By Prudence Minayo
With a ministerial career spanning over three decades, Dr Emily Awino Onyango was in January 2021 appointed assistant bishop in the Bondo Diocese. This made her the very first woman in East and Central Africa to hold this position. She also became the second woman in the continent to be consecrated a Bishop of the Anglican Church after South Africa’s Elinah Wamukoya.
This is not the first time she’s breaking the glass ceiling that had for generations hindered women from pursuing leadership positions. In 1986, she became the second woman to be ordained priest of the Anglican Church of Kenya.
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Here is her journey as told by WoK.
The ACK bishop attended St. Paul’s United Theological College where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Divinity. She then proceeded to graduate with a Masters degree from Asian Center of Theological Studies. She went on to pursue a doctorate at the University of Wales in the United Kingdom working under Prof John Lonsdale on the history of women education in Kenya. In her thesis, she conducted a critical analysis of Anglican women from Nyanza dating back to 1895. It was titled Luo Women’s Negotiation of Mission Education.
Dr. Awino is also an alumni of Lake Primary School in Kisumu and Kisumu Girls’ High School.
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Prior to her appointment as deacon in 1984, she worked as a lay reader at Kisumu’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The then twenty-three-year old single woman would face disapproval from the community who thought an unmarried woman was not fit for the position. She would then be promoted to priest in 1986.
In 2018, she earned the title Canon of the Bondo Diocese.
In 2021, she was appointed assistant bishop crediting her late parents, sisters and brothers for being instrumental in supporting the growth of her ministry.
“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,” she said.
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As she accepted the position, she expressed her desire to do things in a different way and bring change. Her appointment was as a result of a mutual approval by the Special Synod of the diocese, presided over by Bishop David Kodia.
Apart from church ministry, she has also worked as the academic dean of Saint John’s School of Theology. She then served as lecturer, vice principal and academic dean at St. Andrews Kabare.
Currently, Dr Emily Awino Onyango is a senior lecturer of Church History in the Theology Faculty at St. Paul’s University. She also acts as the incumbent chairlady of Africa Center for Biblical Equity (TACBE) and a founding member of Concerned African Women Theologians.
As an author, the 60-year-old has a number of publications to her name including:
- Gender Equality in the East African Revival Movement
- The Challenge of Gender Based Violence in Kenya and the Response of the Church
- Women Leaders Rising Up: A Case Study of the Anglican Church of Kenya 1844-1945
- Single Parenthood: A challenge to the Christian Understanding of Family in Kenya
Dr Emily Awino Onyango has also authored the book, For God and Humanity: 100 Years of St Paul’s United Theological College
Born to an Anglican family in Nairobi, they relocated to Kisumu when she was in class three. It was while in Kisumu that she discovered her love and passion for the ministry.
The scholar is married to Apollo Onyango and is a mother of two children, Margret Nyakeno Yegon and Patrick Ngoye Onyango.
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