Uganda female first at All Saints Cathedral: ‘God’s Calling’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/09/uganda-female-first-at-all-saints-cathedral-gods-calling/
NOTE: Earlier this year, the All Saints’ Cathedral, Kampala, installed the Very Rev. Canon Dr. Rebecca Nyegenye as its provost, making her the first woman to occupy the office in Uganda. Before assuming the office, she served as a chaplain at Uganda Christian University (UCU) for nearly 20 years. The UCU student newspaper, The Standard, recently published an interview by one of its reporters, Benezeri Wanjala Chibita. This interview, shared with UCU Partners, is edited and condensed.
What role do you think God has put you in this position to play?
Some of the reasons are yet to be unveiled. There is a job description. (These include) serving as chief administrator of the cathedral, chief financial controller, being in charge of the ministries and the priests. But there is this uniqueness of a role that God himself knows. So I’m still praying and asking God for clear direction of what He wants. But as for now, my desire is that, as a Church in the city, how can we position ourselves to do mission? That’s the cry of my heart. To make sure that the cathedral thrives in being a missionary church so that we can reach out to the ends of the city, and eventually the country with the gospel.
How did your father (a priest) influence your desire to dedicate your life to Christ?
My father was consistent, the same today and tomorrow, in his lifestyle. He also was a peacemaker. He loved God with all his heart. God was his consultant. He was a loving father, loving us equally. I wanted to be like him. He died two years ago but when I look around (at other people), I don’t see any comparison with daddy.
What are some of your fondest childhood memories?
We grew up around the church because of daddy and we would run around, cleaning the church and beating the drums on Christmas. We also did business, carrying sugarcane from down in the river, selling pancakes and groundnuts at school. I didn’t even calculate profits. The needs weren’t so great. If you have a blanket, you don’t even think of a bedsheet.
What point did you decide you’d be a priest?
I initially wanted to be a priest. It wasn’t an afterthought. Others discouraged me saying I can’t be a lady that’s a priest. I decided at nine, I told my dad, and he prayed for me. He had his fears but, it was God’s calling on my life. I’ve never regretted it.
At what point did you go to school to train to become a priest?
I went after Secondary 4. My father didn’t have money so he educated all seven of us up to S4. He promised each of us a basic education, and he delivered. My two followers and I weren’t able to go to high school immediately, but eventually we went. I went to Bishop Usher Wilson, Buwalasi, in Mbale. Most Bishops went there. It’s now been merged with UCU Mbale Campus.
You now have a PhD. Who inspired you to venture into higher academics?
Dr. Olivia Banja. She’s the director of teaching and learning at UCU. We met at a clergy meeting for women, at Makerere. The second time, we were at UCU, and I was serving at Busia Parish. She said that I should go for further studies. I left the parish, and she guided me through the steps I needed to get into theological education. I joined UCU. I got a diploma. After that, I realized I could do better. So, I started a Bachelor of Divinity program. From then on I was encouraged to go further by Bishop Eliphaz Maari, Canon Lusaniya Kasamba, and Dr. Edward Kalengyo. At UCU, I worked under Dr. John Senyonyi (now the Vice Chancellor),and he persuaded me to do a full masters degree. Ofcourse, I can’t forget Prof. Stephen Noll, the former vice-chancellor of UCU. He wrote and gave me recommendations for scholarships, and I was able to get them.
How did you get the masters scholarship?
God has been faithful. There was a scholarship named after Bishop Stanway at Trinity School for Ministry. Prof. Noll worked through all the paperwork. I went to the USA and studied for one year, and then I returned to UCU where I wrote my dissertation and graduated. UCU gave me a partial scholarship for my PhD. I received another partial scholarship from World Council of Churches. So for both my Masters and PhD,I didn’t struggle financially. I graduated with my masters in 2006 and started on my doctoral degree in 2009.
What do you miss about UCU?
