Rev. Canon Dr Emily Awino Onyango

The consecration of Onyango—59 years old—comes 32 years after the election of Bishop Barbara Harris in the Episcopal Church in Massachusetts in the USA. Harris was the first woman bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, while Onyango is the second female Anglican bishop in Africa after Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa. Wamukoya was elected in 2012. 

“The journey to join the ministry has been a long one with wonderful memories such as the fear that I would not manage to carry the Chalice and administer Holy Communion. (I) am grateful to my family, my late parents.... and.... sisters and brothers…. who provided all the support I needed to grow in ministry,” said Onyango in her acceptance speech. 

She said the bishop had appointed her as an assistant to help build a vibrant and well-managed church in line with the diocese's vision and mission. 

“It’s a great challenge, but I want to do things in a different way to bring about change,” Onyango, mother of two, said. “I hope my work can inspire more women to take leadership in the church.” 

According to Onyango, the current times of pandemics such as HIV and AIDS have brought about complexities in culture and theology. 

“Today, we are living in the COVID-19 challenge. This has brought to light, like HIV and AIDS, ‘shadow pandemics’ and gender stereotyping that lead to many social, economic, spiritual and physical deaths,” said Onyango. “The challenge for leaders at all fronts is the need (for) new ways of responding to these deaths from a solid theological foundation…” 

For Onyango, the laity and clergy who are responding to the post-pandemic challenges need to learn new ways. According to the priest, the immediate task will be to develop a curriculum for the training of clergy and lay people, address gender-based violence and also focus on the empowerment of children. 

“The training and learning we require and which I propose… is inclusive of technology. How do we do pastoral care through technology to deal with the shadow pandemics of gender-based violence, sexual violence producing child and teenage mothers, pandemics of mental illnesses exposed and not exposed, anxiety, depression, and suicide?” she said.

A scholar and a researcher, Onyango had been teaching church history at Saint Paul’s University in the Limuru area near Nairobi. She obtained her doctorate from the University of Wales in the United Kingdom, her master’s from the Asian Centre of Theological Studies and a bachelor of divinity from the Saint Paul’s United College, now Saint Paul’s University College. She was made a deacon in 1984, a priest in 1986 and a canon in the Diocese of Bondo in 2018. 

She has taught in Saint John’s School of Theology in Kokise in Siaya, Western Kenya and Saint Andrew’s Kabare, two Anglican institutions where she rose to become the academic dean and later the principal. 

“This has opened a door for inclusion of women in spiritual nurture of the society and leadership in the church. Canon…follows in the steps of women in the Bible who excelled in providing leadership to the nation…,” said Rev. Canon Chris Kinyanjui, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Kenya.