's call to embark on a “pilgrimage of justice and peace” is in line with the work to support communities faced with the threat of the HIV pandemic, Oduyoye said.
“Peace means Shalom, complete welfare and well-being of all people, so what better way to promote Shalom is there than to take care of people? We know who these people are, why they are sick, so we need to comfort these people affected or infected by HIV,” concluded Oduyoye.
African women celebrate their Christian ministry in a time of HIV and AIDS (WCC news release of 23 June 2014)
More information on Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa
WCC programme on Women in Church and Society