I miss my life with students. It was so interesting. I had really gotten used to my motherly role. Seeing students walk in, walking the talk with the students. Then seeing them graduate with a changed character and moral stability. But also, being there for 18 years, UCU had become my family. I also miss the women fellowships.
What is the biggest setback that you encountered in your life?
I would mention two. One is someone I worked with when I had just entered ministry. My life was really tested. I didn’t know you could work with someone that would make life so difficult. You know there are times when someone…will frustrate you, even make allegations in public. I didn’t know that could happen in the church. What helped me get through it was to remember that I wasn’t called by man but by God. I eventually decided to release and forgive him. But that was after some time of prayer and telling God that I want to let this out of my heart. And indeed I did, I have no grudge. When we meet today, we greet.
How did you escape from this situation?
Actually when it was so tense, God gave me a breakthrough by opening a door for me to go and study. I learnt that when you are faithful to God, He will always provide a way of escape. He will not leave the situation to burn you for long. Then, I was sick from July 2014 to January 2015; I was at UCU. I was very sick. I knew one thing: If I am going to live, the Lord will heal me. If I die, I’ll be with God in eternity. So that kept me going. Every day I was alive was God’s grace. I was so weak and in so much pain. The UCU community prayed, but it seemed like God wasn’t answering fast enough. At the right moment, God healed me.
You said that you were ready to join God in eternity, if it was His will?
Certainly, I couldn’t talk about the sort of death. But my husband being a medical person, trusted that one day my pain would pass. He (took) time off from his work and moved with me to every doctor he thought would help me. He paid for me to go to Nairobi hospital where I was for two weeks, and he was by my side. The Hospital did everything they could. They put me on medication for diabetes and hypertension, because they thought that’s what I had. When God healed me, I was healed completely. There were times when the whole family was in tears because they didn’t know what to do or what the future held.
How did your faith sustain you?
My faith never wavered because I was in it. There was no way I could run from it. I was on medication. I looked to God. I spent time and prayed. I didn’t want to miss both. I didn’t want to miss life here, and also in heaven, which is eternal. I kept my hopes high. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by pain. I’d ask God why He isn’t healing me. But in all, He was gracious.
Did those seven months change your outlook on life?
I learnt to trust God more. I stopped taking things for granted. My zeal to serve the Lord increased. I lost all the fear I had. I cannot be easily threatened right now. I used to trust and put hope in people. But after getting through that it was a retreat for me to think about God in a fresh way. Right now when I preach, I preach like tomorrow I’m going. My level of ministry went higher. I’m now more focused, more committed to God and more prayerful.
How did people disappointment you during this trying time?
There are people that I got to know better for who they are. There are those I had to be careful about after. It was a learning experience for me and there is something that God wanted to teach me. And there is a level God wanted me to rise to. Actually, shortly after that, I became a Canon. There are things that God takes you through for a reason.
What are your most important values?
First: Faithfulness to God. Secondly, I love people. Thirdly: Passion for the gospel.
What advice would you give young women who want to go into ministry?
Getting into ministry is a calling. If someone is genuinely sure that God is speaking to them, they should join. Someone coming to this ministry should not think about the high position. They should focus on serving the Lord. That, to me, is very pertinent. When I joined ministry, I started out in the rural areas. I never thought I’d work in town. I never prayed for an office. But I have waited on the Lord and I have served Him faithfully, that one I testify. And whenever I feel I’m going astray, I run back to the Lord. He is my only refuge. And even if you told me to compromise this position today, I’d be glad to walk out. Be willing to serve the Lord anywhere.
What will you remember about outgoing Archbishop Stanley Ntagali?
(I learned) from the Archbishop that when you work together in church, you are teammates. And I always tell people, that much as he is leaving, we must remain a team. As the head of the team and as a team player, he has been able to understand people’s gifting and seasons. He acts when he is supposed to, of course with God’s guidance. He’s been close to us as individuals. He has been a father and a parent.
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